the recent launch of three new chairs from TAKT

 

Design X Change at Designmuseum Danmark two weeks ago was my first chance to see the three new chairs that were launched a month before by a new Danish furniture company called TAKT.

Not only are the designs new but the marketing is innovative because, from the start, the company will market on-line direct to their customers. By keeping the cost of marketing as low as possible "in a transparent way" and by using sustainable materials, then they can "make quality goods more accessible."

With this approach and by working with a number of established designers, they clearly echo the principles of FDB in the 1940s and 1950s when they first marketed good-quality modern furniture designed by well-established designers to make good, well-made furniture of a high quality.

In this initial launch by TAKT there are three chairs. Design and development took 18 months and the chairs are made for them by the furniture maker Kvist - a well established Danish company.

The chairs are beautifully and precisely made and well finished. By focusing on perfectly-cut joinery with well-designed mortices or pegs or channels to hold the separate pieces together, then the parts of the chair can be thinner and therefore lighter in weight.

Each chair has a distinct character but you can see links between the designs … for a start they all make the best use of high-quality plywood for seats and back rests and the Tool Chair designed by Rasmus Palmgren is almost a text-book example of how to exploit all the best characteristics of plywood. The plywood of the seat is bent down on each side to give it strength and the front edge is simply held in a channel is a front frame in bent wood and the vertical sides are flared out at the back to form tabs that act like mortices to hold the seat into the bent-wood frame of the back.

Cross Chair by English designers has echoes of the classic stacking chair designed by Vilhelm Wohlert in the 1950s for the art museum at Louisiana. The TAKT chair has two h-shaped frames that cross over under the seat using interlocking slots at the intersection and giving the chair its name. The curved back rest, fixed across the uprights, is simple and elegant but what is impressive is the way it clicks into place as you assemble the chair because Cross Chair is delivered packed flat. That click is testament to the precision of the cutting of the joints that gives the chair a sense of precise engineering unusual with timber. Another very nice detail is that the ends of the cross rails are curved down - to drop the tenon down further where it is housed in a mortice at the top of the front legs but the top of the leg is also just slightly lower so does not press hard against the underside of the seat to give a more refined design and a slight emphasis to the line of the seat by having that space.

The third chair, Soft Chair by the Danish designer Thomas Bentzen, has a strong sense of Danish design from the late 1960s rather than the 1950s with distinct and marked verticals - so with echoes of the Ferry Chair by Wegner. The legs are a uniform thickness rather than being tapered and are vertical, rather than splaying out, and there are horizontal stretchers or cross rails between the legs. This framework supports an ingenious seat and backrest in plywood where both are curved sharply round at the edge to grasp the frame. It looks almost like leather draped across the frame but there are clever fixings holding both seat and back in place. Despite the apparent complexity of the design it has strong parts with simple fixings so again it is delivered flat.

Part of the team at TAKT is Nicholai de Gier who teaches at the Royal Academy. He wrote a seminal work on chair design - Chairs' Tectonics that was published by The Royal Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture in 2009. In the book he classifies the form of construction for different types of chair and that same attention to detail and detailed understanding not only of style but techniques of construction is applied to the new collection from TAKT. It is important to emphasise that it is a strong part of the Danish design tradition to reference earlier designs but take them forward or experiment with alternative solutions to specific problems.

TAKT have a good on-line site - crucial for this form of marketing - that links to an 'image bank' with photographs of the chairs from all angles and with photographs of details.

Looking at the chairs as you walk around them you can see respected here a clear aim in classic Danish design to make furniture that is beautiful from any angle.

 TAKT


The display at Design X Change was in a marquee in the great central courtyard of the design museum. It is a very pleasant temporary venue for museum events but the light was oddly flat and not good for taking photographs. The team from TAKT were incredibly patient and let me take chairs outside to take photographs. Please note however that these chairs are not designed or made for garden use.

 
 

Tool Chair

Designed by Rasmus Palmgren from Finland
Beech
natural, black, grey, pale blue, mid blue
FSC-certified wood

delivered assembled


Cross Chair

by English designers Luke Pearson and Tom Lloyd of Pearson Lloyd
Oak and matt black
an option is to have the seat upholstered in the eco-labelled wool Hallingdal from Kvadrat or aniline leather
FSC-certified wood


Soft Chair

by the Danish designer Thomas Bentzen
Ash
FSC-certified wood

 

“when we reside differently we also behave differently” *

 


When the Danish Architecture Centre moved into its new building last summer, their first major exhibition was called Welcome Home and looked at Danish housing. The first section to that exhibition was a timeline that gave an overview of the development of housing in Denmark through the century from 1900 and then the main part of the exhibition looked at recent housing … at how the planning and the building of homes is evolving and changing with new requirements for appropriate homes; new configurations of living space; new approaches to conservation and the use of new building materials and new construction methods.

 Immediately after that time line - and really part of the introduction - there was an important section that looked at statistics for housing in Denmark … first at data that marks out some of the differences in lifestyle when people own their homes and  when people rent their homes and then at data that demonstrates that there are now many different types of household. And these different family dynamics seem to suggest that different people now need different types of home at different stages in their lives.

Particularly in Denmark, a well-established and strongly democratic country with less-obvious extremes between wealth and poverty than in may countries - it is easy to assume that change is now relatively slow and that a home is simply a home and most people live in much the same way. In fact, statistics show that society is changing quickly … or at least quickly when compared with the time needed for planners, architects and builders to respond by trying to build the homes people want in the places where people want to live.

When you look at the statistics, there are fascinating differences for people who rent their home and for those who own their home. Perhaps the most important - over the long term - is that owners have eight times the equity of someone who rents but statistics also indicate that the most obvious or most tangible difference between owning and renting a home is in the size of that home … the average space for an owner-occupied home is 143.3 square metres but the average size of a rented home in Denmark is 82.4 square metres.**

But, actually, it is how that space is occupied in Danish homes that forms a more intriguing social study of day-to-day life and day-to-day needs because the difference between owning and renting would seem to influence more personal habits … so the owners smoke, on average, 10 cigars a year but tenants only 3 and there are differences in amounts of bread eaten or whether people drink more beer or more wine if they own or rent their home.

 

This data was presented in a dramatic way as a large dining room with a single large table with chairs around it and set for a meal but with table and room divided straight across the middle with one half with everything in white and the other half - the renting side - with everything in red.

Looking back, it was slightly odd … as if everyone involved in designing the exhibition could not or would not flesh out the presentation of basic numbers with more details about everyday life - as if that would be too insensitive or too awkward - too political - so it was like walking through a clever window display in a furniture shop but with numbers and percentages rather than price tags but there was little context let alone anything in the way of an explanation. Perhaps, simply, it was not the place to make more nuanced conclusions about differences that must also reflect age and education, for instance, as much as owning or not ones home.

That does not mean that the differences described were not interesting and not important and certainly conclusions from the data should have a strong impact on planning decisions and, of course, in political debate. However, owning or renting may in fact be a rather crude and blunt division that probably camouflages just how rapidly our attitudes to our homes is changing.

For a start, in Denmark, there is an almost equal division, in terms of overall numbers, between those who rent and those who own their home but it is actually the proportion of people renting that is now increasing and planners and developers have to take that on board.

There must be many reasons for this and it is difficult to see which are most important: it is obvious that fewer and fewer people stay in the same home throughout their adult life and, for at least the first decade of adult life, and possibly longer, it can be important for a career to be flexible about where you live and be flexible about moving on and that is certainly easier if you rent. ***

In Denmark there is a strong and relatively well-controlled sector for rented-housing which makes this easier and that is particularly important in Copenhagen where statistics suggest that now, each year around 10,000 people move into the city and this seems set to continue over the next decades. The city is now responding to that influx with laudable speed so last year there were more new homes built in Copenhagen than in any year since the 1930s although I have not yet found statistics to show what proportion of those new homes are to rent and how many are to buy.

 

People have moved to the city from other countries - particularly other parts of northern Europe - but when you talk to people, it is soon clear that many have moved into the city from Jutland and Funen and from Bornholm so, in Denmark as in so many countries around the modern world, there is a marked migration from rural to urban areas. Planners have to take that into account and reports have actually been commissioned to help form a policy for demolishing or finding a new use for an increasing number of empty properties and depleted communities in some rural areas.

This increase in demand for homes in the centre of the city is not just fuelled by newcomers. In the second half of the 20th century, many young couple moved out from the city to suburbs to find new houses with gardens and more space when they started a family, but it is now clear that young couples appreciate the advantages of living in close to facilities and to shops and entertainment so accept smaller inner-city homes and apartments but now expect that communal courtyards, parks and public squares and streets will provide the attractive and safe outdoor space their children need.

It was also clear from the statistics that it is not just newcomers who drive the demand for new homes but more and more people in the city are choosing to live alone - now 40% of homes in Denmark are occupied by a single person and that is an increase by 57% over the last 25 years - so even if no one was moving into the city there would still be a demand for more homes.

There are various reasons … from young adults moving regularly before they establish a career or people, if they marry, marry later and when married, many more couples divorce, so then have to set up separate homes, and, of course, people live longer so that increases the possibility of having to spend a period as a widow or widower living alone.

Young adults in Denmark move on average every two years … so that is one obvious reason why the demand for rented properties is strong.

The average age for getting married in Denmark is 35 years old for men and 32 for women so that suggests at least a decade of flexible home arrangements. If not always spent actually living alone many young couples presumably maintain two separate homes until they have children and not always then.

Statistics show that living alone also includes many more older and more established adults so in the broad age group 30 to 49, 19% of all men and 9% of all women live alone or, to put that another way, in that age group, two out of every three people who are living alone are men. It might be sexist or even politically incorrect to even suggest that men and women living alone live in different ways with different requirements but I'm sure that designers if not architects are already taking this into account.

One in four Danes is over the age of 60 - a marked increase since 2000 when it was one in five - and average life expectancy now for women in Denmark is 82.9 years and for men 79 years. This has to have an impact on the number of houses needed overall and of course on the type of homes needed for older people … in 1900, on average, women lived to 56 and the average lifespan was only 53 for men.

Of course, the most common type of family still has parents and children living together so there are 436,097 Danish families with two adults and their children living together in one home but there are now also 115,627 households in Denmark with a mother who is living with her children but without a partner and 86,000 fathers with shared custody and these men must need different forms of housing to men without children. There are 10,086 single mothers with children but also visiting children and 8,069 single mothers with visiting children.

In all, the statistics show 37 different family types of which the rarest is where the mother and father have children together but both also have children from a previous relationship and they are all living together … in 2017 there were 31 families in Denmark that had that specific family dynamic.

What is important is that most of these statistics come from hard data - not opinion polls asking for responses to questions and then rounding up to form a national average - so real information updated regularly and therefore over a short period - or short in planning and design and building terms - and able to spot, track and respond to trends. This is not about looking for next year's fashionable colour or even spotting an increasingly influential architect but of trying to understand what sort of housing and where and what sort of infrastructure and built environment people first of all need and, if you are talking about satisfaction or well-being or even long-term health and happiness - then what forms of housing people want.

The way we live is changing and changing fast so the conclusion has to be that we now need housing that is much more flexible in at least the arrangement of the accommodation provided. One good conclusion of this section of the exhibition was that, "different types of family have different requirements for the perfect home."

 

notes:

* It was interesting that a main information panel in the exhibition included the statement “Når vi bor anderledes, opfører vi os nemlig også anderledes” …. when we live differently, we also behave differently … but I'm still trying to process the implications.
** Being English, I feel that should be seen in context: 82 square metres is not a small home … the UK has some of the smallest houses in Europe and there, across all types, an average home is about 70 square metres.
***  My grandparents lived in the same house for over fifty years but so far I have lived in eight different towns or cities.

All the data repeated here is from the exhibition Welcome Home that was at the Danish Architecture Centre from 7 May 2018 through to 23 September 2018 and was a collaboration between the Centre and SBI - the Danish Building Research Institute.

Copenhagen minimal

 

If you read about Danish design, or talk to someone about Danish design, the key words seem to be light, or natural or well made or quality but then, somewhere, at some stage, you get the word simple or now, more often, the word minimal.

So thinking about minimalism in Danish design, I wanted to see if I could find the most minimal object or minimal design in the city. To count it had to be designed … obviously … so thought through and planned and deliberate … and not a one-off design but manufactured or reproduced.

This is my best offering to date. It’s the triangle in yellow painted on a kerb just along from a road junction to show that you cannot park any closer to the corner without obstructing the traffic coming in and out at the junction and, more important, you cannot park beyond the triangle without chancing a fine.

It’s small - each side just 10 cm - and I guess that reduces any ambiguity because the point of the triangle towards the road implies that there is a thin line that is projected out across the road - implied and not actually painted onto the road - so again about as minimal as you can get.

 

at Northmodern last year there was a discussion session about the idea of a Danish Design DNA - a way to focus thoughts on what makes Danish design Danish - so everyone was asked to write key words on post-it notes that they thought expressed what is best or what is characteristic about design in Denmark

 
 

The words minimal and minimalism are a bit overused - so sometimes added for marketing to a product or an interior that is not actually that minimal. In part it is because minimalism has become fashionable and in part it’s because being minimal seems more acceptable than calling a design simple and it seems a bit more aspirational - so potentially more profitable - to sell something minimal to a customer rather than calling it basic.  

Go into a store and ask for a simple mobile phone and they take it as an admission you are not up to understanding what they normally sell and go into a fancy design store and ask for something basic and you get that slightly quizzical look that shows they are wondering why you are in their store. Ask for something minimal and it implies taste and discernment … or that’s what you hope.

But minimalism is not about being simple or being basic. It is about reducing or removing what is not essential so it is about designing something that looks carefully thought through and looks rational or looks clean or looks functional because it has been stripped of all unnecessary parts or superfluous decoration.

There is also a role for minimalism to make something less intrusive if you want it to drop back and be less dominant if you are trying to define a hierarchy of importance. 

The yellow triangle here needs no sign on a post setting out times or prohibitions - you can’t park beyond this point at any time - and there are no double yellow lines running around the corner - as there would be in England - and certainly in Copenhagen no bollards on the pavement at intervals around the corner - so nothing is needed to reinforce the message. 

That also raises an interesting question about minimalism requiring complicity. So, for example, there are apps or controls for equipment where the designer has stripped back the design - because they know what does what and why - but the designer underestimates the problem that the uninitiated don’t actually know. So it might be best to remove a door handle completely if the door swings away from you - so it can only be pushed and not pulled towards you - but a designer has to judge if there might be situations where that is ambiguous and might create a problem … for instance in an emergency if someone pauses to work out what to do or wastes crucial time pushing on the hinge side. The more minimal the design the more careful the designer has to be that users understand what it means or what it does.

Here, with the triangle, it seems that anyone driving a car in the city should know exactly what it means so this small yellow triangle is not only minimal in its design but pretty powerful.

 

is design all in the concept ....

 

For any design - a design for a building, a chair or a teapot - the starting point has to be the idea, the concept. It is that first attempt to imagine the what and then think about the how. 

If you are cynical or pedantic or just being realistic - in this tough world - you could argue that a commercial design actually starts with the commission and the contract but for me what is fascinating about looking at a great design is to try and understand that initial concept and to see how it was realised.

My apartment is about 200 metres from Cirkelbroen - The Circle Bridge - that was designed by Olafur Eliasson and completed in 2015. So whenever I walk into the city I either see the bridge at the end of the canal or I actually cross over the bridge to get to Islands Brygge or get to the west part of the city centre. 

When it first opened I thought it was stunning … and to be honest also rather useful as it made it possible for the first time to walk from Christianshavn on south along the harbour … but mainly I thought that it was stunning.  

Unique as well. Elegant and curiously delicate, almost ephemeral, when seen in sunlight but particularly if it is misty or the light is failing at the end of the day - but at night somehow stronger and much more dramatic. 

 
 
 

Sometimes a clever idea for a design looks exciting the first time you see it and then you begin to think well so what and then it becomes just part of your streetscape, maybe even a bit mundane or worse, because when the novelty wears off, you stop even seeing it. 

That is certainly not the case with the bridge and, living so close, I have the opportunity and sometimes find time to watch and see how people react to the design … so, for a start, it is obvious when people are seeing the bridge for the first time.

It is fascinating but not surprising that the city - because of the prominent location - wanted and commissioned something much more than a basic bridge that could be raised or swung open to let boats sail out from the canal into the harbour. 

And I guess it’s not that surprising that Nordea-fonden were sufficiently taken with the design to finance the work as a gift to the city but, at some point, someone, some how thought about commissioning Olafur Eliasson - the Danish Icelandic artist - to come up with the concept for the form and design the bridge. That is interesting.

His studio is in Berlin and his work challenges you but in a way that is subtle rather than hectoring or shocking. You seem to get drawn in and it is at that point, once you are involved, that you start to question your assumptions or question what everyone, including you, just accept without thinking.

For The River Runs Through It at Louisiana in 2015 the galleries were filled with rocks and gravel - scree from Iceland - with a stream running down the centre through the rooms. In the first space the rocks simply covered the floor but as people walked further in most seemed to slow down, look carefully at different rocks, touch the water, and slowly you could see people realising that in climbing up slowly through the series of galleries, they had just ducked to get under a doorway that they knew to be 4 metres or more high and then you began to see just how monumental the installation was and how radical and how it challenged your perception of what an art gallery could or should be and then question what we take for granted as being inside and what should or should not be outside.

Cirkelbroen if you let it slow you down on your walk - or on your bike - it makes you look in a different way at the harbour and it really doesn’t work like you expect a bridge to work.

The basic concept is that rather than a single arch over the canal, there are a series of five interlinked but offset circles set horizontally to form the deck. This is, in part, the way people are slowed down … so for cyclists it should be more than racing up the ramp, sprinting across the top and racing down the other side … although some do that … and in part it is so that people walking can stand to one side, on one of the great outward-curving bows, to look at the harbour or to look along the canal and watch the boat traffic there. 

Each of the circles has a tall mast at its centre and there are wires down from the top of the masts to the deck, held taut, like standing rigging on a sailing ship so, as you approach along the quay, you have the impression or perhaps, - even less tangible - an echo or a sort of ghost of the large masted boats and sailing barges that in the past docked along the harbour as they unloaded and loaded. Large sailing ships still come into the harbour so you can sometimes see what the harbour must have looked like when this really was a working commercial port. But because the masts on the bridge are off set then this never becomes a pastiche … never an attempt to look like a boat docked here … simply an evocative impression. 

The railings of the bridge are inside the wires and are set to slope inwards to respect the angle of the rigging so again, with the timber hand rail, there is an echo of the railings of a ship but, because of that angle inwards, more dramatic.

And when the bridge opens there really is a sort of magic. Bridges should clink and clunk and chains should pull. Most bridges that open do that. Cirkelbroen glides and, because of the circles and the masts, it seems to pivot and spin. That’s the brilliant part of the concept.

.... or all in the engineering ....

the bridge open for a boat to move out from the canal and into the harbour beyond

 

To be mundane, I suppose Cirkelbroen is simply a bridge over a canal, where there had been no bridge before, but it means that, for the first time, people on bicycles or walking can get along the waterfront of the harbour between Knippelsbro - the historic bridge at the centre of the harbour that links the historic centre and Christianshavn - and Langebro - the main traffic bridge between the city centre and Amager. All that was needed was a simple steel bridge that could either be raised or swung open to let boats from the canal sail out into the harbour.

Of course the bridge designed by Olafur Elliasson is so much more than it … but even so …  in the end … it all has to work and it has to be robust and it has to be relatively quick to move and and easy to operate. So that it is the engineering part of the design that allowed the concept to be realised.

Rambøll - the engineering company - were responsible for the construction of the bridge, and there are a number of interviews on line and a video on YouTube that shows the parts of the bridge deck arriving by barge and being lifted into place by a giant crane on another barge. There you can not only get a real sense of the size and weight of the parts but also get some sense, as it is lowered in to place, how it works. 

the bridge closing and, on the right, almost closed as cyclists wait to cross

 

You can see that although the bridge appears to pivot around the largest mast at the centre of the bridge, when it is opened, there is, in fact, a substantial substructure below the water that swings back and that carries the outer two circles at the Knippelsbro end of the deck in and away to create an opening for taller boats to pass.

The quay here is just 1.6 metres or so above the water and although a bridge deck at the level of the quay would have been simpler, and less intrusive visually, it would have given no head room for vessels to pass under the bridge without it being raised or swung open. By taking the deck up - just 1.1 metres above the quay - most tour boats and smaller pleasure boats and canoes can pass under the bridge with the deck in place. 

But the consequence is that there have to be long ramps up to the deck and because the ramps extend well beyond the quays on either side of the canal then there are also steps up onto the deck from the quay of the canal.

The length and the gradient of the ramp has to be a compromise: short but steep and the ramps would have been difficult for cyclists - particularly if they are riding family bikes, the famous Christiania bike, which can be heavily loaded or they are riding bikes with fixed gears - but too shallow a slope would make the ramp too long. In fact, the ramps seem just slightly too short and steep because cyclists seem to be pushing hard to get the top but then on reaching the deck it is not easy and certainly not an intuitive change to quickly reduce the effort on the pedals so bikes tend to come across the bridge just slightly too fast and, curiously, the curves on the route across either mean people cut the corners slightly - making their route less predictable for other users - or some faster cyclists even do that thing of leaning into the curves as they snake across and actually gain momentum … or at least appear to.

The other problem, of course, is that with tourists they are distracted - looking at the bridge or absorbed by watching what is happening on the harbour or they are looking at the back of a camera or holding up a phone for a selfie rather than watching out for the bikes coming through - so it is also a good place to pick up a smattering of Danish and foreign swear words. 

That’s not to suggest that the concept or the final design is wrong … just that, with any concept, the most difficult part is anticipating how human beings will behave.

Ramboll

 
 

.... or all in the detail?

L1051837.jpg
 

So at the start there is an idea - a brilliant concept - and then the engineering is the how that makes it all work. But I’m fascinated to find out who frets about the small stuff and when. Are the details of the design really just a part of the design process or part of the execution so the responsibility of the people who manufacture or construct or build the design? 

Arne Jacobsen had a reputation for designing every detail and he seems to have kept tight control of a small drawing office so presumably everything, even for a large project, went across his desk but at the other extreme there are architects and designers who present their ‘brilliant’ idea with a flourish, and while others worry about how or if it can be realised, they are off and away on the next exciting idea. Presumably, most major projects have to sit somewhere between those two extremes. And, of course, the details and the quality of the parts always depend on the size of the budget.

And the truth is that in the end, when it’s all finished, all that beautifully executed and expensive detail can be overlooked by people distracted by the excitement of experiencing that dramatic concept. 

The details are not quite the boring bit but more the ignored or under appreciated part of designing and making or constructing something because when you see people looking at Cirkelbroen not one is looking down at the surface they are walking on or looking at the amazing quality of the stonework of the ramps or looking at how the handrail and railings are made or how the curved and angled sections of the railings are spaced so that they slide apart as the bridge opens. Does anyone wonder who designed the beautiful stonework of the steps? One or two twang the wires but that seems to be the extent of their curiosity.

I’d like to see the drawings for this project … the concept drawings to see just how many ideas were discarded and how many stages it took to hone down the idea. And see how many engineering drawings were needed to make sure the bridge would actually open and shut and work and then see how many drawings there were to work through those details of how the precisely-rounded stone blocks for the edge of the ramp would be cut and spaced or the uprights of the railings would be set into the ramp or into the deck of the bridge? And that’s not even beginning to consider the design for lighting the bridge at night and all those diagrams for electric wiring and drawings for the planners and drawings for the press to ensure the public were on side.

Not to wonder about all those things is like being swept away by the power of a complicated piece of music but never once wondering how the composer could possibly have imagined the sound of all those instruments together in that way in their head let alone to be curious about who wrote out all those scores for each instrument in the orchestra.

For a great design you really can’t separate out the concept, the engineering, or the manufacturing methods, that are the how and the details of the what. The simple answer is that for a good or a great design you need an idea followed with the hard work going through the details and the design drawings that ensure it will work and the skills, when making or building or constructing, and materials that are appropriate and of a quality to do justice to the concept. Easy to say. Not easy to do.

So what I am saying, I suppose, is that a great design should be seen not only as a brilliant concept but also as the sum of its parts.