when the lights come on ......

 

Nordea Bank, Strandgade 3, Copenhagen - a series of office buildings designed by Henning Larsen Architects and completed about 2000 and part of a major redevelopment on the site of ship yards. Taking a pattern from warehouses along the harbour, they are relatively narrow but high blocks with their narrow ends towards the water but with flat rather than pitched and tiled roofs. They look quite elegant but slightly severe during the day but that is softened by excellent landscaping and in the late afternoon and evening, with the offices lit, their real elegance and sophistication are revealed. It is then that you can appreciate how the blocks fan out slightly creating slightly different angles of view as you walk along the quay.

 

A gross generalisation I know, but historic buildings in traditional materials are usually best seen during the day because that is when you can appreciate ornate decoration or amazing stone work or complicated brickwork or a beautiful landscape setting of trees and planting. At night those same buildings become much simpler solids and details are flattened and, particularly if they are large buildings, they can be dark and ominous. Walk past a fantastic medieval church or an 18th-century house at night and what might impress is the glow of light and the sense of an internal life from the bright windows but the design of the building, its massing and the design of it's facades and the quality of the external architecture become softened or lost completely in shadow.

Everything changed in the 20th century in towns and cities with relatively bright and relatively cheap artificial light for inside and outdoors … so some shopping streets can have so many bright lights now that you can read outside - well almost - but that rarely does much for the buildings unless it's a son et lumiére or Tivoli and then, in many ways, the point of the whole business is to disguise or transform.

Very bright artificial light also has down sides because it will also flatten or bleach out textures and pattern.

But curiously some modern steel and concrete buildings come alive at night and often it is only at night, when they are lit from within, that you can see the internal structure of the building and begin to appreciate how they function and how they are arranged for people coming and going. 

Ironically, it is glass as a facing material that is transformed most by night and artificial light. A wall of glass during the day, if it is tinted or it's reflective glass, actually reveals very little from the outside and can distort or dull the view from the inside … it can be a uniform skin that hides a complex internal arrangement or can be like someone wearing sunglasses, just reflecting the outside world back at the viewer.

 
 

Denmark’s National Bank, Havnegade 5, Copenhagen by ArneJacobsen from 1965 onwards and completed by Dissing + Weitling. An incredibly sophisticated composition by the greatest Danish architect of the modern period. On the shorter ends narrow panels of stone are separated by very thin vertical openings of glass but on the long sides to the north and south the bay system has the same proportions but with vertical panels of glass. During the day the windows reflect back the sky and the street scape - inscrutable - but at night the individual offices in use are lit so the pattern across the facades is like the display of a graphic equaliser on an audio system … a satisfying image of working into the night to balance the books … or is that taking it all a step too far?

 
 

The Royal Library, Sørens Kierkegaards Plads, Copenhagen by Schmidt Hammer and Lassens completed in 1999. It is at night that the structural complexity of the building is revealed with the ground floor glazed and the whole weight of the building appearing to float above. The central stairhall providing access to the reading rooms on either side becomes a great canyon of light and at night there is a random pattern of narrow horizontal slits of light in the massive blocks on either side where some people are working late in their offices and some rooms are empty and dark.

 
 

Industriens Hus, H C Andersens Boulevard 18, Copennhagen for Dansk Industri by Transform completed 2014. Actually a remodelling of a large brick-faced building that survives in part beneath the glass box. During the day the new building seems too high and somehow out of kilter with the 19th-century City Hall but at night with its advertising it takes a much more exciting part in the square and with the adjoining streets and with the lights of the Tivoli gardens so the area becomes an important hub for people heading home or for people heading into the city in the evening and this will become even more important as part of one of the main transport hubs when a new Metro station opens on the square in 2018.

 
 

N Zahles Gymnasieskole, Nørre Voldgade 5-7, Copenhagen by Rørbæk og Møller Arkitekter 2012. This is an extension to the late 19th-century buildings of a well-established and famous school in the city. On a tightly restricted site, the only way was up but the buildings front onto an important street that already has a visually busy street scape. Extensive new facilities are set behind a filigree of blue-grey metal work that acts as a sort of visual baffle … almost like camouflage … but at night with the rooms lit up, the effect is actually more open and more exciting. 

 

design classic: Series 7 Chair by Arne Jacobsen

The Series 7 Chair, was designed by Arne Jacobsen for Fritz Hansen and was first shown at an international exhibition in Helsingborg in 1955. It has a moulded plywood shell, in a single piece for seat and back, that is supported on a tubular steel base with four thin legs that are slightly splayed outwards and meet at the centre under the seat.

Not only is the Series 7 still in production, over 60 years later, and still the best-selling chair from Fritz Hansen, but it is said to be the most copied chair in the world. Does that make it the first truly universal chair … even the first egalitarian chair? In part that depends on its original and its current price and, I suppose, the number of countries where it is sold because, strictly, to be universal, it has to be available to a very broad demographic. 

Certainly it is a very interesting chair because it has had such a long period of popularity. In part this is because it was not only very much a product of its period but was also incredibly advanced … so, it must have felt very ‘modern’ to buy one in 1955. But actually you could suggest that the design is so simple … so stripped back to basics … that it is as far as is possible timeless. But can it be of it’s period and timeless?That raises the question about why some designs, over time, drift out of favour … become boring or old fashioned or politically inappropriate … a Corbusier chaise covered in zebra skin for instance … and others become icons.

Initially it was not so different that it meant that the customer was taking a risk but the design was also advanced enough that, to some extent, at least some might have seen its potential to remain popular although I’m not sure that even Jacobsen himself would have anticipated that the Series 7 would still be in production into the second and presumably the third decade of a new century. 

That in itself is interesting because in 1955 Jacobsen was a young architect trying to establish his career that was then associated primarily with designing houses but his reputation is now secure as one of the great architects and great designers of his generation. So, in that sense, the Series 7 could be claimed to be iconic and part of that odd current fascination with famous names. Is the chair ‘great design’ because it is by Arne Jacobsen or is Arne Jacobsen a great designer because he designed the Series 7 Chair?

 

The Series 7 Chair was a product of its period because immediately after the war both high-quality raw materials, including timber for furniture, and men with traditional skills, including cabinet makers and upholsterers, were in short supply. A light plywood shell uses much less timber than a traditional chair with a frame in wood and the manufacture of plywood can make use of smaller and younger trees. With a light metal frame, all the parts for the chair could be made in a factory and then assembled … rather than the whole piece having to be made in a workshop by a cabinetmaker, a skilled artisan, shaping and finishing timber parts and cutting carpentry joints. 

For the Series 7 the light construction was also appealing as its style was a clear contrast to the heavy wooden furniture of the pre-war period and it resonated with a growing and wide-spread desire to be International - and so ‘contemporary’ and not obviously of a specific country or recognisable style.

Carsten Thau and Kjeld Vindum, in their book on Jacobsen, suggest that the architect himself preferred a version of the chair with arms and the company also produced Chair 7 with a swivel base. All these versions were used in Rødovre City Hall, just to the west of Copenhagen, that had been designed by Jacobsen and also completed in 1955 so from the start the chair was sold for both commercial and domestic use and the design was even scaled down as a version for children. 

Those first chairs were available in oak, teak, palisander and black or could be upholstered with fabric or leather.

In 1968 Jacobsen himself selected new colours to extend the range with the moulded shell then available in grey, red, curry, green, blue, dark green and white. 

Fritz Hansen later introduced further new colours, notably a new range of nine colours chosen by the artist TAL R to mark the anniversary of the Series 7 in 2015, but there have been versions recently in pink and in very dark blue, for the shell and the legs, as well as versions with legs with a different metal finish to the standard chrome including one option now with a brushed or pewter look.

To mark the 60th anniversary, seven architects, designers or design studios were asked to reinterpret the design and it was interesting to see how designers, many with well-established reputations in their own right, approached the challenge … Zaha Hadid replaced the four legs with three tight loops of metal; Neri & Hua produced a love seat; Jean Nouvel Design a striking black and white love seat, with two chairs linked together but facing in opposite directions; Bjarke Ingels a shell on top of a stack of seats, like strudel pastry or a certain make of potato crisps, and from Snøhetta there was a shell without legs but set in a miniature Nordic landscape.

There are many reasons for the continuing success of the design. Clearly the design is flexible with almost any permutation of colour possible and several different forms of upholstery but perhaps the most obvious reason is its aesthetic appeal … the shell is a beautiful shape with a simple sensuous outline that Jacobsen described as organic. 

But that shape was not just about aesthetics - it was also very practical. Shaping the piece to cut into a narrow centre or waist meant that the seat and back could be curved in two directions … early plywood chairs were curved only in one plane to form what was in effect a scroll for the seat and back. 

To be able to curve the shell in two planes makes the chair much more comfortable so the shape of the back supports the full width across the shoulder blades and the curve in the vertical plane, between back and seat, provides good support if you push your bottom back into the seat and sit upright.

an early version of the chair in Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen with a metal cover over the leg housing - the central disc of plywood to reinforce the seat and take the leg fittings is just visible

a modern version of the chair that is upholstered in leather and has the plastic cover to the leg housing

The seat is curved gently down across the width but there is also a tighter curve downwards of the front edge which means the seat does not stick in the back of the legs but it also gives the front profile a visual weight that makes it look more robust or stronger than if you saw a sharp thin front edge that was just the thickness of the plywood and that curve also hides the housing for the leg unit.

That point where the four legs meet is important for the strength of the chair and for the way it has some give or flexibility as you sit down. It is a matter of balance … too rigid and the seat would feel like sitting on a plank and too flexible and the chair would rock or give in a disconcerting way.

Series 7 is remarkably light but remarkably strong and with that it’s very practical because the arrangement of the legs and the fact that they are slightly splayed means that the chairs can be quickly and easily stacked and stacked high in relatively large numbers so they are good for temporary seating in lecture theatres.

Towards the outer edges of the seat are blocks that hold the legs in place but these also act as spacers when the chairs are stacked so the seats are held level and do not scratch or mark the seat of the chair below.

There is a circular plate of plywood underneath the seat that reinforces the seat and gives it slightly more rigidity but also gives greater thickness for fitting the leg unit without carrying that thickness further across the seat. In contrast, plastic shells can have gradual or even sudden modifications of thickness for strength or extra rigidity or for sockets for legs or arms or whatever but an essential and inevitable feature of plywood is that it is a constant thickness … for the Series 7 the plywood is 9mm thick.

Plastic rather than plywood for the shell would have been possible in 1955 - the famous chair with a plastic shell by Charles and Ray Eames was designed in 1948 and in production by 1950 - but would have been more expensive to produce as it required an investment in expensive and highly specialised machines and although chairs in moulded plastic are now common and popular, in the 1950s and through into the 60s and even later they were considered by many to look slightly cheap and be inappropriate in a home although perfectly acceptable and with clear advantages for a school or a canteen. 

With their very thin almost spidery legs the Series 7 probably looks better as one of a group - so around a dining room table - rather than standingalone but also looks good in rows.

Perhaps this is the key to it’s success. The design is flexible and works well in a variety of settings and for a wide range of uses … the standard plywood shell can be used with a wide variety of bases, including a swivel unit, so it can be used in an office and the shell can be fixed to a horizontal rail or bar in a lecture theatre with fixed seating or even fixed directly to a step in raked seating. The elegant shape of the back means that they get away from the solid, block-like appearance of most cinema and theatre seating.

 

the lecture theatre of Museet for Søfart ... the Danish maritime museum Elsinore

 

Why has the Series 7 Chair had such a wide and long-lasting success? In part it has benefitted from good marketing. Each succeeding generation at Fritz Hansen seems to be given the task of re packaging the chair. The design is simple, so in some ways it can become what the buyer wants, helped by considerable flexibility in the number of permutations so wth a good coat of paint in a strong colour it looks great in a school but with an expensive veneer, matt metal legs and squab cushions in the best leather it can be used with an expensive table in the most sophisticated dining room in an expensive home.

But there are other less tangible, less easy to define qualities. Jacobsen was an architect rather than coming through the traditions of cabinetmaking and furniture design, so what was important to him was how the chairs looked in the space of a room. 

The design is novel but not extreme; still distinct and immediately recognised but that does not seem to have restricted its appeal and its not a heavy and aggressive and masculine look but not overtly feminine either. Does that make it a compromise … be it an incredibly elegant and much admired and very popular and commercially successful compromise but never-the-less a compromise? 

 

the shell chair

plywood chairs by Arne Jacobsen

sixtieth anniversary of Series 7 chair from Fritz Hansen

new Fritz Hansen design store

a series of posts on the architecture of Arne Jacobsen

 

The National Bank of Denmark, Havnegade 5, Copenhagen - winning design in the closed competition of 1961, built in two phases and completed in 1978

 

Arne Jacobsen was the most important and the most innovative Danish architect and designer of the 20th century. Certainly he has a well-established International reputation but perhaps some do not automatically associate the work of Jacobsen with the idea of innovation, in part because many of his buildings are well-known and familiar and probably half the homes in Denmark have at least one Jacobsen chair but also because we are all now so used to seeing buildings that are taller, bigger, more exciting or more dramatic. That is unfair … obviously it's not, to use an English phrase, a case of familiarity breeding contempt but his buildings have to be seen and judged in the context of the period through which he lived. It is then that you can see just how innovative and important his buildings and his furniture designs really were. 

Jacobsen trained as an architect in the 1920s, established his own office in 1929 and continued to work on major projects through to his death in 1971. Born in Copenhagen at the very beginning of the 20th century, the buildings of his child hood were cluttered middle-class apartment buildings and grand new, or then relatively new, public buildings in red brick that piled together motifs from Renaissance Germany, French palaces and Danish buildings from the 17th century. At the end of the road where he grew up was a new dock, the Free Port opened in 1904, that had huge warehouses and administrative buildings that owed more to pattern books of bits from north European baronial halls than to anything we would now see as appropriate for industrial buildings yet little more than 20 years later, as an ambitious and recently-qualified young architect, Jacobsen was designing a house “for the future” that was circular with a garage on one side - at a time when few owned a car - and with a boat house on the other side for a swish motor launch and a landing pad for a sort of helicopter, an auto gyro, on the roof. A fantasy of sorts - a winning entry for a competition organised by the Federation of Danish Architects in 1928 - but actually realised if only for a short time in 1929 for an exhibition on housing at the Forum in Copenhagen.  

Through the 1920s and into the 1930s Jacobsen trained with and then worked with the young Danish architects who were looking at architecture in a much more rational way - the Functionalists - building new and better and more practical versions of all those apartment buildings of the late 19th century but trying to improve the quality of mass housing. Many of those buildings, despite many ‘modern’ features seem rooted in the 1930s but Jacobsen developed a sharper, cleaner aesthetic - a remarkably refined use of new technologies and new building methods that exploited and developed to the full the relatively new combination of concrete and steel and he made the use of standard windows and doors and fittings, produced in a factory rather than on site, into a positive and strong characteristic of his buildings. In essence he designed modern buildings that from this view point, well into the 21st century, look good but nothing special but when they were built must have been astounding. Perhaps, in a curious way, Jacobsen’s building look less significant than they really were because we have finally caught up with him.

Housing for young couples, Ved Ungdomsboligerne, Gentofte 1947-1949

And he designed a remarkable range of buildings from a large number of compact family houses, mostly in brick, larger villas, apartment buildings, theatres, factories and town halls, buildings for sport and leisure, including an indoor riding school, and what was, at its completion, a groundbreaking hotel and air terminal for SAS in Copenhagen, along with major international commissions and of course his design of the National Bank in Copenhagen, one of his last works. 

He was and is equally well known for his furniture - many of the designs still in production - and that is where you begin to see the intriguing contradictions in his work. It seems difficult to reconcile, as the work of a single imagination, the elegant but flat, almost-mechanical and certainly graphic and strictly geometric design of the exterior of the SAS hotel, the product of precise lines on a drawing board, with the sculptural boldness of the Egg Chair and the Swan Chair designed for the same building and then see the same hand, let alone the same design aesthetic, in the water colour drawings he produced and the floral wallpapers he designed when he was in exile in Sweden in the mid 40s … just a few years before he designed the hotel.

3316, The Egg, designed for Fritz Hansen in 1958 and displayed here at their showroom at Pakhus 48 in Copenhagen

What is also remarkable - in a period when major architects seek and win commissions all over the World - is that Jacobsen remained in Copenhagen, the city where he was born, and so, within a relatively small area, it is possible to see a large number of the buildings he designed. He worked on the town hall in Århus, designed factories in Germany and designed a complete college in Oxford but even for those projects he had a small team in his office and they worked from his studio in his home, first in Ordrup, on the north side of Copenhagen, and then after the war, less than 2 kilometres away, in a new house that was one of a row that Jacobsen designed just above the beach and overlooking the Øresund at Klampenborg.

With relatively good weather and the sharper light of the Spring, this seemed like a good time to look at and photograph a number of Jacobsen’s buildings in and around Copenhagen and to produce a number of posts for this site and also a pretty good excuse for the first trip of the summer to the Bella Vista beach.

 

Over a period of a month or so, it was clearly not possible to do a lot of detailed or original research for a series like this but a good time to look and think and the advantage of an online format is that it’s possible to present a lot more images than in a magazine article or a book and, if it is possible to get access to more buildings or return to buildings in better weather or different light, new photographs will be added to these posts.

all in the detail … geometry and proportion in buildings by Arne Jacobsen

Towards the end of his life, in an interview that was published in Politiken in 1971, Arne Jacobsen explained that “the main thing is proportioning. Proportioning is what makes the beauty of old Greek temples classical. Like great blocks from which the air is literally carved out between the columns. And whether we look at a building from the Baroque, from the Renaissance, or from our own time the ones we wish to look at, the ones we admire - they are all well-proportioned: this is what is decisive.”  1

It is a comment that reveals much about an underlying aesthetic principle that was at the core not only of his architecture but also his designs for furniture and interiors … an aesthetic that can be seen in major works of this late period of his career such as St Catherine’s College in Oxford or his last major commission for the National Bank in Copenhagen. Not just buildings designed with elegant proportions but buildings that are calm and monumental in a way that is closely reminiscent of the best classical buildings.

 

That vivid and evocative description of “air carved out between the columns” provides one key to understanding buildings like Søllerød town hall but, equally, carefully resolved proportions are elemental to the design of small houses, in Jacobsen’s designs for gardens and as a key characteristic of his furniture.

He clearly saw the design of an elevation - the arrangement of doors and windows, their relative size and their spacing with an appropriate balance between the openings and solid wall - as an opportunity to use a rational grid as the underlying framework and he used geometry and mathematically determined proportions, not just for the overall outline of a facade but also for the features or the constituent parts of a design.

To some extent, the use of standard and repeated units for the elevations of large modern buildings and regular and equal floor heights repeated up the building would have created a grid pattern in any case but Jacobsen applied a system of proportions to the facades in buildings through the 1930s and then on into his post-war works, trying different arrangements for each design but becoming more complicated with each project.

 

Nyropsgade 18, Copenhagen  building for A Jespersen & Son,    completed in 1955

 

The City Hall, Rødovre Rødovre Parkvej 150 1956

 

SAS Royal Hotel, Hammerichsgade 1-5, Copenhagen 1960

 

A careful use of geometry and proportion is less obvious in smaller brick houses simply because, when compared with the front of an office building like the Jespersen block, the use of a design grid is clearly less pronounced but in the design for his own house at Gotfred Rodes Vej, the plan of the main room on the ground floor has the proportions of a golden rectangle and although ceiling heights are not given on the plan used for writing this post, a height of 2.5 metres, which is quite reasonable for a house of this size, would mean that it is possible that heights and therefore the volume or space within the house were also determined by golden proportions. The side block of that house, including the staircase, kitchen and dining room on the ground floor, is certainly a golden rectangle externally, and interlocking with that space, the staircase, the entrance hall and the small room to the right of the entrance in their overall dimensions define another golden rectangle so, at the very least, the starting point for the plan of his own house in 1929 was a geometric framework based on the golden section which was then developed into the final design even if every room and every feature did not fit precisely into a proportional straight jacket.

Jacobsen’s later home at the east end of the row at Strandvejen is even less obvious as a design based on geometry because there rather than the simple blocks and flat roofs of the first house, obvious geometric blocks, his post-war house is in a terrace or row and has a long narrow footprint and sloping roofs but even there the starting point appears to be a grid based on golden rectangles. The main part of those houses is a long block running north south and, starting with the width of that block, then it’s length is two golden rectangles set end to end and the main room on the top floor has the proportions of a golden rectangle. In Jacobsen’s own house in the terrace, because it is at the end of the row, it has space for an additional block on the east side that contains rooms on all three levels and that is based on a square with the dimension that is the starting point of the two golden rectangles of the main block.

For larger buildings such as the SAS Hotel in Copenhagen, Jacobsen was clearly aware that with the industrialisation of building construction, where you use a large number of components that were made in a factory and assembled on site, including all the windows, then to get the proportions of a single unit wrong would mean that that potentially ugly or disproportionate elements would be multiplied along the length of the facade or throughout the building to compound a poor design: it was essential that each part had to be not only well made but also well proportioned.

In fact, for the SAS Hotel in Copenhagen, not only was the design of the elevation based on geometric proportions but the basic window width of 60 centimetres, or multiples of that dimension, was used by Jacobsen for standard furniture and fittings for the rooms, including bedside tables and bed headboards so that furniture and fittings could be used in different positions and different combinations but still relate to the basic proportions of the space.  

Jacobsen trained at a time when both classicism and functionalism were dominant in Danish architecture and surviving drawings show that he studied classical buildings on trips to Italy …that included visits to Paestum. 

Nor is Jacobsen alone in using not just proportion but specifically the golden rectangle or golden proportion at this time.

In Norway the academic Frederick Macody Lund (1863-1943) was involved in a long-running dispute about the restoration of Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim where he contended that the design of the medieval building had been based on the Golden Section and argued that geometry should be the principle control for any new work. The controversy this created was published in 1915.

In 1920, just before Jacobsen began his training at the Academy, Ivar Bentsen (1876-1943) produced designs for a new Philharmonic Building in Copenhagen where the fenestration was based on the Golden Section so the upper windows were square 5 by 5, the windows below that 8 by 5, then below that level windows13 by 5 and the lower row of openings was 21 high by 5 wide … in fact a ground floor and mezzanine. The dimensions of the windows are a progression based on golden proportions but presumably that was not immediately obvious even to someone interested in geometry.

That is part of the problem with using geometry: it is a useful tool as a starting point but if applied slavishly can produce a design that at best is mechanical and at worst is seen as something esoteric or downright obsessional when the geometry is pointed out to most people … even to many architects.

That is not to suggest it has no value. For thousands of years, artists and architects and designers have realised that certain shapes and certain lines are seen as more attractive or even as more beautiful than others and actually most people can appreciate that difference. As soon as you say that something looks a bit thin or something looks rather squat then you are making a judgement about the proportions.

Steen Eiler Rasmussen discussed this in his general work on architecture, Om at opleve arkitektur, published in 1957 and published in English as Experiencing Architecture in 1959.

In a chapter on Scale and Proportion, he talks about mathematical relationships and compares music and architecture … talking about composition and harmony.

“The truth” he explained, “is that all comparison of architectural proportions with musical consonance can only be regarded as metaphor … that scale and proportion play a very important role in architecture is unquestionable. But there are no visual proportions which have the same spontaneous effect on us as those which we ordinarily call harmonies and disharmonies in music.” 2

In that book Rasmussen also gives a very clear explanation of how the Golden Section is constructed and discusses how it was used by Le Corbusier in the 1920s as part of his system of subdividing or creating a series of related parts described as “Le Modular.” 

A return to simple facades with no or with much less decorative detail and a general return to symmetry and the rejection of designs that copied or adapted decorative details from earlier periods but applied them to distinctly new building types was a reaction against Romanticism. Young architects questioned why it was appropriate to use features taken from mediaeval architecture for a railway station. In 1954 the architect Kay Fisker explained bluntly that “… through a deliberate work with proportions and metrics, it was possible to reintroduce the concept of order after the individualistic chaos of the Nyrop era” … Nyrop being the architect most famously of the City Hall in Copenhagen that was completed in 1905.

Of course classical architecture, looking back to ancient Athens or Rome, for inspiration was equally used as a source of features from historic buildings whose original function had little to do with 20th-century buildings but, at least, stripped back to elements of construction then it is possible to argue that a system of vertical supports and horizontal beams - columns and lintels - the basic elements of classical buildings - created more appropriate and more practical spaces than arches and vaults and buttresses.

For Arne Jacobsen symmetry rather than asymmetry and clear honest construction used to create clean well proportioned spaces - rather than a building having a veneer of pattern that was more to do with nostalgia and romanticism than it was to to do with the real structure underneath - appealed to his own taste for clarity and for rational architecture that was essentially linear and graphic rather than sculptural and decorative.

 

 

Notes:

1 Quoted by Carsten Thau and Kjeld Vindum in their definitive work Arne Jacobsen (2002) page 16 

2 Steen Eiler Rassmussen, Experiencing Architecture (1959) page 105

the buildings in Klampenborg by Arne Jacobsen

 

This amazing group of buildings in Klampenborg, within a relatively small area along the beach or set back immediately behind the coast road, were designed by Arne Jacobsen in the 1930s, with some houses added in the 1950s that includes the house where Jacobsen lived and had his own studio and drawing office. These are buildings by a major architect exploring a number of construction systems and experimenting with the use of new materials, including concrete, and working on an astonishing range of building types and with a significant influence on the landscape setting.

 

The buildings from the 1930s include:

  1.     Coastal Baths with Changing Rooms and Life Guard Towers 1930-1932
  2.     Bellavista Housing Complex 1931-1934
  3.     Mattsson Riding School 1933-1934
  4.     Additions to the Riding School Restaurant with a verandah
  5.     Bellevue Theatre and Bellevue Restaurant, Strandvejen - 1935-1937 
  6.     Texaco Service Station, Strandvejen, Skovhoved 1937 
  7.     Kiosk complex and kayak club to the south of the coastal bath built in 1938

 

 

After the war, the Søholm houses were built on the gardens of an old house that was demolished but gave its name to the new houses. Their designs mark a move away from the white walls and flat roofs of the International Style of the earlier buildings.

  1. Søholm I 1946-1950
  2. Søholm II 1949-1951
  3. Søholm III 1953-1954

Perhaps the one regret is that an opportunity was missed here in that Jacobsen was not commissioned to design a new railway station for Klampenborg in an appropriate International Modern style or is that expecting just too much in a boxed set?

 

 

notes and background:

Klampenborg is north of Copenhagen, about 9 kilometres from the north-east corner of the old city at Østerport.

Although now, as you drive out of the city along the coast road there appears to be continuous development, in the early 19th century there was little immediately beyond the east gate of the city with a just a few large houses with gardens in the area between the lakes and the sea shore and then beyond, what was then a relatively small settlement, Hellerup. Beyond Hellerup there were odd farmhouses and fishermen’s cottages - several single-storey thatched houses survive among the later villas - but most people travelling north out of the city must have followed a road just inland on higher ground through Lyngby. 

Immediately to the north of Klampenborg was a royal deer park, Dyrehave, that was established in the late 17th century but in the 19th century was opened to the public to become a very popular place for a day out from the city particularly when Bakken, an amusement park, opened on the south-east corner of the park in 1830. Bakken is still a very popular destination for the citizens of Copenhagen … the main entrance is just to the north of the railway station. 

The railway line to Klampenborg was constructed in the 1860s and the current station building dates from 1897.

A coastal fortress at Charlottenlund, south of Klampenborg, was built in the 1880s as part of an outer defence to protect the Sound and the approach to the harbour but it had a relatively short life in military control and was de-commissioned in the 1930s when its earth ramparts were opened to the public as part of a new coastal park. The coast road was pulled back from the shore and sand was imported to form a wide new beach for sea bathing at Klampenborg.

There was a trolley bus service out to Klampenborg from Copenhagen and a coastal steamer that brought people here from the city with new boats brought into service from 1934 and in that year a suburban train service from Copenhagen to Klampenborg - the S train - opened making it possible for middle-class families to live in Klampenborg and commute into the city to work or shop.

Arne Jacobsen - buildings for Novo Nordisk in Copenhagen

 

In a period when most major architects have an international career, working on commissions almost anywhere in the World, it is relatively rare for any to return to work for the same client again or to add new buildings to an earlier commission but Arne Jacobsen worked for the company Novo Nordisk through his career, designing first a villa in Klampenborg in 1933 for Thorvald Pedersen, a founding director and owner of the company, and then factories and housing, for workers in the company, and one of Jacobsen’s last commissions was a finishing plant for Novo in Mainz in 1970, the year before his death.

At one site, in an outer district of Copenhagen in the west part of the city and on the north edge of Fredriksberg, Jacobsen designed three separate buildings for Novo over a period of well over 35 years and it is fascinating, with that single group of buildings, to see distinct phases in the architect’s career. 

Of course the buildings also reflect wider changes of style over a period that covers almost the complete span of Jacobsen’s professional life but you can see how ideas were developed from other buildings he was working on or how he returned to certain ideas and, in revisiting, took the idea in a different direction. Also, of course, the buildings reflect how the form of factories changed in this period with rapid advances in engineering; major changes in production methods and simply changes in the scale of production that required ever larger and ever more specialised buildings to house specific processes.

Nordre Fasanvej 215, Copenhagen 1934-1935 

The villa for Pedersen at Kongehøjen 3 in Klampenborg was completed in 1933 and then the first building for Pedersen’s company, commissioned shortly after that, were research laboratories and offices dating from 1934 -1935 at Nordre Fasanvej 215, in Copenhagen … an addition to what was then the Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium. 

This new building was on a fairly restricted site adjoining an older building that had been acquired by the company when it was established in 1929. There was a major road out of the city curving across the south front of the original building - now a very busy and elevated road -Bispeengbuen. Curving across the back of the site is a suburban railway line - the elevated section of track between Fuglebakken and Nørrebro stations - and running north south, forming the east boundary of the triangular site is a busy road, Nordre Fasanvej.

The front of the first new building by Jacobsen faces onto Nordre Fasanvej and is of three storeys over a half basement. It has regularly-spaced square windows on the two upper floors and a boldly-curved corner at the entrance to the site close to the design of Jacobsen’s contemporary work for the Stelling Building in Copenhagen but instead of glazed shop windows with large panes of glass, as on the lower two floors of the city-centre building, the laboratory on the main level has a long run of windows divided by glazing bars into narrow, horizontally-set rectangular panes of glass through which the concrete columns of the building’s structure can be seen set back slightly behind the facade. Rather than continuing down to the ground, this long curved run of glass is set slightly forward of the wall above and below and the wall below, on the main wall plane, has a series of half-height windows at pavement level to light basement rooms and these windows respect the width and spacing of the upper fenestration. 

This range has a flat roof which is in marked contrast to the pitched clay-tile roofs of the long, low, partly-framed structure of the earlier building to its west. 

At the south end of the new range is a turret that is slightly higher than the street range and faces south with a main entrance door at street level and the main staircase with the slightly unusual feature of windows on the west side that are narrow and set high and at an angle to follow the line of the flights of the staircase with horizontal sections at each end to light landings rather than having either staggered windows set square or windows at the front landing to cast light up the flights of the staircase.

 

Extension to the Nodre Fasanvej laboratory 1954-1955

In 1954 work started to extend the laboratory building to the north along Fasanvej and that new block is set back from the pavement and includes a very distinct external circular metal staircase to the front in a glass tube that is a development of the contemporary staircase at the Jespersen building in Copenhagen. The staircase is set forward free of the facade with open concrete landings linking back to doorways on the first and the second floor.

The windows in the addition are not as large as those in the earlier range but form continuous bands across the front on all three floors. Early photographs show dark louvres in a narrow band above the windows on the second floor and in a wide strip completely covering not only the ground-floor windows but also the panels immediately above the windows … an area marked by a shallow recess with a step forward two panels above the lower windows and one panel below the first-floor windows. These louvres do not survive but would certainly have relieved the severity of the present street front.  

 

Hillerødegade, Copenhagen 1966-1969

In 1966 Jacobsen designed a new production plant, an enzyme factory, on the north side of the railway track, on Hillerødegade, that was completed in 1969. This has a number of separate blocks and are some of Jacobsen’s most severe and minimalist facades with dark louvres to ventilation on the ground floor that continues unbroken across all windows and then above stark light grey panels, seven panels to the full height of the upper part, and each panel marked out as tiles four tiles by four tiles, forming a grid rather like graph paper and broken only by a series of circular extraction vents above the louvres. 

End walls are blind, without any openings, and at the corners of the blocks, the facing panels meet at their inner edges creating a thin line of emphasis … an almost graphic line noted on other buildings including the National Bank in Copenhagen.

 

note:

The pharmaceutical company is now known as Novo Industri A/S.

Søllerød Town Hall

 

In 1939 Arne Jacobsen and Flemming Lassen won an open competition to design a new town hall, a new library and a theatre in Søllerød.

Work on the town hall started almost immediately but, with the onset of war, plans for the theatre and the library were first postponed and then abandoned. 

Completed in 1942, the town hall is stunning but it is a building of curious contradictions …. it is constructed in concrete with concrete and clinker internal walls - making use of new materials and engineering of the most up-to-date buildings of the period - but it is faced with pale, buff-coloured and finely-veined marble from Porsgrunn in Norway so an expensive building material and one more often associated with tradition and status and, certainly, with the implication of a sense of permanence even now not associated with the use of concrete. At the very least, the use of marble for the exterior appears to be a statement that here there had been an investment in a high-quality building that was expected to be in use for many years. 

Although, in many ways, this must have appeared at the time to be an uncompromisingly modern building, the elegant, carefully-proportioned and finely-detailed elevations that Jacobsen designed, owe much to both Functionalism but also to the earlier, well-established Danish architectural style that is generally known as New Classicism in Denmark from twenty or thirty years earlier. 

A new town hall seems to represent stability and optimism for the future, as the old city expanded rapidly out into new suburbs, but it was started in the year that the Spanish Civil War came to an end and just as Europe moved towards an all-encompassing war. 

Above all, although this is the town hall for a new and expanding suburb, the building is not in the densely built-up urban setting of a traditional townscape but has a distinctly rural setting, standing back from the road, beyond a wide area of grass, not in a civic square, but set on a sloping site against the green of the well-established trees of an ancient royal forest.

site

Søllerød is on the east shore of Furesø - one of several large lakes in this part of Zealand - and is about 16 kilometres north of Copenhagen and half way along Kongevejen - the historic King’s Road from Copenhagen to the royal castle at Frederiksborg - the long straight road runs across the west side of the town hall and forms the west boundary of the site.

The old settlement of Søllerød is on higher ground, to the east of the town hall, on the north edge of the forest that forms the backdrop to the town hall on its east and south sides. 

West of the main road - about 400 metres from the town hall - is the railway station of Holte on the Nordbanen - a suburban line from Copenhagen to Hillerød - and the north boundary of the site is Øverødvej - the road that runs from the railway station to the old settlement of Holte, to the east, and then from there on to the coast. 

Areas of modern housing along Øverødvej and around the lake and to the north, in the development of new Holte, are served by the railway. Both a regular suburban train service and new housing were part of the rapid growth of Greater Copenhagen through the 1930s. 

In 1947, after the war, a plan to control this growth was formalised in the so called Finger Plan - an urban and regional development plan where there were to be five ‘fingers’ of suburban development spreading out from Copenhagen - the city being the palm of the hand - with each line of development to be along a suburban train line with areas of countryside and greenery between each finger to prevent the more typical unbroken and unrelenting development found around so many large, historic cities. This long-term policy for development - a framework for the ongoing expansion of Copenhagen - was politically and socially driven and an important part of the plan was to encourage high-quality design for new housing and for new schools and municipal buildings in the post-war period.

evolution of the scheme

A drawing now in the archive collection of Danmarks Kunstbibliotek in Copenhagen (Inv. nr. 1445 19-201445 20) shows an early proposal for the municipal buildings in Søllerod with the town hall in a single, long range, set back further east from the main road than the line of the present building.

The new library is shown as a large, self-contained building, south and west of the town hall - so closer to the main road - and in part it would have obscured the main west front of the office range of the town hall, but with a large open courtyard area between the two buildings and with the whole area paved.

On that drawing, there is a ‘movie theatre’ in a separate building to the east of the town hall that was to be set at a slight angle behind the main council chamber, facing north, with a second large courtyard between the two buildings that was open to Øverødvej. Drawings show a high and fan-shaped block for the theatre that is reminiscent of the theatre at Klampenborg - completed by Jacobsen a few years earlier - and there was to have been a pergola or verandah across the entrance front of the theatre and down the west side reminiscent again of the Klampenborg theatre with a long terrace to the south of its entrance.

If the town hall, library and theatre at Søllerod had been completed as proposed, it would have created a major group of municipal buildings in an extensive and unified civic townscape with two large open courtyards with planting and paving schemes all designed by the architect. However, this initial scheme appears, if anything, to be over complicated, so somehow less monumental, and, certainly, the less-well resolved silhouette of the proposed library and the bulk of the theatre immediately behind the Council Chamber would, surely, have distracted from the pure and very elegant simplicity of the town hall itself as built. 

In the final designs, as built, the council chamber and council committee rooms were constructed in a three-storey block at the north end of the building - closest to the road junction - with a three-storey range of administrative offices to its south, set back further to the east, so further from the roads than the council chamber, but overlapping the council chamber block, with the entrance and main staircase in that area where the two blocks meet.

 

the plan

Within a compact and straightforward plan, Søllerød town hall is sophisticated and the plan highly organised with the arrangement of spaces carefully controlled and determined by the separation of different functions in the different parts of the building.

There is a primary division between the north part with the main council chamber and meeting rooms - the formal public areas - and the offices of the administrative staff in the south range. An exception in this division is the Wedding Room - a public and ceremonial space that is in the office range on an upper level but it is placed immediately off the main staircase so, with easy access, and, presumably, the public had some access to the offices for meetings, for instance, with town architects and planners.

Without seeing more initial sketches or preparatory drawings, it’s not easy to reconstruct the sequence of ideas that were explored in the first stages of the design or to track how ideas for the building evolved but it must have been at an early point that the arrangement with two overlapping blocks was established instead of the simpler first proposal for a building in a single long range. 

Having made that decision, it was rational for the main staircase to be at the junction of the two blocks to serve both the more public areas - the council chamber, committee rooms on one side of the entrance and the offices for administrative staff on the other - and then, obviously, the simple and rational position for the main staircase was as part of the entrance hall. So far so logical.

Having determined that basic division - between the council chamber and the administrative offices - the site itself determined the orientation of the building and its overall size. And presumably there was an early decision to place the council chamber and the entrance close to the road, close to the junction, in part to emphasise the open and democratic and public aspect of council meetings - an arrangement repeated in a later design by Jacobsen for the town hall for Rødovre. 

Setting back the range of offices meant also that it was slightly further back from the noise from traffic on the road although, of course, it is possible that the position of the office range might simply have been a consequence of leaving space at the south corner of the plot for the library that was not built.

The town hall pre-dates the period for open-plan offices so the efficient and logical arrangement of a large number of small separate rooms is to place them on either side of a spine corridor with windows looking outwards on both sides and to stack up the offices in a number of floors. The number of separate offices required and the relationships of rooms with different functions that had to be close to each other must have been set out by the council officers so then there was a simple choice … the longer the block the less floors or the shorter the block the more additional stories would be needed. In the final design, offices are arranged over four floors.

One gain that came from breaking the main blocks of the building - to set half of it back - was that it allowed for a straightforward solution for lighting the spine corridor, between the lines of offices, so there are large full-height and full-width windows at both ends of the corridor at every level … an arrangement that was not possible, for instance, in the single long block of Rødovre Town hall where there were also blind gable ends to the long range which meant that the only natural light in the long internal corridors in that building is from borrowed light from the offices through glazing along the upper part of the walls of the corridor.

At Søllerød: the council chamber is on the first floor - in Rødovre the Council Chamber is at ground-floor level - so the main staircase at Søllerød town hall gains in significance because the councillors and the public have to climb up to the council chamber. 

Jacobsen plays with and makes use of these changes of level. The entrance on the ground floor and the Council Chamber on the first floor are in a block that is built over a basement but the offices are over a half basement … so the lowest level is half below ground and half above ground with the rooms on the west side lit by windows with sills at pavement level. Floors in the office range are therefore half a level up or half a level down from the floor levels in the council chamber block. And that makes the staircase at the junction much more interesting because it had to reconcile different levels and different circulation patterns as people move through the building and move between levels using either the staircase or a lift in the central well of the staircase.

The lower level in the office range also takes into account the natural slope of the site where, on the east side away from the road, the ground is at a lower level.

Because the main staircase here is such an important feature of the building, it illustrates well a more general point that, when trying to understand the arrangement of a complicated building, it is sometimes helpful to think about what was not done and why in order to disentangle the design process and understand why certain decisions were made by the architects.

  • In trying to analyse the design of the staircase at the town hall, the starting point has to be that it fits within a grid or bay system for the whole building … the primary dimension for a bay is the width of a window and, of course, half the pier on each side and all the rooms in the office range are a multiple of that unit. Toilets are one window wide, smaller offices are two windows wide, larger offices three windows wide and so on. The stair hall is three bays wide … each flight being the same width as a window bay and the stair well is also a bay wide.
  • There is a flight of steps up from the entrance hall on the north side of the stair well that rises up to a half landing at the main level of the office range - half a floor level above - and a second flight on the south wall of the stair well from that landing rises to the level of the Council Chamber.
  • That first landing is in front of the corridor of the office range, with doors between the landing and the corridor, which means that people using the staircase do not intrude into the office area when going up and down the staircase.
  • However, the upper landing is in line with and is a continuation of the lobby to the Council Chamber but it also forms a gallery that looks down onto the entrance with the area immediately inside the doors open through two floors.
  • So the main staircase rises up clockwise … placing the foot of the staircase on the north side at the entrance level which also moves the visitor to the left towards the information area and the public area below the chamber and this movement to the left is reinforced by the floor where rectangles of stone are laid with the long side across the axis of entry … if they had been set the other way then it would have drawn visitor towards the staircase. This may seem to be oddly subtle but actually using architecture like this is an important way to control how people move through a space without using signs or barriers.
  • Climbing up the staircase clock-wise also makes a better approach to the Council Chamber … if the first flight up had been on the south side of the stair well and it had risen anti-clockwise around the lift then, at the first-floor of the staircase, there would have been an awkward sharp turn to the right to enter the lobby of the Council Chamber.
  • The three openings of the entrance line through with the three parts of the staircase … the north and the south flights of steps and the lift in the centre.
  • Extending the entrance hall out with a fourth window opening to the front not only gives the entrance hall more generous space but also balances the four windows of the Council Chamber at the north end of the facade.
  • Three large windows on the south side of the entrance hall, matching in form and width those to the front, not only brings more light into the space but gives the entrance a stronger three-dimensional form as it appears to wrap around the corner of the block and it also makes the space appear to be much more generous by providing visitors with an area to wait just off to one side of the route where people are coming and going.
  • Perhaps the only disadvantage from moving the south wall of the entrance hall outwards is that this overlaps and blocks what would be the northernmost window at each floor on the west front of the office range.

But, because the design of the entrance hall and staircase at the town hall appears to be simple and rational there is a danger that the complexity and the skill of the design are not appreciated. The more you look at the design of the town hall, the more the plans and elevations seem to be so refined - refined in the sense of boiled down or reduced and concentrated - that they suggest that for Jacobsen this was a clever and satisfying intellectual exercise - almost a game - and one he was good at playing.

This is where architecture begins to resemble perhaps not jazz but at least musical composition by taking themes and variations to make new combinations but themes that together to make a complete and unified work. When you look at architecture in terms of logic and balance, and because you can use a similar vocabulary, including descriptions about harmony or dissonance, then that comparison - comparing architectural design with musical composition - can work well as an appropriate simile. 

the exterior

On the exterior, Søllerød is so restrained that it comes close to being austere - even a little remote - in the sense that it is slightly aloof and not just because the building is isolated and set slightly apart from other buildings in the town.

In essence, this is New Classical or neo-classical architecture and Greek rather than Roman - elegant and controlled rather than dramatic and theatrical - and austere because plinths, pilasters and entablatures or string courses have been omitted or cut back smooth and flush. 

So the entrance to the town hall is a portico but one that has been distilled down, stripped and reduced to an almost abstract expression: the four tall windows of the entrance have such thin frames and so few subdivisions of the glass that they read as openings in a colonnade.

The arrangement of windows across the facade is also simple and sober … repetitive or even slightly mechanical … with only the windows of the council chamber, the entrance hall and the windows at the end of the corridors taking a different form. 

On the tall windows of the Council Chamber there are narrow transoms but as part of the frame, rather than being wider and in marble, and there in part to respect and reinforce the horizontal line of the tops of the line of windows along the rest of the front. Not only are the facades designed over an almost unrelenting and regular grid of repeated parts with equal bay widths but the effect of the design actually depends on that precise repetition of these parts.

On the office range, and on the lower or secondary rooms of the council-chamber block, the windows are not quite square … just slightly wider than high and the metal frames are thin and set right on the front face of the facade to cut out any shadow and that makes the elevations flat and dependent on line rather than having any sense of depth … making it as elegant as a fine line drawing.

That is not to imply that the facades are flat and lifeless because the marble has a distinct pattern of veining and modulation of colour and tone that with the reflective qualities of the stone gives the facade life … you can appreciate how important this is if you just imagine exactly the same elevations in concrete.

What is also curious here is the idea of residual architectural features. Normally, facades, particularly in stone and particularly in grander or larger buildings, used projecting horizontal and vertical features, such as plinths, window sills, strings, cornices and pilasters or quoins at the corners to reinforce the appearance of strength in the structure and create shadow and give the building a sense of a formal and very solid volume. Then, much of that effect depends upon projection and cast shadow. What is fascinating about the setting out of the exterior marble at Søllerød is that some of those features are there in the courses of the blocks of marble but are left flush with the surface creating an overall impression that the marble is a smooth skin stretched over the simple volumes of the blocks that make up the building … just two main blocks and the suggestion of a third in the impression that the entrance hall is a cube that is sliding out diagonally from the corner of the council chamber block.

Vertical joins are carefully placed at regular and very precise positions and the effect depends on very sharp and accurate cutting of the marble and minimal but precise joints between the blocks. 

There is also an obvious and rational arrangement of the blocks although the courses are of different sizes.

So, at the outer corners there are narrow and wide blocks that alternate down the corner as if the building was constructed in ashlar but as these are not expressed as quoins - blocks of stone that project from the corners - the effect is perhaps slightly weak.

There is a thin and continuous course of marble immediately above the windows, like a vestigial lintel or string course, and a narrow course below the windows - the shadow of a continous window sill - with a course of very large square panel of marble between.

Comparing the marble facing at Søllerød with contemporary designs by Jacobsen shows how his approach to these facades differ. 

The town hall at Århus is closely related to the design for Søllerød, with the same not-quite-square windows with minimal frames and without secondary subdivisions, but at Århus the windows are more widely spaced and there are sunk panels below each window. The depth of these panels is hardly enough to create a shadow but never-the-less it gives the main facades a horizontal and vertical grid, even if that is subtle, and gives at least some expression of floor levels and cross walls in the building behind. At Søllerød, from the outside, it is impossible to get any sense of the arrangement of internal spaces or to determine the position of internal divisions or floor levels. 

At the Stelling Building in Copenhagen Jacobsen again has large almost-square windows but the cladding is consistent, unremittingly regular, like bathroom tiles, even on the curved corner of the building, and although this reflects a remarkable precision at the design stage, making every space and change of level inside exactly regular and a precise multiple of the external tile, the result is, to say the least, stark … perhaps the ultimate design grid … creating a bold and challenging design at the time but perhaps then, and even now, more admired by architects than more widely liked.

This is not to imply any sort of failure or weakness in the underlying design for the facades at Søllerød but it places the building as an intermediate form between the design of the Århus facades, with horizontal and vertical elements, and the pared down minimalism of the Stelling building and it does illustrate the inevitable compromises that have to be made through the design process in any complex project with a trade off between what might be ideal and what was practical at the end of the day. So the town hall illustrates one distinct problem when trying to design a ‘monumental’ civic building that has or is meant to have an impact that expresses status, as well as some formality and some sense of civic pride and dignity: a carefully and perfectly resolved elevation might well have meant an arrangement of interior spaces that could not function efficiently in terms of space or height or natural light and equally a building where the design starts from the inside and where the exterior is merely a tidying up of the envelope is rarely an attractive building even if it is practical and functions well.

the interior of the town hall

Jacobsen designed furniture and fittings for the town hall including light fittings and a clock in the entrance hall; a leather-covered bench seat on one side of the entrance; chairs and tables for the Council Chamber; a sofa for the mayor’s room and chairs for the Wedding Room.

Those chairs for the Wedding Room are interesting and not typical of Jacobsen’s later and better-known furniture designs. They have paired cross rails between the lower stretchers, with a slight downward curve, and paired stretchers immediately below the seat on each side and in the shallow hoop of the back frame. The seats are leather, embossed with a diamond pattern that wraps around the seat frame but is cut back to expose the top of the front legs - rather like the chairs at the Town Hall in Århus.

The council chamber on the first floor has a restrained grandeur. The main space rises through two storeys, with a shallow barrel shape to the ceiling and the room is lit by full-height windows with four tightly spaced on each side. The chamber is entered under a gallery for the public that has three rows of upholstered benches, the front row breaking forward and there were narrow aisles just inset from each side of the gallery so very like a theatre. Access to this gallery is from an upper level of the main staircase. 

Access to a small external balcony on the entrance front is from the council chamber immediately to the south of the main windows and just below the front edge of the public gallery. In England balconies like this in town halls, and sometimes in a main coaching inn on a market square, if the inn had an assembly room, were used for announcing election results or for presenting a new mayor or a new member of parliament to the citizens so presumably this was the function of the small balcony on the front here in the town hall in Søllerød.

Generally the character of the council chamber is formal with a heavier colour tone than normally associated with interiors by Jacobsen - here setting Cuban mahogany in panels on the walls.

There is a large painting on the north end wall, behind the committee tables, of woodland and the deer park around Søllerød by the Jutland painter Knud Agger who then had his studio in Helsingør not far from Søllerød. The colours and tones used by the artist, with pale cedar greens and mid-tone and slightly greenish blue, is a palette used often by Jacobsen himself in his interiors.

Elsewhere in the building other exotic or at least darker timbers are used with maple for the doors and the handrails of the staircase although paler wood, perhaps more typical of Jacobsen’s work, is used in the corridors with floors in oak and the walls covered with birch veneer.

In style, the furniture and fittings of the interior are interesting because they date from an important point of change: the general simplicity means that they appear to be modern but many of the details - the use of stretchers in the table of the council chamber; the high shaped backs to armed chairs; the use of buttoning in the upholstery - are closer in style to furniture from the first half of the 20th century - that Danish style of the Kaare Klint period. And, of course, this furniture is very much a part of a strong Danish tradition for producing specific new pieces of furniture for major new buildings including unique furniture designs for new churches, new museums and new town halls. This is is not a criticism - far from it - but just putting the designs for furniture for Søllerød into context and perhaps giving the furniture for the town hall greater prominence in the development sequence of modern design in that interesting and complex period of transition through the 1930s and 1940s.

 

notes:

  • Arne Jacobsen and Fleming Lassen were the same age and had been at school together along with Morgens Lassen, Flemming’s older brother, who was also to become an architect. Morgens and Flemming Lassen were leading figures in the Functionalisme or Funkis movement - a group of architects who were prominent through the inter-war years.
  • Following a reorganisation of local government in 2007, Søllerød was merged with the municipality of Birkerød to form a new municipality of Rudersdal and the building is now known officially as the Rudersdal Town hall.
  • For published plans of the building see Jacobsen, by Carsten Thau & Kjeld Vindum, page 287
  • There is a good photograph of the Council Chamber and its furniture in the collection of Danmarks Kunstbibliotek in Copenhagen [Inv. nr. 1445 19-20 144520] and it is published on their web site.
  • There are photographs of the pendant lamp designed by Jacobsen for the Town hall and the chair for the Wedding Room on the web site of Dansk Møbel Kunst.
  • The sofa in the mayor’s room is now produced by the Danish design studio &Tradition.
  • An extension to the town hall was completed in 1969 with a new square block to the east that is linked to the original building by glass corridors at each level.

 

Arne Jacobsen - Ørnegårdsvej, Gentofte, Copenhagen

 

Ørnegårdsvej 22-50 and Sløjfen 22-48

1957 by Arne Jacobsen for A Jespersen & Son

 

 

For the row houses in Ørnegårdsvej, built in 1957 for A Jespersen & Son, Arne Jacobsen used a form of curtain-wall construction - with large areas of window for front and back walls of the terraced rows that are not load bearing. Generally, this is a form of construction that is normally associated with commercial and office buildings, rather than housing, and with metal, aluminium or steel, used for a framework that hold panes of glass or opaque panels, but at Ørnegårdsvej the large areas of glazing on the front and back of the the terraced houses between the solid cross walls have relatively thin timber frames for the windows with teak glazing beads. 

The buildings are listed and original colours on the exterior have been retained although inevitably many of the houses have been restored and some the interiors altered. Doors and some parts of the frames are painted a dull olive green; and blind panels, concrete reinforced with asbestos fibre, are painted grey but tall thin panels, on the line of the cross walls and rising unbroken through both floors, are black. The effect is rather like a painting by Piet Mondrian but in a rather more muted colour scheme.

 

The windows are large, including the opening windows, which has caused some problems with failure of the frame, where condensation has caused rot along the bottom rail, and the weight of double-glazed units, fitted when the windows are replaced, must be a problem when the original frames are so thin.

There is an interesting arrangement of narrow and wide windows giving the fronts of the building a clear rhythm. Long horizontal panels, above the main windows, are glazed in the main rooms.

Ørnegårdsvej is just south of the suburban railway station at Jægersborg so about 10 kilometres north of the centre of Copenhagen. When the houses were constructed in the 1950s this was a major area of new housing as Copenhagen expanded after the second world war. 

The street is now a quiet cul-de-sac but the arrangement of the roads around has changed as this triangular-shaped block is now isolated by later motorways or slip roads to the motorways on all sides. 

There are three blocks of row houses all orientated in the same way - running north south and so facing east and west - with small front gardens on the east side and private back gardens on the west side.

The main block of houses is along Sløjfen with 14 homes in a continuous row on the west side of the road. On the west side of the terrace is a service road with gates for access to each back garden and that service road ends at the south end in two rows of garages that are original to the scheme. On the west side of that service road is the second row of eight houses with small gardens to the front, towards the service road, and behind the houses, on the west side, back gardens with gates onto a footpath and then, on the west side of that footpath, the final block of seven houses - again with the front gardens and front doors on the east side and to the rear or west side their back gardens.

Fences across the ends of the rear gardens are also original with again fibre-reinforced cement panels that are painted grey. Early photographs of the houses show short fences or screens for privacy with just two high panels running out from the rear wall between each house.

The three blocks of houses have flat roofs and floors are reinforced concrete but crosswalls are brick - although the initial proposal was to use concrete.

 

Initially, the design might appear rather flat and box like, particularly if they are compared with houses in brick of the same period or with buildings in Vienna or from the Bauhaus in the 1930s and were not copied at the time although some of the more recent developments of town houses in Copenhagen - on Amager, to the south of the centre, and out to the south west - have been built with flat roofs and have a similar block-like style.

The interior of the Jacobsen rows have good rooms that are well lit by natural light particularly in those rooms where the top panels above the main windows are glazed. These are simple and straightforward rooms but with very good proportions and a generous size. 

In plan, the arrangement of rooms is simple and rational and practical with a large through sitting room and a kitchen with a breakfast area looking towards the back garden. On the first floor there are two large square bedrooms with built-in cupboards in the wall between them - one bedroom facing onto the front and one facing onto the back garden and there are two smaller bedrooms, one to the front and one to the back with the staircase and the bathroom between them.

 
 
 
 
 

Google view showing the three rows of houses and, at the centre to the south, the two rows of garages with narrower roofs and facing each other. 

On the east side of Sløjfen and slightly lower down the slope of the hillside is a row of eight brick houses now numbered 21 to 35 that were also designed by Jacobsen. These were completed in 1943 and are of a more traditional construction with pitched roofs. They were built for Novo pharmaceutical company. After his return from Sweden at the end of the War, Arne Jacobsen and his family lived in the house at the north end of the block, then identified as Hørsholmvej 67 and the lower floor was used as his studio/drawing office.

Rødovre City Hall

 

Rødovre is a suburb of Copenhagen and is about seven kilometres west of the centre of the city but inside the outer defences of Copenhagen - the Vestvolden ramparts - that date from the middle of the 1880s. 

Rødovre became an independent municipality in 1901, presumably a rationalisation of local government that reflected growth in the population in the late 19th century but there was extensive building of new houses before and after the second world war. As well as housing here - Islevvænge with 194 row houses - Arne Jacobsen designed a major group of buildings in the centre that included a new City Hall* completed in 1956; a long range of apartments to the east of the City Hall that date from 1959 and between them a library that was designed in 1961 and finished in 1969.

the site

The City Hall is on the west side of a large public square … a rectangular paved area that has avenues of trees and two shallow canals all running north south. The library is on the east side of the square and the entrance doors of the library and the council offices face each other on a cross axis of the public space. 

Across the south side of the square is a main road, Rødovre Parkvej, and opposite, on the other side of that main road, there is now a large central shopping complex, which - although it was not designed by Jacobsen - forms an important group with the civic buildings.

To the west, beyond the office range of the City Hall and its council chamber is a large open grassed area - between the City Hall and a main road, Tårnvej - and it is from that side, given space to stand back from the building, that the thin elegance of the overall design of the city Hall can be best appreciated.

 

the City Hall

Three storeys high, but with a basement under the full length, the office building of the City Hall is 91 metres long from north to south but just 14 metres deep. The narrow north and south ends are clad in dark green stone from Norway but the long east and west fronts of the building have continuous runs of windows forming a regular and consistent grid with an unbroken run of tall but narrow windows across each level with paired grey panels below each window. Here is the use of a curtain wall system at it’s purest with nothing on the facades to mark the level of any floor structure; no expression of any internal cross walls and no attempt to express any sense of subdivisions across the front by any stepping forward or stepping back of the wall line.

Secondary doors at each end, where there are service staircases, barely break the fenestration pattern and even the entrance door is barely expressed on the facade itself … three standard-width windows are dropped down to the level of an external step for two narrow doors flanking a fully glazed panel. Thereare no architraves, pillars or pediments you would expect in a 19th-century town hall to show this was a grand civic building. It could hardly be more low key or therefore more accessible or democratic.

This main entrance into the offices from the plaza does have a double canopy supported on metal uprights … the inner and lower canopy cantilevered out immediately above the doorways and the same width and supported with single metal upright on each side. The main porch, on four uprights like a large table, is rectangular in plan and set along the front and in part overlaps the lower canopy but is not centred on it.  The metal uprights are not under the roof but inset from the corners and faced immediately against the edge of the roof slab.

 

Council Chamber from the west with the offices beyond

Council Chamber and the link corridor from the south

 

A single-storey council chamber with two committee rooms, projecting to the rear of the main three-storey range, is on the axis of the entrance into the building and linked to the council offices by a glazed, single-storey corridor. The corridor has the same external metal uprights as the entrance porch with very large windows set immediately behind.

There is a design drawing, now in the collection of Danmarks Kunstbibliotek in Copenhagen, that shows the public square at the front of the City Hall from the south. The avenues of trees are shown in rigid lines with thin trunks with the canopy cut high but what is more interesting is that the foliage itself is clipped square and flat to the underside, sides and top, more like boxes on sticks than anything in nature, so Jacobsen saw even the planting as part of the very regular and controlled geometry of the group of buildings.

The entrance hall, with the main staircase of the building on its south side, is the full depth of the range and on the west side towards the Council Chamber, is fully glazed for the full height of the building. From the entrance hall, this creates an impression that the areas on either side of the corridor to the Council Chamber are actually internal courtyards although in fact they are open and accessible from the north and the south.

In the Council Chamber the arrangement or orientation of solid wall and walls of glass swaps round - with windows to the north and south but blank stone walls to the east, towards the office block, and to the west, towards the area of lawn and the main road. In part this was determined by the construction because the long east and west walls carry the roof, so that there are no internal columns, but surely it was also in part symbolic because citizens, walking along the road across the south side, could look into the Chamber and see their council in action.

 

geometry and the site

The building is designed over a regular grid of squares with the dimensions of the squares being determined by the width of a single window to the east or west so the office range is 92 windows long and the equivalent of 14 windows deep although the north and south ends are blind. 

Overlaying the grid are a series of axes and cross axes through the building. These start in the public square where the north/south axis is reinforced by the line of two canals that are in line and run across the front of the library. There is a cross axis, between the canals, between the entrance into the library to the east and the main entrance into the City Hall to the west. This axis continues on, through the City hall building, into the corridor to the Council Chamber block beyond but is interrupted by a major cross axis within the office building, that runs north south down the centre of the office block on either side of the entrance, down wide spine corridors between two lines of columns that support the concrete structure of the floors. 

Within the council-chamber block, there is a further cross axis with the larger Council Chamber to the south lit by windows across its south wall and two committee rooms to the north lit by windows to the north. 

Danmarks Kunstbibliotek in Copenhagen on their web site has published some of the drawings by Jacobsen in their collection including some

plans

 

structure  

In the building, both its plan and the structure are strictly rational. The entrance hall, with the main staircase, is nine window bays wide and runs across the full depth of the building and because the stair structure cuts through and weakens the floor system, there are major cross walls to the north and south of the entrance hall. 

At both the north and south ends of the main block there are secondary staircases and service rooms so again there are cross walls which at each end are set four windows in and again reinforce the structure where staircases cut through the floors. 

The entrance hall is not actually central to the block - with 25 windows to the south, between the entrance and the south staircase, and 49 windows between the entrance and the four bays of the north staircase. 

Office areas on either side of the entrance have a wide corridor running down the centre - down the spine of the building - with columns on both sides that support the concrete floor structure … a form reminiscent of the structure of the contemporary open-plan office building by Jacobsen for A Jespersen. The columns on the west side, on the ground floor, are hidden by partitions hard against both sides of the columns and the void is used for services but on the east side of the corridor the partition is thin with glazed panels at the top that are set immediately behind the columns. 

Down the building there are columns against the cross walls and then equally spaced columns define 6 major bays of the structure to the south of the entrance and 12 bays to the north.

As with the Jespersen building in Copenhagen, the underside of the concrete floor structure tapers - it gets thinner towards the window wall - and the ceilings of the spaces follow that slope.

 

interior

The main staircase, a dog-leg plan with half landings towards the window side, is on the south side of the entrance hall and is a thin and elegant design in steel and glass and seems to be suspended in the space.

Throughout the building, the colours used, the use of wood for wall finishes and the furniture and fittings were all carefully modulated by Jacobsen.

Light fittings and furniture were all to Jacobsen design - the Munkegård Lamp is used throughout the building and furniture included Ant and the Series 7 chairs. 

In the Council Chamber the main table in rosewood and steel forms a C shape and here the chairs are from the Seven series … the 31207 with arms and upholstered in black leather. Designed in 1955 these chairs are contemporary with the building. The Council Chamber has a grid of up lighters suspended below the ceiling on a framework of wires and metal rods. 

Here at Rødovre City Hall, the concrete structure and the use of a curtain wall system of glazing allowed Arne Jacobsen to develop a deceptively simple style of architecture that is in reality complicated, sophisticated, highly controlled and completely rational and stripped back to realise a building of thin and refined elegance.

 

* For English readers the description of Rødovre as a city might seem curious as the population is under 40,000 but in Danish the word by is used for both a city or a town. Here the term City Hall has therefore been retained, rather than changing it to town hall, to remain consistent with the use of the phrase in works like the book on Jacobsen by Carsten Thau and Kjeld Vindum. 

 

SAS Royal Hotel Copenhagen by Arne Jacobsen

 

The SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen - designed by Arne Jacobsen and completed in 1961 - is perhaps the best known and the most widely published building from the Classic period of Danish design.

So, it is not really necessary to go back over the history and the design of the building here but I took a few photographs for a recent post about high buildings in the city for the web site and one thing struck me that, rather stupidly, I had not appreciated before and that is that it is built out over the top of the main railway tracks running into the central station from the north … or at least the lower north part of the hotel and the car park to the west is built across the tracks.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been on trains in and out of the railway station but never once realised that the oddly gloomy area of concrete catacombs that the trains go through beyond the north end of the platforms is actually under the hotel. I went back to the reference books and found out that, with the building of the station and the construction of new lines between the central station and Østerport station in 1917, the area along Vesterbrogade, north of the Tivoli gardens, became an area of major redevelopment for commercial office buildings. To the concern of the city council, one prominent but oddly shaped plot - a long triangle left along the east side of the railway track immediately north of Vesterbrogade - remained undeveloped. On the back of other planning applications they stipulated that work should also be completed on that triangular plot and, to make the site viable commercially, the area over the tracks was covered and the massive new hotel was completed on the extended plot.

There are photographs of the tower of the hotel under construction with the curtain wall of windows and panels being hung on the outside of the concrete frame, working from the top down, but the realisation that the engineering work also included the extension of the plot over the railway makes the building even more amazing.

There is an English phrase about familiarity breeding contempt. Obviously no one sees the design of the SAS Hotel with contempt - although curiously some critics in the 1950s were not convinced - but we tend too easily to judge historic buildings by our own experience rather than by contemporary standards. There are buildings now that are taller, or more advanced in their engineering or more ‘stylish’ than the Jacobsen hotel but it would be very unfair to judge it without appreciating just how advanced it was for its period.

It has also lost some of its drama and impact since the terminal for arrivals and departure for the airport, originally in the low north half, was abandoned and that part of the building then became a supermarket and gym. 

Kastrup airport opened in 1925 and the hotel terminal, with buses taking passengers to and from the airport, must have been seen as both incredibly sophisticated and ‘international’ in the 1950s but also as crucial for the attempts to promote Danish trade, industry and design as part of a post-war programme for recovery with the SAS buildings conceived, in part, to impress foreign travellers and business men.

All the hotel rooms, apart from one, have been refitted and the furniture and fittings designed by Jacobsen in the 1950s removed. The entrance area to the hotel has retained much of the original layout including its circular staircase but the part that was the air terminal has been altered beyond recognition and the exterior, particularly on the courtyard or car park side, is looking very sorry for itself. 

Along with the National Bank of Denmark in Copenhagen, also by Jacobsen, The SAS Royal Hotel is one of the most important modern, post-war buildings in Denmark and certainly the modern Danish building with a wide, global, recognition and significance, for its iconic style and sophisticated design so perhaps there should be a serious campaign to push for a major restoration of the hotel and the terminal to return them to the prominence they deserve.

 
 

note:

The best account and analysis of the building is published in Arne Jacobsen, by Carsten Thau and Kjeld Vindum, by The Danish Architectural Press (2001)

There is a monograph on the one room in the hotel where the original fittings and furniture have been retained but the book also contains extensive background material, including much about other buildings by Jacobsen, and there is a good selection of contemporary photographs including a photograph of Jacobsen drinking in one of the bars in the hotel. 

Room 606 The SAS House and the Work of Arne Jacobsen, by Michael Sheridan, Phaidon (reprint 2010) ISBN 978-0-7148-6108-1