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The modern movement in architecture and design is characterized by these main principles: simplification of form, use of present day materials and technique, use of the materials as they are without disguising or making them seem what they are not, and make good design available for everyone in everyday life. The movement developed its shape between the years of 1910 and 1960. The three main figures who defined and pushed the modern views in were Le Corbusier (in France), Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, the latter two were directors of the Bauhaus, a very prestigious German school who was interested in mixing craft traditions with industrial technology.
Arne Jacobsen (1902-71) was one of Denmark most successful architect and designer, best known internationally for his simple but effective chair designs. In spite of his professional success and institutional acceptance, Jacobsen remained committed to the path of innovation that had made him the most controversial architect in Denmark. Since his student days at the Academy, where he was schooled in an austere version of neoclassicism, he looked beyond the confines of Danish architectural culture for new ideas. After graduating from technical school, he joined the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and this is when he had his first contact with the works of Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe by taking part in sponsored trips by his academy to France, Germany and Italy. His works gradually started to departure from Danish tradition by using simple forms devised into regular volumes, adopting and experimenting with new materials and techniques for building structures and objects, by using minimum amount of materials, and designs to be used in everyday's life and to be affordable for everyone. In the late 1920s, he had found inspiration in the work of Le Corbusier, his Bellavista apartment complex (1931-34) marked the arrival of modern architecture in Denmark.
When asked what comprises the architectural idea of beauty, Arne Jacobsen responded "The primary factor is proportion - this makes the old Greek temples beautiful, the second is the material, not mixing the wrong materials, third is the color and last is the overall impression".
Arne Jacobsen's truly first modern design was "The House of the Future" (1929) a prototype house he submitted for a competition and won with his partner Flemming Lassen, included utopian and fantastical features such a dock for a boat, a rooftop heliport and a garage for a car. This was "a cylindrically shaped house filled with tubular steel furniture, a doormat with a vacuum built in to suck away dirt, and electricity transmitted via radio ways" (Christopher Mount, 2004). This House of the Future introduced the modern architecture on Danish ground, being the first house which he designed all the way through, including interior decorations, colors, furniture and textiles - this became a signature style of the designer later in his works. Spending a lot of time presenting projects as a whole, Jacobsen thought that interior decorators, furniture designers and landscape artists can ruin his work. Furthermore it provoked strong reactions giving Arne Jacobsen a genuine breakthrough as an architect.
"The House of the Future" included the first modern chair designed by the Danish designer in collaboration with Flemming Lassen: a basket chair with semi-circular sides designed for a house with geometry based on the circle. Later the curves become softer and more liberated in contrast to the circular geometry. This idea is what launched Jacobsen's passion for designing organic and minimalistic chairs.
The Ant (1952) is Arne's Jacobsen most famous work which had all the characteristics of a modern design: minimal use of materials, experimentation with new materials and construction techniques, and priced to be available for everyone. In 1952 Arne Jacobsen was commissioned by Novo pharmaceutical company in Denmark to design an extension for their headquarters, a cafeteria. His staff could not find an appropriate chair for the space, a design that was something not too expensive, lightweight, stackable, and sturdy and would not take too much floor space, something that could fit under the small circular lunch tables. This is how the designer started to experiment with different designs and realized the final product. This was a light stackable chair made of only two parts: one piece composes the seat and the back, and a three-legged tubular steel frame. The double-curved moulded plywood was possible because in the 1940's the American architects Ray and Charles Eames started experimenting with double-curved steam bent plywood with an eye on the industrial production of chairs, inspired by a technique developed in the aeroplane industry. The Dane took the technique further in order to mould it into a seat shell, it was necessary to narrow it at the joint between the seat and the back. "This was the technical argument for the characteristic waist profile which was to give the chair its name: The Ant" (Paul Erik Tojner, 1996). Add to the mix the three legs of the tubular steel frame and we see the expressions of the need to minimize the use of material - an inclination that defined Arne Jacobsen's works from that period. The first 200 Ant chairs were used for the canteen at Novo Industry. Since then, Jacobsen decided to put the chair into mass market and use the advantages of industrial production, with the goal for a chair available from everyone in everyday use. "This happened over 40 years and more than 5 million chairs ago" (Peter Lassen, 1996).
Affordability, comfort, durability, lightness and adaptability is the convergence of elements that made the Ant chair and its subsequent versions popular to the needs of increasingly urbanized Danes and Western Europeans. The scale of the chair is perfect for modern apartments with their smallish rooms and relative low ceiling. "Possessing a certain ethereal quality, it takes up very little visual space, and it works equally well as a dinning chair, desk chair, or a guest chair placed near a sofa." (Christopher Mount, 2004).
"The Ant marks a turning point in Arne Jacobsen's career as a designer. With this chair he distances himself from the Danish furniture tradition and furniture craft, as well as from excessive modernism. He had discovered his own style which was modern and international, but also clarified and personal. The Ant was the real beginning - the starting point of all his major works in furniture." (Kjeld Vindum, 1996).
The Dane was inspired by the Bauhaus in creating a "gesamtkunstwerke", a total architectural and design work, for the Scandinavian Airlines System, SAS, in the form of the Royal Hotel (1955-1960). The program included an airport terminal, hotel, restaurants and winter garden. The building's austerity geometric form was described by Jacobsen as "two cigarette packs placed perpendicular to each other." The most striking and modern feature used by Jacobsen was the choice of a naturalistic sea-green glass cladding that differentiate it from the grey and red brick of the rest of Copenhagen. "The rigidity of the geometry of the interiors of the SAS Royal Hotel is cleverly enhanced and exaggerated by Jacobsen's curvilinear furniture, which is the modern twist of his designs. Pieces as the Egg, Swan and Drop chairs were all specially designed for the project. The contrasts complement each other in a most elegant manner and without the furniture's organic forms, the interior might seem static and trite." (Christopher Mount, 2004).
To avoid columns that would intrude on the hotel rooms, where space was at a premium, or rise along the exterior walls, where views were paramount, the tower was built as a three-dimensional framework of concrete walls. All the walls are structural, while this limited the possibility of renovation in the future by knocking down walls and changing the layout of the floors, it allowed the walls to be as thins as possible - an idea that Jacobsen implemented to decrease the use of materials, thus decreasing the cost of building. The scheme also had the advantage of limiting the transmission of sound between the rooms. Another minimalistic decision was taken by Jacobsen on the structural design of the SAS by using just three pairs of piers to support the entire twenty-two storied tower.
Like the idea of "Gesamtkunstwerk", Jacobsen's conception of nature was a product of nineteenth-century Romantic Movement, which had originated in Germany and gained cultural currency as a result of changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution. Unlike William Morris, to whom he has been compared on the basis of his textile design, Jacobsen devoted his energies to a more modest cause, the pursuit of beauty. In contrast to Morris and a host of earlier architects and designers who opposed the onslaught of the machine, Jacobsen did not recognize an irreconcilable gap between the natural and mechanical worlds. Instead, he embraced technology as a means of realizing his aesthetic and functional goals.
In 1940s Jacobsen began to design textiles, his first ideas were paintings of flowers and plants, but after World War II, as his architecture became influenced by the repetitive logic of industrial production, Jacobsen's textiles designs became abstract: scenes of nature were distilled into surfaces of solid color and shape. For the Dane, these seemingly very different pursuits were united by a handful of aesthetic goals, including a reduced palette of forms and material, the cultivation of rich surfaces, and the use of hanging objects to create the effect of weightlessness. At the SAS House, architecture and textile design converged-the fixed pattern of metal and the constantly shifting effects of color and transparency created a vitreous tapestry visible from the edge of the city. "Today, the exterior of the building remains relatively intact and continues to provide lessons in the emotive power of abstract form and in the potential in the intersection of technology and the environment." (Michael Sheridan, 2003). Jacobsen cultivated surface treatments as a means of architectural expression. Traditionally, architectural ornament has served two purposes: to cover joints and hide the imperfections of craftwork, and to add visual emphasis and enliven plan materials. Jacobsen eschewed applied ornament, but he used pattern and texture to imbue his forms and spaces with visual richness, inspired by the Bauhaus. In the end, he found an industrial vehicle for his aesthetic tendencies in the mass-produced curtain wall.
Jacobsen's desire for the SAS House to have a minimalistic exterior presence was achieved by working with the engineers at Josef Gartner Inc, a curtain wall specialist in Dortmund, Germany. Together they developed a system to hide the window frames behind the aluminium grid and thus maintain a consistent appearance on the exterior surface. In addition, open inswing windows would appear as voids in the aluminium grid rather than projections that would break the surface and reflect light at different angles.
During his career as a the designer Jacobsen was criticized for his works, in 1934, in the debut of his professional career, one newspaper published a review for the Stelling Building, in Copenhagen, declaring that Jacobsen "should be banned from building for life". This did not stop either when he became recognized internationally for his great work, just after completing one of his great designs - the SAS Royal Hotel, Copenhagen (1955-60), a newspaper granted him it with the "ugliest building in the city award". Rather than being deterred by these controversies, Jacobsen continued to use whatever new technology and formal devices that served his aesthetic agenda.
Jacobsen was not a theorist and he never articulated a universal language of form. Instead, he worked in an intuitive manner, approaching each project as an opportunity to fuse refined aesthetic with a specific function and new methods of construction. Taken as a whole, Jacobsen's work creates a modern aesthetic that reconciled the imperatives of large-scale building and mass production with the persistent human desire for variety, nuance and sensual delight. The results were buildings that are still as functional and comfortable as the day there were completed. "In a career that spanned almost a half century and extended from the scale of the hand to the scale of the building, there are lessons for several lifetimes, most immediately our own." (Michael Sheridan, 2003).