Arne Jacobsen

housing, Arne Jacobsen

apartment buildings from the 1930s

'Lagkagehuset' Torvegade 1931 designed by Edvard Johan Thomsen (1884-1980)

 

In Copenhagen, the plan of apartment buildings - the way that rooms in each apartment and the staircases and entrance halls were arranged - developed through the first decades of the 20th century. 

In terms of layout, there was not a sudden change in the number of rooms in an apartment or their arrangement in the 1920s and 1930s but apartments became more compact and certainly less likely to extend backwards from the street block into back ranges. 

By the 1920s, many purpose-built apartment blocks in the city, particularly large new buildings for social housing, were still set out around a courtyard with some buildings occupying a complete city block and most were of five or six storeys but there was a change because where courtyards had service buildings in them, then these were low, only a single storey, to keep the courtyard open, light and uncluttered. 

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Arne Jacobsen, mid-century buildings

Arne Jacobsen - buildings for Novo Nordisk

 

In a period when most major architects have an international career, working on commissions almost anywhere in the World, it is relatively unusual 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.

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Arne Jacobsen, historic buildings

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.

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Arne Jacobsen, housing

Arne Jacobsen - Ørnegårdsvej, Gentofte

 

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.

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Arne Jacobsen, topography

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.

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topography, Arne Jacobsen, library

Rødovre Library

 

Rødovre is a suburb to the west of Copenhagen and was established as an independent municipality in 1901 but it was in the 1950s that a new civic centre was created with a new City Hall designed by Arne Jacobsen on the west side of a new square and completed in 1956. The first plan was to build a library and a new technical school on the east side of the square, facing the city hall, but only the library was built … a larger building than shown on the initial scheme and set slightly further north on the east side of the square with its entrance door immediately opposite the entrance into the City Hall, to form a cross axis to the square.

Not completed until 1969, Jacobsen’s library is a large, flat-roofed, single-storey building, that is clad in dark green/grey stone. In fact, the walls are built in brick and the panels of stone are supported proud of the structural wall with small steel anchors. 

There are no windows breaking through the outer wall - just doorways on the west entrance front (facing the City Hall) and on the east side of the building, immediately opposite the public entrance, as access for staff and services.

There are five open courtyards that are glazed on all four sides to bring natural light into the reading rooms and offices and meeting rooms set around the courtyards.

It is as if the aim was to create an inward-looking building to avoid the distraction of views to the World outside.

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Arne Jacobsen, new building

The SAS Hotel by Arne Jacobsen

The SAS 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.

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new building, Arne Jacobsen

office building for A Jespersen & Son by Arne Jacobsen

The office building for A Jespersen & Son was designed by Arne Jacobsen and completed in 1955. Just a few streets away from the SAS Hotel, this is an elegant and beautiful building but its apparent simplicity is deceptive … all the details of the facade, the proportions of the separate parts and even the what was then very advanced engineering underlying the construction were very carefully considered. 

Through a precise and exacting process to refine the design, Jacobsen worked very hard to get a building that looks so simple so right by a process of reduction and simplification of not just the overall design but also of all the individual elements.

It is also an important building because, at a remarkably early date, it exploited complex and novel engineering methods with a cantilevered concrete frame that was used to overcome exacting planning stipulations but also made possible an open plan inside the building and incredibly stripped down and sophisticated design for the facades on the exterior. This is not a brutal building but concrete construction at its most subtle and sophisticated.

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