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White Gray Black

Arne Jacobsen (Danish, 1902–1971)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

Danish architect and designer. He studied at the Arkitektskole of the Kunstakademi in Copenhagen (Dip. Arch., 1928). He began his career with elegant single-family houses influenced by Danish country house architecture of c. 1800. However, as a result of a series of prominent commissions, he soon became known outside architectural circles as an advocate of ultra-modern architecture, although he was disinclined to support ‘trends’ in architecture or issue manifestos. In 1929, in collaboration with Flemming Lassen (1902–84), he designed the cylindrical ‘House of the Future’ for the Bygge- og Bolig Udstillingen i Forum (Building and home exhibition in the Forum) in Copenhagen, and over the next few years he left his mark on Copenhagen’s newly laid-out riviera at Klampenborg with such projects as the beach development at Bellevue (1932), the housing complex Bellavista (1934), Bellevue Summer Theatre (1937) and the service station at Skovshoved harbour (1938). In these projects Jacobsen drew upon the central European early modernist white Cubist style, also revealing his well-developed feeling for architectonic form and for the characteristics of the site. Stelling’s House (1937–8), Gammel Torv 6, Copenhagen, despite its modest and restrained modernism, aroused violent protest, although it was later regarded as a model example of successful new building in historical surroundings.

In 1937, with Erik Møller, Jacobsen won the competition for the town hall in Århus (executed 1939–42). Again protests followed, partly because public opinion expected a tower for such a building: they designed a convincing structure in the form of an open ferro-concrete skeleton around a solid core. In 1939, with Lassen, he won the competition for the town hall in Søllerød, near Copenhagen (executed 1940–42). Both town halls were built at a time when Jacobsen acknowledged great admiration for Gunnar Asplund’s works, particularly his later projects. Asplund’s influence is most evident in the town halls’ meticulous and luxurious detailing, whose complexity is a far cry from the ideals of Functionalism. However, their elegant plans with parallel transposed office wings have more affinity with Vilhelm Lauritzen’s project for Radio House (1934) in Copenhagen, a type of design to which Jacobsen turned with variations in his plan for the Elektrizitätswerke office blocks (1963) in Hamburg.

As well as these large projects Jacobsen designed numerous single-family houses and smaller developments, generally in brick with tiled roofs in the compact form Kay Fisker had evolved as part of the Danish Functionalist tradition. The fish-smoking house (1943) at Odden harbour is of modest format but characteristic. From 1943 to 1945 Jacobsen lived as a refugee in Stockholm. In collaboration with his wife, Jonna Jacobsen (b 1908), a textile printer, he designed textiles and wallpapers based on his watercolour studies of Danish flora, which became immensely popular. The terraced house development Søholm (1950), near Bellavista in Klampenborg, secured Jacobsen’s international reputation. The small development was planned to take full advantage of the opposition of the view and the direction of the sunlight; it caused a stir in the early post-war years when quality was often sacrificed to quantity, and architectural integrity was rare. An equally sensitive treatment of familiar elements is evident in Hårby School (1951), the exhibition building at Glostrup (1952) and Munkegård School (1952–6), Gentofte.

During this period Jacobsen was obviously inspired by the industrial image in the International Style, as expressed for example in works by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and by Eero Saarinen. This is reflected in three curtain-wall structures, which are simplified almost to the point of abstraction: the office block for Jespersen and Sons (1953), Copenhagen; Rødovre Town Hall (1955); and the SAS Royal Hotel (1958–60). Similarly, the Carl Christensen Factory at Ålborg (1957) exemplifies Jacobsen’s success in good proportioning and simplicity in a design. In the SAS Royal Hotel Jacobsen designed all the furnishing and fittings too. By 1960 Jacobsen’s application of the International Style relaxed in favour of a freer and more individual approach, with emphasis on sculptural and structural aspects. This was expressed in an increasing number of international commissions such as the courtyard houses (1957) at Hansaviertel, Berlin; St Catherine’s College (1964), Oxford; the town centre (1964; completed 1976), Castrop-Rauxell, Germany; Christianeum College (1965–71), Hamburg; the town hall of Mainz (1968; executed 1970–73); and the Danish Embassy (1971; executed 1972–6) in London. Jacobsen’s last big Danish project was the National Bank in Copenhagen, which won the competition of 1961 (first stage executed 1965–71). Jacobsen died unexpectedly halfway through the work. His practice was continued by his close colleagues Hans Dissing (b 1926) and Otto Weitling (b 1930), who completed the works under construction. On their own initiative they created distinctive buildings abroad including the National Bank (1984), Baghdad, and the Staatliches Kunstmuseum (1986), Düsseldorf.

Although Jacobsen introduced several new international trends to Denmark, he did so without programmatic intentions: his architecture was not polemical. On the contrary, with an intuitive understanding of contemporary movements he aimed consistently for an architecture of elegance and comfort, which in his younger days made him too ‘fashionable’ for pure Functionalists, while those shackled by tradition could not accept his originality. His sources of inspiration are often clear (for example, Lever House was the model for the SAS Royal Hotel), yet Jacobsen was no mere imitator. His uncompromising mastery of the overall form and the variety of treatment of detail, space and surroundings meant that he often surpassed the original concept. As an architect of international standing his work inevitably acquired an air of exclusivity, but he never made distinctions over the differing prestige values of his commissions, taking on even quite modest projects, as in the industrial plans for Novo (1934–69), Toms Factories (1960–62) and many smaller housing developments. Although he designed furniture and a wide range of items for particular houses, the objects were later released for mass production. In particular, his unpretentious chair, the Ant (myren), made of moulded wood, became internationally famous, as did the sculpturally shaped Swan (svanen) and Egg (aegget) chairs, originally designed for the SAS Royal Hotel. His work in landscape gardening also had the same effortlessly sure touch. He laid out both the park-like surroundings of Toms Factories and the intimate courtyard gardens of Munkegård School and often enhanced the public areas in his buildings with a very sensitive use of plants. In addition, he was an outstanding draughtsman and watercolourist. In 1956 he was appointed Professor Extraordinary at the Arkitektskole of the Kunstakademi in Copenhagen, but his association with the school was chiefly a formal one.

Jørgen Sestoft
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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