Arne Jacobsen Arkitekt & Designer


Arne Jacobsen Architect & Designer, Poul Erik Tøjner and Kjeld Vindum, Dansk Design Center 1999.

Normally reviews here are for books that are still in print but this is a really good general introduction to the buildings and the furniture and fittings that were designed by Arne Jacobsen and it can still be found second hand.

It was published by the Danish Design Center to coincide with a retrospective exhibition.

The format is interesting with the pages 240mm wide by 229mm, when bound and trimmed, so a double-page spread is almost a double square.

Those double-page spreads are used well with most covering a single building or single theme and with the use of whole page images and the use of bleed off to good effect.

There is a good use of black and white photographs including historic images. Of course black and white photographs were more prolific in book production to control print costs but black and white images can also have distinct qualities in high lighting shape and form where sometimes colour can be a distraction and for many buildings black and white images heighten the drama of a space … often by bringing stronger emphasis to lines and edges.

All text and captions are in both Danish and English but used cleverly in columns with captions either stacked in a singe narrow column or actually divided to the margins of facing pages if appropriate so this is fairly subtle and you rarely have the impression that you are reading half a book.

There are a number of interviews that are spread through the book but distinguished by being printed on a pale grey paper. These provide a real insight into the working practice of Jacobsen from people who worked with the architect and many who worked with him over many years and on many projects.

These include Erik Olsen and Ove Hansen - who had worked with Jacobsen on the lighting produced by Louis Poulsen - Hansen was the chief engineer for Louis Poulsen - Verner Panton who worked in the Jacobsen design office - M Folmer Anersen who was the engineering consultant on several projects and Henning Simony who worked for Novo and collaborated with Jacobsen on the buildings he designed for the company.

Sandor Perjesi was a sculptor who worked with Jacobsen on the full-sized plaster models for the chairs for the SAS Royal Hotel and Peter Lassen worked on project development with Fritz Hansen and there are interviews with the men who worked with Jacobsen on the design and construction of St. Catherine's College in Oxford including Lord Bullock and Jack Lankester from the university and Knud Holscher who managed the project on site in Oxford.

There are some fascinating revelations that focus on Jacobsen's approach to design and work methods so for instance building projects were presented to clients with beautiful water colour drawings - several books of Jacobsen's water color paintings and studies from nature have been published - but furniture designs started with a small and often very rough sketch and then evolved through a series of models from the workshops of the companies that were then edited by Jacobsen and sent back for revisions … often many and many small revisions.

Niels Jørgen Haugesen, worked with Jacobsen on a chair design using plaster models in the same way that Jacobsen worked when he was designing The Egg and The Swan. He makes the brilliant point that Jacobsen taught him "about form; about the link between eye and hand - about seeing a piece of furniture both as sculpture and a functional object." (see page 108)

In several interviews it is stated that Jacobsen could be very critical and was very certain about what he wanted but was usually right and several designers make the point that few of his designs were unique or revolutionary in their initial conception but that he was very clear about how a form or a technique could be developed and how in that process he imposed his specific and personal aesthetic. It is also clear that, although many might assume that he completely controlled projects from his design office, that was not done by doing everything himself or by not letting things go but by either inspiring or demanding loyalty. Perhaps on major projects like the SAS Royal Hotel or the National Bank in Copenhagen, that was the only way that so much could be achieved in a relatively short time … was Jacobsen like Leonard Bernstein … a composer but also a great if difficult conductor?

The book ends with an interesting text from an interview with Arne Jacobsen that was published in the newspaper Politiken in February 1971 … interesting because Jacobsen rarely talked at length about his work and rarely talked about theory or aesthetics and this was published just a month before his death.

There is also a short bibliography and a useful chronological list of works that incorporates basic biographical information.

Arne Jacobsen by Carsten Thau & Kjeld Vidum

This major monograph on the work of Arne Jacobsen includes not just an assessment of his buildings but sections on furniture, textiles and water colours.

Life and Work - the first part of the book with 12 chapters - covers Jacobsen’s early life and education and then looks at fairly contained aspects of how his work developed and organised around marked stylistic phases … so The Reception of International White Modernism is followed by Plastic Form and Space Versus a Two-dimensional Effect; Modern Monumentality and The Time in Sweden that, for instance, covers the period up to and including the Second War.

An analyses of selected works is similarly grouped with seven sections that includes Monumental Modernism; Regional Modernism: Post-War Modernism and The International Style. These are the headings as shown in the table of contents but in the book itself, where headings for each section are marked by a full title page, these headings are expanded in a much more informative way so those same sections titles are actually The Marble-clad Structure Part III Monumental Modernism; Bricks and Pitched Roofs Part IV Regional Modernism: Oblique Profiles Part V Post-War Modernism and The Box and Organic Form Part VI The International Style.

Within these sections, buildings are covered as a full page, a double-page spread or where appropriate, for the major buildings, more spaceThis gives a clear and rational layout with a good use of typography and graphics that forms an easy-to-search catalogue but also shows, in the choice of photographs and drawings, that there are themes or forms or ways of using materials that reappear and are explored by Jacobsen in a different way in subsequent buildings.

Furniture, textiles and architectural fittings are discussed alongside the buildings for which the pieces were designed. Furniture historians may feel this gives this area of Jacobsen’s design work short shrift but it does keep all the design work within its context.

Throughout are observations and quotations that reveal much about Jacobsen’s work method and the energy and drive that produced so much … when today, so many architects with an international practice head up a huge design studio, it is fascinating to learn that through the 1950s, perhaps Jacobsen’s most productive period, his office was only ten people and they were working in the studio in the lower part of Jacobsen’s own house in Klampenborg. And given the relatively small size of the practice … a team who more than many comparable practices designed every aspect of a building and its furniture and fittings … also seemed driven by the need to enter and compete fiercely in open competitions for major projects.

A chronological list of works; a personal chronology - so biographical events and personal awards - and lists of exhibitions and a bibliography complete the study.

Arne Jacobsen, by Carsten Thau & Kjeld Vidum, The Danish Architectural Press, 2001