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Arne Jacobsen was one of the grandfathers of modern Danish furniture and minimalist Danish style. He is best remembered for his simple, elegant, functional chair designs but was also a successful architect.

Arne Jacobsen

Born in Copenhagen, Denmark on the 11th February 1902, Jacobsen's father was a wholesale trader in safety pins and his mother was one of the first female bank teller whose hobby was painting floral motifs. Jabobsen’s original intention was to become a painter but his family advised him to choose the more reliable career path of architecture.

In 1924, he was admitted to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where he studied under Kay Fisker and Kaj Gottlob both leading architects and designers. While he was still as student, Jacobsen participated in the Paris Art Deco Fair of 1925, where he won a silver medal for a chair design. On the trip he was struck by the work for Le Corbusier and on a later trip to Germany, he was also inspired by the work of Mies Van Der Rohe and Walter Gropius.

After graduating in 1927, Jacobsen married a woman named Marie Jelstrop Holm, and later had two sons, Neils and Johan. His first job was with city architect Poul Holsoe’s practice. In 1929, in collaboration with Flemming Lessen, he won a Danish Architect’s Association competition for designing the "House of the Future" which was built full scale at the subsequent exhibition in Copenhagen’s Forum. It was a spiral-shaped, flat-roofed house in glass and concrete, incorporating a private garage, boathouse and helicopter pad.

Other striking features were windows that rolled down like car windows, a conveyor tube for the mail and a kitchen stocked with ready-made meals.

The year after winning the "House of the Future" award, Arne Jacobsen set up his own office. He designed the functionalist Rothenborg House, which he planned in every detail, a characteristic of many of his later works. Jacobsen won a competition from Gentofte Municiplaity for the design of a resort complex in Klampenborg. In 1932, the first building opened – the Bellevue Sea Bath. Jacobsen designed everything from the lifeguard towers, kiosks, changing cabins to the tickets and even the staff uniforms. In 934, came the Bellavista residential development built in concrete, steel and glass with smooth surfaces and open floor planning and in 1937, completing the trilogy the Bellevue Theatre with a retractable roof. In their day, the projects were described as “the dream of the modern lifestyle”.

Jacobsen went onto build Stelling House on Gammeltory which is one of Copenhagen’s most historic squares. The building caused outrage with one newspaper saying that Jacobsen ought to be banned from architecture for life. Another building which was deemed too modern was Arhus City Hall but today it is considered one of this most important designs. During World War II, scarcity of building materials and Nazi laws against Jewish citizens made assignments difficult for Jacobsen to obtain. In 1943, he fled is office and went into exile and with the help on the Danish resistance rowed to small boat to Sweden where he stayed for the next two years designing fabrics and wallpaper.

When the war ended, Jacobsen returned to Denmark and resumed his architectural career. The country was in urgent need of both housing and new public buildings but the primary need was for spartan buildings which could be built without delay. In the 1950s Jacobson’s interest in furniture design developed when he bought a plywood chair designed by Charles and Ray Eames and installed it in his own studio, where it inspired one of the most commercially successful chair models in design history. The three-legged Ant Chair was made in partnership with Fritz Hansen and sold in the millions and is considered a classic today. It consists of two simple elements: tubular steel legs and a springy seat and back formed out of a continuous piece of plywood in a range of vivid colors.

The Number Seven Chair was launched in 1955 in beech, black and white and has sold more than 5 million copies.

Jacobsen was given the opportunity to design the SAS Royal Hotel the "the world's first designer hotel". He designed everything from the building and its furniture and fittings to the ashtrays sold in the souvenir shop and the airport buses. He designed two more classic chairs for the hotel – the Egg and the Swan. This hotel design started to attract attention and a delegation of Oxford Dons visited in their search for an architect for St Catherine’s College. Jacobsen was commissioned and designed everything, including the garden, down to the choice of fish species for the pond. The dining hall is notable for its Cumberland slate floor and the building received a Grade 1 listing in March 1993.

In 1956, Jacobsen returned to the Royal Danish Academy and taught architecture for 11 years and he continued to design products and buildings right up to his death in 1971.

So, is he a #Houseproud hero?

Arne Jacobsen was among the first to introduce modernist ideas to Denmark and create industrial furniture that built on the country’s craft-based design heritage. Jacobsen’s work remains appealing and fresh today, combining free-form sculptural shapes with the traditional attributes of Scandinavian design, material and structural integrity. He said:

“If a building becomes architecture, then it is art”.

Want to find out more?

Arne Jacobsen's website