a new landscape for Arken Museum of Modern Art

 

The trip out to Bronsby Strand to take photographs of the housing scheme was also the opportunity to revisit the art gallery at Arken to look at how new work on its landscape has progressed over the winter.

Back in 1988 a competition was held to select an architect to design a new art gallery in Ishøj to the west of Copenhagen. A design by the young architect Søren Robert Lund won and the new buildings opened in 1996. Initially, the hope had been to construct the gallery on the beach to look out over the bay but for conservation reasons it was set back behind low sand dunes between a lagoon and the Strand. The setting was stark, little more than a rather exposed and uneven area of car park.

That has all changed and in the most dramatic way with the excavation of extensive areas around the gallery which has allowed water to flow around the building and link through to an extensive area of lagoon to the west to create a new island for the gallery that can now only be reached by three new bridges or causeways. Car parking has been spread out with some along the public road to the north, where public buses also stop, some to the east and, more between the gallery and the sea and reached by a new causeway but with the cars hidden by low dunes.

Only just completed, there has been no time for sedges, grasses and trees to become established but already the transformation is little less than miraculous. Where the building looked rather stark and rather temporary, more like a boat yard than an international exhibition space, light off the water now creates shaper shadows and throws texture into relief and the structure of the restaurant across the south side, with its ribs reminiscent of the hull of a raised and stranded boat, now seems to make sense.

Inside the gallery, the entrance area to the west is flooded with reflected light from the large area of water on that side and light is reflected up into the restaurant. Now all that might be left to do, apart from allowing the natural vegetation to grow, would be to consider breaking through just a few more window openings to bring more light into the gallery spaces.

 

The partnership of Møller & Grønborg are the landscape architects for the new work.

above a view of the gallery before excavation work for the new areas of water from the gallery web site and (below) drawings of the entrance and of the site by Møller and Gronborg 

Thorvald Bindesbøll

There is a bust of the architect and designer Thorvald Bindesbøll in the courtyard garden of Designmuseum Danmark that was sculpted by Kai Nielsen and completed shortly after Bindesbøll’s death in 1908.

Many visitors to the museum, for very understandable reasons, get no further than the garden chairs and tables of the cafe to sit in the sun but it really is worth walking up along the tree-lined path to look at this work. If any man had features and a profile that demanded to be the subject of a sculpture then surely it was Thorvald Bindesbøll.

 

Japanese art, design and influence

 

Learning from Japan is the major exhibition for this year at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen.

It includes items added to the collection in the early years of the museum when it was first established in the late 19th century and then looks at how Japanese art inspired artists, designers and collectors in Denmark; how Danish craftsmen and artists first travelled to Japan to study there and also looks at how Danish design has been appreciated in Japan.

The exhibition includes prints, ceramics, textiles and furniture from the collections of the museum as well as jewellery and sword fittings.

In conjunction with the exhibition, a major book, Influences from Japan in Danish Art and Design by Mirjam Gelfer-Jørgensen, formerly Chief Librarian and Deputy Director of the museum, has been published by The Danish Architectural Press.

 

 

The exhibition continues at Designmuseum Danmark through to September 2017

Functional architecture in Denmark?

farmstead from Eiderstedt now at Frilandsmuseet in Denmark

 

To talk about Functionalism in architecture in Denmark, usually refers to buildings designed in the middle of the 20th century and frequently cited as an example is the work at the university of Aarhus by C F Møller. The term implies an architecture where volumes and details have been pared back to what is considered to be essential and the architects take as their starting point the intended function. At a general level the term is linked with buildings that are often criticised by the public as being stark or even brutal and is usually associated with the use of concrete.

To take the word functional literally, as simply the general and practical starting point for the design of a building, then this building, the farmstead from Eiderstedt in Schleswig, now in the open-air museum, Frilandsmuseet north of Copenhagen, is perhaps the most beautiful and the most amazing Functionalist building in Denmark.

It was also possibly one of the most beautiful factories in Denmark. It is, to all intents and purposes a factory farm with a huge hay barn at the centre with a threshing floor across one side, entered through the large double doors in the end, and with stalls for cows, stalls for cows about to calve, stalls for horses and oxen, the working animals for the farm, and then across one end, under the same roof, the well fitted and comfortable home of the wealthy farmer with a diary and cheese store at the coolest corner of the building.

 

 

The plan and the division of spaces is determined completely by the structure with a massive wood frame supporting the weight of that great thatched roof. With everything under a single roof there was total control of the working process, security and of course sustainability with little natural heating wasted.

Above all, what is so striking about this vernacular architecture is its self confidence; the complete understanding of the building materials, exploited to the maximum, and the simplicity of the roof profile like an enormous sculpture. 

 

Below are a selection of photographs of vernacular and mainly rural buildings from Denmark that show just how confident these craftsmen were in their materials and in their own skills but they also had a clear appreciation of form and colour.

Frilandsmuseet, Denmark

Forge from Ørbæk, Funen

Farmstead from True, Eastern Jutland

Farm from Tågense, Lolland

Farmstead from Ostenfeld

Mirror Chair by Peter Holm

Very different from the chairs featured in the most recent posts is the concept of a chair as the starting point for an art work or a sculpture.

The piece Mirror Chair by Peter Holm is in lacquered ash with squares of mirror and was part of the exhibition from SuperObjekt, in their Real Time collection, and shown in November at the annual exhibition The Time is Always Now by Banja Rathnov at her gallery Museumsbygningen in Copenhagen.

This chair, one in a series, is in the tradition of the conversation piece but also has aspects of a craftsman’s master work with it’s carefully and precisely-made frame and the delicate pierced seat with inset squares of mirror that together create interesting shadows across the floor. Several pieces at the Cabinetmakers Autumn exhibition at Øregaard were, in the same way, standing at a point of transition between utility and art. 

reclining at Designmuseum Danmark

 

In the gallery to the right of the entrance at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen is a new display of reclining chairs from the collection. 

A recliner tends to be a rather special piece of furniture anyway - much larger than an armchair and requiring more space it tends to be a “look-at-me” piece in any room - but here in the gallery, placed together but given space, they become dramatic sculptures particularly as the museum has picked up the display design used for the current Mindcraft15 exhibition with full-length mirrors on the side walls and spot lights rather than a more general lighting so there are dramatic shadows.

Curiously the furniture gains. You obviously see the importance of shape, silhouette and line - these pieces are very elegant - and you can see just how well made they are and also appreciate how carefully most of the pieces use texture and contrast with woven seating wrapped around steel or woven linen across a wood frame.

These really are virtuoso pieces of furniture.

 

the Sørensen family apartment

Reconstruction of the two-room apartment in Viborggade - a 'corridor' flat occupied by the Sørensen family before they moved two streets away to Gammel Kalkbrænderi Vej 

In Copenhagen at the beginning of the 20th century many working families were renting one or two rooms in overcrowded buildings that were crudely subdivided and had few or shared facilities for toilets or washing. Many of those families must have been amazed at the space and privacy they found in the new apartment buildings being constructed around the city or in social housing if they were lucky enough to be allocated a new apartment.

This process - ordinary working families moving from renting rooms to renting a complete apartment - and the improvement in living conditions of a fairly typical working-class Copenhagen family - is shown at the amazing Arbejdermuseet - the worker’s museum - in Rømersgade near Israels Plads in Copenhagen. A large section of the display shows the home and much about the life of the Sørensen family who lived in Copenhagen in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Peter Martin Sørensen was a general labourer and he and his wife Karen Marie had eight children. Through the main part of their married life they lived in a number of small apartments moving fourteen times before moving to Viborggade in Østerbro where they had a single living room which was heated by a stove and was also the only bedroom and a small kitchen with a range and a sink. These rooms opened off the common staircase so there was no separate front door and little chance of escaping if there had been a fire.

In 1915, with five of their children still living at home, the family moved two streets south to an almost-new two-room apartment at 58 Gammel Kalkbrænderi Vej which survives. It is a purpose-built apartment just below Norhavn station and just the other side of the railway to the Nordhavn Basin which had opened as an extension of the port facilities in 1904. Many of the men in the street must have worked in the docks although most would have been employed on piece rate with irregular and very insecure work.

 

58 Gammel Kalkbrænderi Vej - one of a pair of matching apartment buildings at the east end of the street. Each front door gave into a lobby with the main staircase and at each level a separate apartment on each side so in this photo it shows the four large windows of the four front living rooms of four separate apartments at each level. Behind the front room was a bedroom and a narrow kitchen both with windows out to the courtyard and from the kitchen there doors out onto the back service or second staircase. 

Peter Sørensen worked at the Fortuna distillery, first as a delivery man although he was to rise to a much more responsible and important job tasting the herbs used in mixing the snaps.  His son Kristian, then 26 years old, worked at the Free Port, and his daughters Anna (21) Yrsa (19) and Olga (17) were in domestic services while their sister Karen, a year older than Kristian, did not work but helped run the home. It must have been these regular incomes that allowed the family to rent a much better and much more secure long-term home. 

In the new apartment they had a main living room to the street and towards the courtyard a single bedroom and a narrow kitchen with a range and a sink and there was a doorway out onto the back staircase … a typical Copenhagen arrangement. When they first moved to number 58, the toilet was in the yard but at some stage an indoor toilet was constructed off the back staircase. There was a wash stand in the bedroom and when anyone wanted a bath, they would have gone to the local public bath house.

It must have been crowded for seven people but better than any place they seem to have lived before. 

Three of the children never married and continued to live with their parents and they stayed on at number 58 after Peter and Karen died. In fact the family retained the apartment until December 1989 when Yrsa Sørensen, then in her 90s,  went into residential care.

The family rarely bought new furniture and only replaced something if it was beyond repair so in 1989 the flat was barely different from its appearance in 1915 and it was at that stage that the family gave the complete contents of the apartment to the museum … an incredible and unique bequest. The museum even acquired the doorways and the floor boards which over the years had been varnished but only around the main furniture.  For some museums their displays of furniture in a ‘typical’ worker’s house has to be pieced together from lots of different collections and purchases but here is the complete contents of a genuine and a very real Copenhagen apartment.

Arbejdermuseet, Rømersgade 22, 1362 Copenhagen K

thoughts from a visit to the Sørensen's apartment

 

Looking at the apartment of the Sørensen family, reconstructed in the Worker’s Museum in Copenhagen, is a fascinating view back to see of how an ordinary family lived in Copenhagen a century ago and it shows how much day to day life and household possessions have changed over a hundred years … or how little.

When the family moved there in 1915 the apartment had a practical arrangement of rooms, apart that is from not having a bathroom. There was an entrance lobby from the common staircase of the building, a square living room overlooking the street and a narrow kitchen and a bedroom both to the rear looking into the long narrow courtyard. Generally it is a similar plan of apartment that many families in Copenhagen still occupy … simply because so many apartment buildings from this period survive … including of course this one because although the contents were moved to the museum, the apartment itself is still there in Gammel Kalkbrænderi Vej.

Perhaps the main thing that was different in 1915 was the size of the family that occupied that space with five adults and, at the start, maybe even seven members of the family.

The way it was furnished is not radically different from an apartment now … although it is interesting that in the relatively small living room a fairly large dining table was very much at the centre. There was a large side board with family photographs, ornaments and candles, two corner cupboards flanking the window, a bed/day bed and a small table and two stools in the window.

 
 

In the kitchen was a sort of dresser - a double cupboard with shelves above holding crockery - and there was a small range with an additional single gas hob and cupboards across the window wall including a small sink.

The bedroom seems to have had two beds, a chest of drawers, a table and a wash stand. 

 
 

This home was certainly not about conspicuous spending and some would say, as we are beginning to be concerned about the consequences of unfettered consumption, perhaps the better for that. Some of the furniture was second hand and nothing was replaced or thrown out unless there really was no choice.

How the Sørensens lived then provides a context for our way of life today and for the design of furniture and household goods in our own homes.

If someone re furnished that apartment with things from Muuto or Gubi or Normann it would look brighter and probably less cluttered but that is mainly to do with the current aversion to pattern and the fashion to leave walls plain and painted white rather than having wallpaper. Electric lighting is now relatively cheap and, relatively, so much better and that in itself would make a huge difference. But what would a Muuto or Gubi or Normann apartment, furnished now, look like by 2115? Is the furniture from those stores designed and made to last a hundred years? Almost certainly not. Or is that an unfair question? Is it consumers themselves who do not want to pay for something that will last? I doubt that an IKEA kitchen fitted now would last a century although of course the company would argue that it is not meant to - at their prices a kitchen serves a purpose now for a family that needs a kitchen now and is only able or prepared to spend a certain amount. Simply an IKEA kitchen is not designed to last a century and no one expects it to. But the kitchen at Gammel Kalkbrænderi Vej was hardly a top-of-the-range Poggenpohl or Bulthaup of its day but after a lick of paint and with some new pots and pans it would still be pretty serviceable now. 

One obvious difference in the old kitchen at Gammel Kalkbrænderi Vej  is that there were few places to store food. Refrigeration was not available for small apartments like this until the 1960s so, at best, there would have been a vent to the outside in a cupboard in the kitchen to bring in fresh and hopefully cool air to make a larder or pantry but otherwise fresh food would have been bought daily. And actually I’m not sure that in itself is bad. Moving to Copenhagen, one of the things I like most about the city is the number of corner shops and local bakeries and small city-centre supermarkets and of course the food halls. Many families here still seem to shop on their way home from work rather than going to big out-of-town supermarkets. 

Furniture in Gammel Kalkbrænderi Vej was wood, heavy and was dark through layers of polish and varnish … and that raises an interesting question about how we got from that to the almost ubiquitous Scandinavian taste of the scrubbed clean pale-wood Nordic look. 

But what strikes me as having changed most in 100 years is not the style or the type and the form of furniture but the quality and perfect finish of new materials. We take for granted easy-to-apply paint in strong even colours; strong clear perfectly made steel or Corian or even glass for kitchen worktops and light but strong and perfectly coloured plastic for most things in the kitchen. So maybe it is the development of modern materials and not design as such that has brought the biggest changes. I can remember as a child staying in my grandparent’s house and, on waking up, being amazed by all the cracks and layers in the distemper across the ceiling of the bedroom and in the kitchen everything was glass or china or aluminium - so not a single thing in plastic and I can actually remember my grandmother buying her first Tupperware and her coming to the conclusion, fairly quickly, that for mixing cakes the hassle of washing all the parts of a new food mixer she had been given was too much like hard work and she was actually going back to a large bowl and a single wooden spoon … oh that irony of the labour generated by labour-saving kitchen equipment.

The Sørensens had just a simple radio so that is one big change … the massive proliferation of personal electronic gadgets of all kinds in the last 15 or 20 years … but apart from that there seem to be no really earth-shattering changes over a hundred years from life in Gammel Kalkbrænderi Vej in the years after 1915. So is all that design over all those intervening years just about fashion and aspirations?

Looking at the rooms in the museum they strike me as dark, almost gloomy, and initially the pictures and ornaments seem shoddy and cheap but at least they are honest and straightforward … the things the family liked and cherished … so much better than decorating a house with the ‘right’ things or fashionable things. The pictures are of coy and saccharine children and copies of old paintings of young girls in elaborate costumes in perfect landscapes and there are puppies but then I despair now when I see what is pasted to Facebook so the taste and the sentimentality have hardly changed.

Go to a flea market today in Copenhagen and you see what families like the Sørensens - and more affluent families - have discarded and OK there are PH lamps and the odd classic glass or ceramic bowl from the 1960s but there are also masses of badly made and badly designed things. I’m not condemning or criticising … because you would find much the same in any European country … but curious and interested. 

If designers looked carefully at the Sørensen's apartment perhaps the real lesson should be that then as now very few people live the design dream that is shown in the photographs in magazines and design books. Designers have to be realistic that their designs, in the majority of homes, will be seen next to last nights dirty dishes, the chair that is ugly but comfortable, the awful cups that are the wrong colour but no one can bring themselves to chuck out. Perhaps most of our homes are much more like the Sørensen’s apartment than we might realise. Surely most designers hope that their work will be used in the perfect home but the reality is that nearly every home is a compromise. It’s just that many Scandinavian homes are a more attractive compromise than many homes elsewhere in the World.

Mindcraft15

Umspiral by Henrik Vibskov

 

This is a stunning and magical and slightly odd exhibition.

To start with stunning and magical ….. the exhibition was first shown in Milan in the Spring and was designed and curated by the Danish-Italian partnership GamFratesi - Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi. Fourteen works of craft by nineteen leading Danish designers and craftspeople were chosen including woven hangings, ceramics, furniture and interesting objects like an ‘umbrella’ but with a carpenter’s hand drill immediately above the traditional curved cane handle so that the piece can be rotated by the person carrying it. This is Umspiral by the fashion designer Henrik Vibskov and its covering, rather than being the conventional umbrella shape, has the form of a long spiral like an apple peeling or, probably more appropriate, it is reminiscent of one of the helicopter-like inventions drawn by Leonardo da Vinci. 

The exhibition aims to move into the realm of conceptual art … an area where, using imagination - the mind part of the title - GamFratesi challenges and blurs our view of what we might assume to be art and what we define as craft.

The works stand on mirrors that cover the whole floor of the gallery and are contained or protected or isolated by large frameworks that are in black and are round in plan but gently bell-shaped in profile. Each element is a quarter sphere so when two are placed together they enclose the work completely and reflections in the mirrors of the floor complete the cage to form a sphere. Set on their side the open cages create a complete circle with the reflection in the floor like a cave.

I can see the symbolism here. The metal-framed dome is reminiscent of garden features called gazebos, common in England in the 18th and 19th centuries, but deriving from Italian and French designs. These gazebos are a feature in the garden that you look at from a distance and are a destination for a ride or walk but once you get there, not only do you admire the architecture of the gazebo, but, usually set on a high point, you also gaze out over and admire the landscape. So here in Mindcraft you are looking at the framework of the exhibition, looking at items carefully isolated within each but also looking out and across to other works. 

The windows of the gallery are covered and as you enter you have to put on shoe covers to protect the mirror floor that you are walking on so … this is the odd part … it is a strangely detached World that you enter. Magical but odd. I spent a long time in the galleries waiting for people to leave so I could have the space to myself because that was when it seemed to be at it’s best. With other people in the gallery, the strange views of people reflected in the glass as you look down and their odd comments and so on were distracting. But, it was interesting to watch the reaction of the different visitors - some were absorbed, walking slowly and quietly as if in a church, and others gestured wildly and talked loudly breaking the atmosphere - admirable enthusiasm - but annoying.

Some of the works are not quite up to being isolated and being the focus of attention in this way but other pieces are brilliant. 

A general theme for the exhibition was ‘in between’ which worked well with the works that were multiples emphasising both a shape and the spaces.

 
 

Point of View by Jakob Wagner is a bench that is formed out of thin vertical slices that are kept apart by transparent spacers and are coloured red on one side and a deep blue on the other so the colour ripples and changes as you move around - heightened by the mirror reflection in the floor and by the way, at certain angles, individual pieces, reflecting the colour of the opposite side of the next segment, take on a luminous intermediate colour.

Point of View by Jakob Wagner

POINT OF VIEW BY JAKOB WAGNER

 

Fontanella, a simple white cone-shaped vessel in porcelain with a green angled stripe by Claydies, the partnership of Tine Broksø and Karen Kjældgaard-Larsen, was set as a multiple and the reflections created amazing shapes so the harder you looked the more the division between actual ceramic and mirror image of ceramic dissolved and it became more and more elusive, taking on the form of a decorative sculpture.

Fontanella by Claydies - Tine Broksø and Karen Kjældgaard-Larsen

 

In the same way, Open 1, 2 and 3 - large drawings by Louise Campbell in spidery and elegant red lines spaced along the wall seemed to dance with their reflections in the floor.

Open 1, 2 and 3 by Louise Campbell

 

Labels are kept to a minimum, with just simple titles in black lettering on the floor, but there is an initial gallery with extensive information panels so it really is worth spending time reading about the works or there is a good web site with profiles of the artists and their work.

 

The exhibition continues at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen until 31 January 2016.

 

Basic Bar by Ole Jensen

 

Dish -Between Earth and Sky by Tora Urup and Selfie by Eske Rex

 

Terroir by Edvard-Steenfatt

Snedkernes Efterårsudstilling - the Cabinetmakers’ Autumn Exhibition 2015

There are 83 furniture makers and designers in the association (sammenslutning) of cabinetmakers and for their annual Autumn exhibitions they work together in pairs to produce pieces of furniture within a pre-determined theme. The theme for this year was Petite - as in elegant and refined - and the pieces were restricted to a footprint of 60 x 60 cms or less.

In part, this reflected and respected the venue for the exhibition this year which is the house at Øregaard in Hellerup - now a museum - that was built in the early 19th century as a summer residence by the architect Joseph-Jacques Ramée for the merchant Johannes Søbøtker.

But also, crucially, the French theme is important because the exhibition will transfer to the Maison du Danemark on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris where it will open on the 27th January 2016 and run through until the 3rd April.

For the exhibition the display has been designed by the architectural practice Norm and their work is crucial to the character and style of the event. Their work is noted for being restrained and subtle and here that is important.  In Hellerup the main rooms in the house have been painted in a range of classic Danish colours in soft greens and greys and, with the clean white lines of the architectural features and the large sash windows, overlooking the park and gardens of the house, this gives the space a specifically Danish and specifically 18th-century Danish feel.

This review is in danger of sounding like text from an advertising copywriter or travel brochure but it is a very serious point that has to be made. The rooms are reminiscent of a painting by Vilhelm Hammershøi and this must be deliberate. In his interiors there is no clutter. Furniture is expensive and good but arranged sparingly. The interiors are calm and restrained. In the paintings and here at Øregaard there are no spotlights, no bling - or their equivalent - and nothing loud or demonstrative. In a very Danish way you have to look carefully and think about what you are looking at to appreciate the skill and the craftsmanship.

Modern Danish taste has it’s roots much further back than the 1950s or 1960s. Colours and styles of furniture and furnishings, in a specifically Danish form, go back to the interiors of the late 19th century; back to the period of the Golden age of Danish painting in the early 19th century and, in some aspects, on back to the way furniture was arranged and interiors were decorated in Denmark in the 17th century and back further to the interiors of the late medieval and early modern period. 

The simple blocks and plinths of the display here in this exhibition also use some mirrored surfaces which reflect the natural light coming in through the large windows but also plays with the idea of reflections - some 18th-century interiors used mirrors between windows for similar effects - so in some parts of the exhibition it is possible to see the underside of pieces of furniture. Any good piece of furniture and certainly furniture from a cabinet maker should be properly finished and that includes the underside and parts that you cannot see. And that is not just about quality and pride in workmanship but is also about something tactile. The most difficult part of visiting this exhibition is that you should not touch but wood in particular, as a material, is to be touched and actually joints and corners can be best judged by feel with the eyes closed … a dovetail or a mitre joint should look perfect and in the very best work it should be impossible to feel or trace with a finger.

What the exhibition also celebrates is the important and enduring connections in Danish furniture design between architects, specialist furniture designers and furniture making or cabinet making by craftsmen. Here, in these exhibition pieces, that collaboration is an essential part of the creation and production process.

However, these pieces of furniture are not shackled or restricted by the past … simply aware of the past even if materials and forms are new … so pieces here are made in acrylic or MDF as well as in exotic timbers: one table is covered with salmon skin - others pieces are perfectly coloured using powder coating. 

There is also humour here - so Pause is a cabinetmakers’ cupboard for an iPhone guarded by an all seeing eye - and there is clever playing with ideas and forms - so Doublé uses a mirror to make two half tables look like two separate complete tables and neither table could stand up without the mirror they are fixed to because they each have only two legs.

Some designers played with 18th-century themes so Tricorn looks to the shape of an 18th-century tricornered hat and Dress Chairs plays with 18th-century costumes - one with the form of the sleeve of a woman’s summer dress and the other a bonnet and exotic timbers are used in some pieces in a very appropriate way because the house and gardens were built with money from sugar plantations and trade in the West Indies.

Nor are the pieces simply expensive games for the showing off of skills but can be experiments or trials that will, further on, lead to commercial products although they are also reminiscent of the work or master piece that an apprentice produced to be judged as he finished his apprenticeship and became a master

Back to sounding like a travel advert, I would urge anyone and everyone interested in design and furniture design to visit the exhibition. Look carefully and enjoy because these pieces truly deserve admiration and respect.

 

Note, I have posted a separate catalogue of photographs of all the furniture in the exhibition 

The photographs are in the same sequence as in the museum's exhibition catalogue where there are short descriptions of the furniture and those notes can also be found on the exhibition web site

Over the coming months I hope I will be able to use these pieces of furniture as a starting point for interviewing and writing about some of these designers and makers to see how these one-off pieces fit within the broader pattern of their design or production works.

Practice Makes Perfect - Kaare Klint's School of Furniture

This week is the last chance to see the exhibition Practice makes Perfect at the Design Museum in Copenhagen. This well-curated and beautifully arranged exhibition shows the work of Kaare Klint - including his designs for the furniture and fittings for the design museum itself when it moved to this building in the 1920s.

The exhibition explores his influence and importance as a teacher in that crucial period in the development of design in Denmark as furniture production moved from the methods, forms and styles of the cabinet makers' workshops of the late 19th century and the early 20th century to the work of the designers of the modern period of Danish furniture design in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and new methods of furniture production in factories and large workshops.

 

Practice makes perfect at Designmuseum Danemark in Bredgade in Copenhagen closes on 6th September.

August for design in Copenhagen

 

It looks as if August will be a busy month for art, crafts and design in Copenhagen. 

Biennalen for Kunsthåndværk og Design

Carlsberg Byen, Bryggernes Plads 11, floor 6, 1799 Copenhagen V

1 - 30 August, daily 11 to 6pm

A major exhibition of works by leading Danish makers and designers from the national association of craft - Danske Kunsthåndværkere & Designere

www.biennalen.dk

Copenhagen Fashion Week

5 - 9 August

Key shows are at the Bella Center and at the Forum but there will be a press launch in the town hall square and events held in showrooms all over the city. Revolver, an independent trade fair, will be at Øksnehallen, Tietgensgade 65, Copenhagen V - on the edge of the Meatpacking area. 

www.copenhagenfashionweek.com

Jægersborggade Street Festival

Saturday 8 August 12 to 10pm

northmodern

13 - 15 August

The major Design Trade Show for design from the Nordic region at the Bella Center - held in January and in August

www.northmodern.com

Kunsthåndværker Markedet - the open-air craft market

13 - 15 August, Frue Plads, Copenhagen

A major open-air market on the square on the north side of Vor Frue Kirke - the cathedral

There will be over 120 stalls around the square with craftspeople from all over Denmark including potters, glassmakers, textile designers and basket makers. The fair is an annual event organised by the Danish association of craftspeople and designers - Danske Kunsthåndværkere & Designere

craftsfair.dk

Copenhagen Art Week

21 - 30 August

Events at galleries and museums throughout the city and the Copenhagen region

copenhagenartweek.dk

Chart Art Fair

21 - 23 August for Contemporary Art at the Charlottenborg Palace on Kongens Nytorv with an extensive programme of concerts, talks, performances and an architecture competition to design and build a pavilion or an installation. There will also be pop-up restaurants in the courtyard

www.chartartfair.com

Copenhagen Cooking Festival

21 - 30 August 

Including the Risotto World Championship

www.copenhagencooking.com

SMK Friday

21 August

At the Royal Cast Collection 4pm - 10pm

At the warehouse on the harbour. Organised by Statens Museum for Kunst -  the National Gallery - with street food, artists and a sound stage

www.smk.dk

Century of the Child - Designmuseum Danmark

 

This is a major and extensive survey of design for children, progressive Nordic design, that includes examples of furniture, toys and books for children, clothing, photographs of school architecture, playgrounds and public spaces, along with posters and advertising. There are a few references to food and packaging with the OTA oat flakes and tetra paks for fresh milk for children and even a three-wheel Christiania bike from the 1980s with its large square front box for carrying small loads of goods or large loads of kids.

The title of the exhibition comes from a book, The Century of the Child by Ellen Key, that was published in Sweden in 1900 and was where Key wrote about child labour, which then existed throughout Europe, and wrote about her concerns about poverty, social conditions in working-class homes and the need for health care and support for young mothers.

Really the first main gallery sets a theme that runs quietly through the exhibition … from the start of the 20th century there is furniture from a middle-class nursery and illustrations from the book At Home by Carl Larsson. These show the life of children from affluent well-established families who had the freedom and opportunity to play and their rooms and gardens are filled with colour and toys. It was this freedom to play that Keys advocated for all children and it was the Key’s vision that all children in Sweden would have a childhood like that shown in A Home.

There are other important political points made in a number of explanation panels through the exhibition … so for instance the Nordic countries were amongst the first signatories to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child and in 1974 Sweden was the first country to introduce parental leave for men … not hectoring political points and presented in a fairly subtle way but certainly important and certainly appropriate for wider ongoing debate.

Distinct themes make the exhibition incontestably Scandinavian: many of the designs and objects have obvious connections with nature and natural materials and another theme is a strong and well-established sense of society in Nordic countries and how this effects the lives of children … both the role of society in providing appropriate support for children and parents but also ultimately, in return, the role of the individual in society as they become an adult. Over the century there was also a growing awareness of the importance of free play not simply for the sake of play but in giving a child every opportunity to develop as a person.

The book accompanying the exhibition makes a crucial point that I had not thought about, even though I consider myself to be a social historian: it points out that the battlefields of the First World War left millions of widows and fatherless children and was followed closely by the Depression of the 1920s  so “… high unemployment and growing concerns about low birth rates: and the lacking quality of life for the general population … children were the literal and symbolic promise for a better future.” This was an imperative that drove planners, architects and designers to improve schools, homes, toys and equipment for learning and for play.

 

 

Some things shown here are relatively obvious: good toys are robust and simple, or at least not unnecessarily complicated or fiddly and are best in bright colours. A prime function is to stimulate the imagination but not direct it. For international visitors, the most readily recognised are the wooden tracks and trains from Brio of Sweden and Lego, of course, and wooden animals and figures by Kay Bojesen from Denmark.

 

 

Furniture produced from the middle of the century onwards is not simply scaled down from the furniture made for adults but often takes innovative and imaginative forms. There is a chair from Trip Trap that was designed by Peter Opsvik in 1972 that can be adjusted to raise a child up to the eye line of adults sitting around a table on normal chairs so the child is not looked down on. From Artek there is the Baby High Chair from 1965 and a number of pieces from IKEA. 

 

 

Special school furniture becomes increasingly important and also of course the importance of good, high quality design for building new schools. 

As with toys so with school buildings, the most obvious changes in the design of schools was in the furniture and in the introduction of strong colours and an emphasis on furniture that was well made and could be easily maintained but there were massive changes in the number of rooms and the diversity of spaces and areas that were not traditional classrooms. 

An amazing group of new schools were designed and built shortly before the Second World War. Skolen ved Sundet on Amager in Copenhagen was a traditional school but it also had facilities for sick children with a large upper room with windows that slid back so they could rest but benefit from sun and fresh air - this was a period when tuberculosis was still common and had a terrible impact on children and their families. The school was an early building in reinforced concrete … In the catalogue Anne-Louise Sommer describes it as a functionalist masterpiece that “represents the very core of democratic, inclusive architecture, with its distinct focus on helping the weak. In this sense, the architecture reflected the prevailing ideals of the emerging social democratic welfare state.”

Eriksdalsskolan on Södermalm from 1938 by the architectural partnership of Nils Ahrbom and Helge Zimdal was one of the largest and most modern schools of the period with a pool and sports hall, a library and its own cinema.

Inkeroinen School in Anjalankoski from 1938-39 by Alvar Aalto was on a sloping site with classrooms at the upper part of the site but also workshops and significantly a large gymnasium lower down. Developing physical strength and good overall health became increasingly important as a role where schools could and should intervene.

Major changes in the way schools were laid out began in the inter-war years but perhaps the most rapid developments and changes are in the 1950s and 60s and onwards.

Again there is a political point here. In part, so much money and thought was given to improving education because education and the development of technical training, even at school level, were important in the Cold-War period … there was a fear that western Europe would drop behind the Soviet Union in what was seen as a race to develop industry and technology. In my own secondary education in England we were not taught French and Latin as had been normal in grammar schools but German and Russian as the the languages of science and the future.

There are photographs and information about a number of playgrounds as the provision of play equipment in public parks and gardens was seen as more and more important. Skrammellegepladsen … the Junk Playground in Emdrup in Copenhagen dates from 1943 and was what in England, in the late 50s and 60s, was often called an adventure playground. Again the idea was to encourage a sense of independence where children could develop physical skills from climbing trees and building surprisingly large constructions. Not much worry about Health and Safety inspectors back then.

 

 

From much more recently there is a model and photographs of the Puckelball Pitch from Malmö … an amazing football pitch on dramatically undulating ground with mad bent and twisted goals of different sizes to even out skills of sides with children of different ages and different abilities. 

In the exhibition area there are some interactive sections with, for instance, a room where children can create stop-start animations with wooden toys; there are two areas with foam floor toys for toddlers from bObles and many of the cases are provided with wooden steps so children can climb up to look but generally this is an exhibition for adults with a lot of text - that really does merit and justify time spent reading and absorbing - and should be a must-see for teachers and educational administrators along with young parents looking for ideas and context … and of course for old adults just wanting to reminisce.  

Throughout are reminders of the political background and the social changes driven by new political philosophies. In school building “no expenses were spared for working-class children in the era when the social democrats governed the entire Nordic region and were intent on building the welfare state.” 

A strong theme is the complex idea of using design to encourage children not only to develop their imagination and creativity but also the need to encourage children to play together and to be active for good physical development … now a significant problem again with growing levels of obesity.

Health is also covered in the exhibition in terms of protecting the child so for instance there are early car seats.

Theories about best practice and ideas of using good design and good architecture to intervene in child rearing extends to the design of housing. The Collective House on John Ericssonsgatan in Stockholm from 1935 had 57 apartments, a restaurant, a central kitchen, a central laundry and a department for child care. Apartments had minimal kitchens but dumb waiters so food could be ordered and delivered from the main kitchen. Here, it was clear, the responsibility for child rearing was to be shared between the parents and the state. The state felt it could and should help and direct and support every stage of a child’s life … the Finnish Maternity Package, providing much that a new baby would need including clothes and nappies, started in 1937 for eligible families but the scheme was soon extended to go to all mothers to be.

Century of the Child is extensive and rightly thorough for it charts the phenomenal changes that have taken place in the life of children in the Nordic world over the course of a century and with these huge changes and developments, designers and, through them, the design process was central. “This is design, architecture and art created for children - not just adapted adult versions.”

The conclusion is that “Thoughtful design, architecture and art have … become part of children’s everyday life - not a privilege for the few, as they were 114 years ago.”

 

 

for more photographs of the exhibition

 

Museum Vandalorum, Värnamo, Sweden - 10 May to 28 September 2014

Designmuseum Danmark, Copenhagen - 28 November 2014 to 16 August 2015

Design Museum, Helsinki - 9 October 2015 - 17 January 2016

a Guggenheim for Helsinki

In The New Yorker on the 12th May there was an astute article by Ian Volner about ongoing uncertainty with the plans for a new Guggenheim in Helsinki. He sets out the problems and quietly poses the questions although, quite rightly as an outsider, he does not and can not suggest a solution but what I found interesting was that his one firm conclusion was that “ … the Guggenheim, with its global reputation at stake, may need Finland more than Finland needs the Guggenheim.”

Is a mega museum, designed by a star foreign architect and showcasing international art, a long-term and sustainable benefit for the city? Is this simply a matter of having to be pragmatic … balancing an income from fickle tourists needing to be entertained before they pay out a dollar or a yuan against gaining what might be an important resource for Helsinki that can be used to inspire young Finnish artists and aspiring Finnish architects? Surely the Museum of Design and the Museum of Finnish Architecture in Helsinki already do a pretty good job of that.

Certainly it would be too high a price to pay if a new building dominated the harbour visually or changed irrevocably the balance of an urban plan that has evolved slowly in response to local and regional needs and pressures. And it would certainly be too high a price to pay if, after an initial enthusiasm, the paying audience moved on to something they thought was newer or more entertaining. Surely, in order to be sustainable in the long term, a new museum has to have at least some local relevance.

I first went to Helsinki in 1974 and returned for the first time forty years later so perhaps I should not make comments about a country I cannot claim to know well but I hope it is reasonable to make one observation: Finland in 1974 seemed cautious and reserved … an amazing and beautiful country and one with strong, distinct architecture based in part on natural and available building materials - in part on the countries own history - in part on the style and influences of it’s neighbours and, in part, in a strong belief in its own contemporary designers and architects. Finns may have seen themselves as isolated but, essentially, they were also self sufficient.

Wandering around the design quarter of Helsinki forty years later that was all still true but there seemed to be a new and clearly justifiable sense of self confidence along with a friendly openness and a willingness to both explain and to discuss what was being built or made but it was, quite rightly, with a strong hint that those designers and makers were proud of what they are doing. You are very welcome … I sensed I was being told … but if you don’t like it that is your problem and not ours. I repeat, it was something I sensed - not something anyone said but the team from the Guggenheim should be and probably by now are painfully aware of that.

Part of the problem is the proposed site. It is close to the city centre and is certainly prominent and handy for tourists arriving by cruise ship but it is a curious mixture of urban architecture and relatively small-scale maritime buildings on the quayside backed by trees and it is certainly not an abandoned industrial site where any solution would be better than nothing. A building or group of buildings that is grandly civic or something that is vernacular in scale would both be inappropriate for the setting but then also surely a pastiche of maritime buildings would hardly seem to be honest or appropriate as a home for international art and a magnet for tourists.

One building I visited in Helsinki that still seems physically like a slightly awkward visitor is Kiasma - the museum of contemporary art. As a facility a new Guggenheim must be relevant and useful for and used by the citizens … otherwise it simply has the role of a new Hilton or a new Marriott: something a local might or might not use but probably not and is essentially something that is there for the visitor who arrived yesterday and will be gone tomorrow. The new Guggenheim, as a structure, has to be firmly anchored in the design ethos and architectural traditions of Finland … if not it will be a bricks-and-mortar version of an ugly cruise liner in the harbour that everyone hopes will sail away.