Alvar Aalto was a Finnish architect and designer. His work includes architecture, furniture, textiles and glassware. Aalto’s early career runs in parallel with the rapid economic growth and industrialization of Finland during the first half of the twentieth century and many of his clients were industrialists; among these were the Ahlstrom-Gullichsen family.
The span of his career, from the 1920s to the 1970s is reflected in the styles of his work, ranging from Nordic Classicism of the early work, to a rational International Style Modernism during the 1930s to a more organic modernist style from the 1940s onwards. What is typical for his entire career however, is a concern for design as a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art; whereby he – together with his first wife Aino Alto – would design not just the building, but give special treatments to the interior surfaces and design furniture, lamps, and furnishings and glassward. The Alvar Aalto Museum, designed by Aalto himself, is located in what is regarded as his home city Jyvaskyla.
Sigvard Bernadotte, born prince as son of the Swedish king. He lost his title when he married his first wife. He was given the title of count by the Great-duchess of Luxembourg Josephine-Charlotte, daughter of his aunt Astrid, Queen of Belgium. He studied ornamental arts with Olle Hjortzberg but was first interested in theatre and studied stage design in Munich. He subsequently did some stage work in Berlin and designed a number of posters and stage designs and art directed three Swedish films. Impressed by the work of U.S Industrial designers, like Henry Dreyfuss, Raymond Loewy, Walter Dorwin Teague, whom he visited in the early 30-ties, he re-directed his talents and interests in design. He had a live long design contract with George Jensen for whom he designed mostly silverware. The quality of that work was recognized by the New York Metropolitan Museum who has a number of them in its permanent collection. Before starting his own design office in Stockholm he was associated with Acton Bjorn in Copenhagen. This association that started in 1949 created the first real professional Industrial design office in Denmark. With Acton Bjorn (1910-1992), he designed for Odhner and Rosti A/S and a number of other Scandinavian companies like Facit, Nils Johan, AB Husqvarna Borstfabrik, NK, Bang & Olufsen (Beolit 500) and Pressalit. He also designed for Rosenthal. He was co-founder of the Swedish Industrial Designers Society (SID) and for several years (1961-1963) president of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) where he had served on the board since 1957. Industrial Design might have been his “second” career choice, acting and theatre being his first love but unacceptable for the Swedish royal family, Sigvard Bernadotte became an important and influential industrial designer. Many of Sweden’s early design icons were designed by him and both with Acton Bjorn and in Stockholm (Allied Industrial Designers) his offices were learning and starting points for many well known Swedish and Danish designers of the following generation.
Hans Brattrud studied at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, setting up his own design studio at the same time, before later becoming an architect. In 1957 he designed the chair collection Scandia. The designer has a clutch of awards to his name, and the Scandia chair continues to earn him accolades, most recently the Interior Innovation Award 2006 at the IMM Cologne fair.
Brattrud was a carpenter before becoming a furniture designer, and he contributes much of his design confidence to the skills he learned while working with wood. Brattrud pioneered high frequency lamination in Norway in the making of his Scandia chair back in the 50s, working to develop a 1-mm thick laminate for wood with high-electricity to set it faster than the usual 3 hours it would take otherwise. It is now the most common production technique in the world.
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1923. Trained as a cabinetmaker before studies at the School of Arts and Crafts and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. Graduated in furniture design in 1946. Established own design studio together with Jørgen Ditzel the same year and continued to work in the design sector until shortly before her death in Copenhagen in June 2005. From the start of her career in the post war years, she was always challenged by new materials and new techniques. Nanna worked in various materials such as fibreglass, wickerwork and foam rubber, and in various disciplines such as cabinet-making, jewellery, tableware, applied art and textiles. In the 50’s she experimented with split-level floor seating. From 1968 to ’86 lived in London, establishing the international furniture house Interspace in Hampstead with Kurt Heide. Among her designs in continuous production are jewellery for Georg Jensen, textiles for Kvadrat and furniture for Fredericia, Kvist, Getama and others.
Nanna Ditzel has exhibited internationally with One Woman exhibitions in Amsterdam, Berlin, New York, Vienna, London, Stockholm, Milan, Glasgow, Manchester, Reykjavik, Paris and nationally in Denmark. Awarded numerous international prizes including, in 1990, the Gold Medal in the International Furniture Design Competition, Japan, for her Bench for Two (Fredericia). Elected Honourable Royal Designer, Royal Society of Arts, in London in 1996 and awarded the lifelong Artists’ Grant by the Danish Ministry of Culture in 1998.
Egon Eiermann was one of Germany’s most prominent architects in the second half of the 20th century. Eiermann studied at the Technical University of Berlin. He worked for the Karlstadt building department for a time, and before World War II had an office with fellow architect Fritz Jaenecke. He joined the faculty of the university in Karlsruhe in 1947, working there on developing steel frame construction methods.
A functionalist, his major works include: the textile mill at Blumberg (1951); the West German pavilion at the Brussels World Exhibition (with Sep Ruf, 1958); the West German embassy in Washington, D.C. (1958-1964); a building for the German Parliament(Bundestag) in Bonn (1965-1969); the IBM-Germany Headquarters in Stuttgart (1967-1972); and, the Olivetti building in Frankfurt(1968-1972). By far his most famous work is the new church on the site of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin (1959-1963).
Egon Eiermann also designed furniture and interiors for some of his buildings. Egon Eiermann’s most successful furniture design was the “E 10” basket chair (1954), whose prototype was designed back in 1948 for “Wie wohnen”, an exhibition in Karlsruhe. Equally popular was the “SE 18” folding chair Egon Eiermann designed for Wilde & Spieth in Esslingen.
Beautiful, simple, comfortable – and and highly sought after. When the Swedish interior magazine Sköna Hem asked its readers to vote for the best furniture of the 20th century they elected the easy chair Lamino, designed by Swedese founder Yngve Ekström. “To have designed one good chair might not be a bad lifework” he said, many years earlier. But his lifework is far greater than Lamino. Yngve Ekström created beautiful, functional and ergonomically designed furniture.
Yngve Ekström was born 1913, in Hagafors in Småland, home to Swedan’s oldest furniture factory. His father, carpenter of wooden chairs, died early. At 13, Yngve already worked at the factory. His talent for carpentry, and studies in drawing, painting, sculpture and art history gave him a unique feeling for material and construction.
Ekström’s career coincided in time with the hight of the postwar modern movement when colleagues like Alvar Aalto, Bruno Mathsson, Arne Jacobsen and Poul Kjaerholm made the concept “Scandinavian Modern” famous all over the world. Yngve Ekström and his brother Jerker founded the Swedish furniture company Swedese in 1945. Yngve led the company until his death in 1988.
Ekström’s furnitures have been exhibited in Amsterdam, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Munich and Belgrade and are represented in many modern permanent collections, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, London and Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.
Preben Fabricius & Jørgen Kastholm
Inspired by the pioneers of 1920s functionalism and the 1960s innovative Scandinavian language of form, Preben Fabricius & Jorgen Kastholm designed a range of minimalist furniture that in recent years has enjoyed a renaissance among collectors and enthusiasts of 20th century design.
Fabricius and Kastholm opened up their design office in a dingy basement in the town of Holte in 1962. Shortly after they started their partnership, a German furniture manufacturer, Alfred Kill (owner of Kill International) contacted them. He wanted to produce their furniture, but they rejected him. Fabricius and Kastholm wanted to be in total control of the production of their designs, and neither one of them was very keen about the concept of mass-produced furniture. They felt that something was taken away from a piece of furniture which was manufactured by a machine. Yet Alfred Kill was persistent, and he approached the partners several times without success. Finally when Kill offered Fabricius and Kastholm 7000 Danish Kr. per month, and a completely free hand to produce furniture for other manufactures, they could no longer say no.
Fabricius and Kastholm quickly became Kill International’s star designers helping the company achieve a reputation as a producer of high-end furniture at the level of firms such as Walter Knoll of Germany and Herman Miller.
Examples of some of their more well known designs include: FK87 – The Grasshopper Chair (1968); FK-82-X – The X Chair (1968); The Chair (1963); FK Lounge Chair (1969); FK10 – The Skater Chair (1968); The Scimitar Chair (1962); the Bo562 Couch and matching chair and the Sculpture Chair (1964). The FK Lounge Chair symbolizes classical design, and is as timeless as it is modern. The chair won the very first German prize for “Good Shape” (“Gute Form”) in 1969. In 1969, Preben Fabricius received the Illum Prize for his work as an architect and furniture designer.
Preben Fabricius and Jørgen Kastholm ended their partnership in 1970. Fabricius became a teacher at The School of Interior Design in Copenhagen while continuing to design furniture, some of which was produced. Kastholm moved to Düsseldorf in Germany, where he opened his own design studio. In 1976, Jørgen Kastholm was nominated professor of furniture design and product-development, at the Bergesche Universitat in Wuppertal. Kastholm continued designing furniture right up until his death in 2007. Several of these pieces are still in production today. Non of the designs they designed as individuals, received the same recognition as their collaborations.
Fabricius and Kastholm’s furniture is used in over 120 different airports around the world as well as the Louvre in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Jørgen Gammelgaard had a distinguished career as designer, educator, and humanitarian. Following the footsteps of Hans Wegner, he apprenticed in a furniture design workshop and worked for Arne Jacobsen, among others. As a consultant to the United Nations, he was influenced by indigenous designs he found in his travels to Ceylon, the Sudan, and Samoa and designed the celebrated Tip Top Lamp while living in the South Pacific. From 1987 until his death in 1991, he was a professor of furniture design at the Royal Danish Academy of Arts in Copenhagen, a prestigious position previously held by Jacobsen, Kaare Klint and Pjoul Kjærholm.
Gammelgaard has left a legacy of well-conceived, artful, and varied furniture. He created one of his most popular pieces, the Crestrail chair (reminiscent of Hans Wegner’s Round Chair (1950) for its similar but more substantial curving top rail) designed for entrepreneur Børg Schiang, in the 1980s; the chair legs, with their unusual triangular footprint, are connected in an X-shaped seat support. The Schiang Collection also included Gammelgaard’s tables, desks, filing cabinets, and desktop organizer. Other innovations include his Deck Chair for Rodolfo Dordoni, a sleek lounge resting on a round base, and the Mobile rocking chair for Erik Jørgensen with its continuous curving armrests.
Jindrich Halabala helped create a new mass-market approach to home design and furnishing in Czechoslovakia in the interwar period and after the Second World War. He believed furniture could and should be well-finished, fully functional, modular, mobile and widely affordable.
As chief designer of the large Brno-based furniture producer United Arts and Crafts Manufacture (UP), he significantly influenced its manufacturing program from the 1930s on – pioneering the industrial manufacture of furniture in Czechoslovakia. He developed two fundamental series of modular furniture: lines H and E, and many types of wooden seating. He also designed innovative tubular steel furniture, produced in UP’s Hodonín branch.
As well as developing a modern approach to promotion of furniture, using life-like interiors that he photographed himself for UP publicity materials, he was also active as a theoretician. He regularly contributed to specialist journals and the general press, lectured at vocational secondary schools and colleges and later, as chairman of the furniture manufacturers’ association, played a major part in the reshaping of the Czech furniture industry.
Furniture with the UP mark or individual pieces of furniture attributable to Jindrich Halabala are much sought after today. Apart from cupboards, tables and small armchairs, the greatest demand is for Halabala’s reclinable bent wood armchair (three variants with different systems for reclining), writing desks and dining-room chairs with a high, spreading back. Halabala’s unique tubular chairs with a two-way cantilever are top collectors’ pieces but hardly ever reach the market.
Halabala’s designs can be seen in the permanent collections of Moravská galerie, Brno and the Olomouc Museum of Art, and have recently been on show in an exhibition commemorating Halabala that has toured major cities of the Czech Republic.
When compared to his more famous peers in Danish furniture design, Frits Henningsen is somewhat of a mysterious figure. Born at the beginning of the twentieth century, he was known as both a proprietor of a furniture-making workshop in central Copenhagen, overseeing a team of cabinetmakers and apprentices, as well as the designer of the products of that workshop.
Henningsen’s work was greatly respected for its very high standards of craftsmanship. (Especially by his peers; Henningsen was an active member of the Cabinetmakers’ Guild from 1927 onwards) As evidence of Henningsen’s insistence on quality, one notes how much of his output was in expensive and exotic woods, such as palisander (Brazilian Rosewood) and Cuban mahogany. Every piece with the Henningsen signature is entirely hand-made, using exclusively the labor-intensive, traditional methods he inherited from the nineteenth century.
Apart from its superb quality, a Henningsen piece is notable for its elegance of line. The gorgeous curves he loved to flourish, especially in the arms of his fantastic chairs and sofas, at first glance appear to be early-twentieth-century modernism tempered by the historicism of an urbane but conservative craftsman. Henningsen was indeed a staunch traditionalist; for him, the graceful curves of his furniture were simply the result of the marriage of elegance and comfort.
Peter Hvidt & Orla Mølgaard-Nielsen
Peter Hvidt and Orla Mølgaard-Nielsen opened a furniture design office in 1944. Hvidt, who had trained as an architect and cabinetmaker at the School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen, designed very traditional furniture throughout the 1940s. His one success before they formed the partnership was his Portex chair, which was one of the first stacking chairs to come out of Denmark. However, in 1950, Hvidt and Mølgaard-Nielsen designed the AX chair, which became the iconic piece of their careers. The AX was inspired by the work of Charles and Ray Eames and had a back of double curved laminated wood. It was produced by Fritz Hansen and came in several variations–with or without arms and either upholstered or with a wooden back and seat.
The AX chair is important in Danish design, because it opened up opportunities for mass-produced furniture, which ultimately made Denmark a leader in modern design. It also opened up export opportunities, because its back and seat could be removed for easy shipping.
The AX chair was accompanied by the AX table and was exhibited in the MoMA Good Design show in 1951.
Lisa & Hans Isbrand
Furniture designers, Lise and Hans Isbrand are known for creating functional, ergonomical, and aesthetically convincing solutions. They design both single objects and complete interior decorating projects, working with manufacturers of office furniture, school room furniture etc. Lise and Hans Isbrand have appeared several times at the SE exhibitions with exciting and experimental prototypes. Generally, however, their work concentrates more on everyday living. As such, they are responsible for many interesting pieces of office furniture, innovative kitchen utensils etc.
Bruno Mathsson was born in Varnamo in 1907 into a woodworking tradition. His father was a well known cabinetmaker producing well crafted wood furniture as had the four generations of Mathsson’s before him. He grew up learning the technical skills to make furniture, the feel and nature of wood and the tradition of excellence.
Mathsson wasn’t content with building only the flat board furniture his family traditionally crafted. His furniture was designed with clean, elegant lines including some chairs with positional adjustments. Some of the chairs he worked on didn’t have springs or upholstery. His ideas were revolutionary for his time. Therefore, he put some of his early items into storage until he had become famous in the furniture-making world
Mathsson’s international reputation was launched with the bentwood furniture he exhibited in the Swedish Pavillion at the 1937 World Expo in Paris. Edgar J Kaufmann Jr saw the furniture and recommended that the Eva chair be purchased for the public rooms at the new MOMA building in New York City.
Børge Mogensen started his career as a cabinetmaker in 1934. In 1936 he went on to study at the Copenhagen School of Arts and Crafts under Professor Kaare Klint before entering the Royal Academy of Fine Arts from where he graduated as an architect in 1942. He became head of design at FDB (the Danish co-op) in 1942 before establishing his own design office in 1950. During his years at the Copenhagen School of Arts and Crafts the young Mogensen developed a close partnership with his mentor Kaare Klint and subsequently also assumed Klint’s approach to simple and functional furniture design. Later on Mogensen was to work as Klint’s teaching assistant at the Royal Academy.
Functional is the word which best describes Børge Mogensen’s design. The majority of his furniture was designed with industrial production in mind and is characterized by strong and simple lines. His true genius is to be found in his almost scientific analysis of the functionality of a piece of furniture.
A smaller but essential part of Mogensen’s work was the cabinetmade pieces, one of them being “the Hunting chair” from 1950 made by Erhard Rasmussen. A simple low easy chair with an oak frame from where the strong natural leather seat and back is stretched. Other important pieces include “The Spokeback Sofa” designed in 1945, which with its lightness and simple, open construction differed from most sofas at the time, and “The Spanish Chair” from 1959, a low, robust easy chair.
Ceramist Gunnar Nylund was equally active in Sweden and in Denmark but is best known for his work at Rörstrand. He was trained as an architect in Copenhagen in the 1920’s, but his greatest influences in the early years were his parents, his mother a Danish ceramist and his father a Finnish painter and sculptor.
Due to poor employment opportunities as an architect, Nylund took advantage of his ceramist skills gained at the family studio and applied for a job at Bing & Gröndahl in Copenhagen. He stayed there for five years, but then decided to start his own workshop, Saxbo, together with Danish ceramist Nathalie Krebs whom he had met at Bing & Gröndahl.
Nylund experimented with forms, Krebs with glazes. After an exhibition at Svenskt Tenn in Stockholm 1930, Gunnar Nylund was discovered by Rörstand. He joined Rörstrand and remained with this firm as one of its leading designers until 1958.
In the 1930’s Nylund created graceful, modernist pieces in richly glazed stoneware and sculptors in a rough chamotte ware. Parallel with producing unique pieces, he designed series of utility ware in porcelain. Nylund was a technician who with an artistic eye could see a range of possibilities with different materials. He sought functionality and beauty in useful objects. After the war he produced work in a more asymmetric, abstract line vein.
Gunnar Nylund returned to Denmark in 1959 to assume a position as art director at the Nymölle pottery. He left this company after a few years to work on a freelance basis for both Rörstrand and Strombergshyttan. His last
project was his own studio in Malmö, concentrating on glass design and sculpture in metal.
Jens H. Quistgaard
Jens H. Quistgaard, was a celebrated Danish industrial designer whose clean-lined and immensely popular pieces for the Dansk brand of tableware helped define the Scandinavian Modern style for postwar Americans.
Today a division of the Lenox Group, Dansk was founded in 1954 by Ted Nierenberg, an American entrepreneur and engineer. Originally based in Great Neck, N.Y., the company quickly became known for making sophisticated European styles accessible to the average American consumer. Working from his studio in Copenhagen, Mr. Quistgaard designed for Dansk from its inception until the mid-1980s.
A largely self-taught craftsman, Mr. Quistgaard was known for his fluid lines and for using unusual materials, often in combination. His signature pieces included salad bowls and cutting boards of teak and other exotic woods, and elegant stainless-steel flatware that was an affordable alternative to sterling silver.
Mr. Quistgaard’s bowls were often made from separate staves of wood arranged in a circle, much as barrels are built. This used less wood than turning the bowls on a lathe and gave them striking radial lines in the process.
He was also one of the first designers to rehabilitate enameled steel as a medium for cookware. For years enameled steel pots were considered lowbrow — flimsy speckled things that were at home over a campfire but not in a bourgeois kitchen.
Seeking a pot that would be lighter and less expensive than cast iron, Mr. Quistgaard created the Kobenstyle line of steel cookware, which Dansk released in 1956. Sturdy, yet light and graceful, it was enameled in a range of vivid solid colors, including an intoxicating fire-engine red. As a sign that the pots were handsome enough to be put on the table, their lids, with distinctive flat cruciform handles, doubled as trivets.
As a young man, Mr. Quistgaard served an apprenticeship at Georg Jensen, the well-known Danish silversmiths. During World War II, he was a member of the Danish underground.
In 1954 Mr. Nierenberg was visiting Copenhagen, where he caught sight of hand-forged flatware by Mr. Quistgaard in a museum. It was made of stainless steel with teak handles, an unusual marriage of materials at the time. He sought out Mr. Quistgaard, persuaded him that his singular creations could be properly mass-produced, and Dansk was born.
His work, which won many international awards, is in the permanent collections of major museums, among them the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Louvre.
Rud Thygesen & Johnny Sørensen
Rud Thygesen (1932) and Johnny Sørensen (1944) both graduated from the Danish School of Arts, Crafts and Design in 1966. That same year they opened their own design studio.
When the Danish King Frederik IX shook hands with Thygesen and Sørensen in 1970 in thanks for their 70th birthday gift, it launched a new era in the lives of the two young furniture designers. Until then, they had only just managed to eke out a living from their design studio, a lifelong dream, but following the royal handshake and photos in illustrated weeklies, their exclusive furniture collections attracted everyone’s attention, and the fairytale about the “King’s Furniture” unfolded.
While still at school, they established a collaboration with furniture manufacturer Magnus Olesen. which continues to this day. Their designs and collaboration have had a significant impact on the development of furniture in laminated and moulded wood (and area they focus a considerable amount of time on) resulting in a string of highly regarded and very successful furniture designs. They have also designed tubular steel furniture and worked with the design of textiles and lighting.
Their work is exhibited by: The Danish Arts Foundation, Danish Museum of Art and Design, The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo, National Museum of Decorative Arts in Norway, Staatliches Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Cologne, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Art Gallery and Museum, The Royal Pavillon in Brighton and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In the annals of Los Angeles midcentury modernism, Paul Tuttle may not loom nearly as large as Charles Eames and Pierre Koenig, but he should. That said, he achieved international recognition as a designer best known for his modern, elegant furniture.
Tuttle was born in Springfield, Mo., and lived in St. Louis until World War II. As an Air Force cartographer, he was stationed in India, where the architecture and landscape influenced his pursuit of a design career. Tuttle was educated at the Chouinard Art Institute in Southern California and studied architecture at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West in Arizona. He worked for Architects Thornton Ladd and Welton Becket, designer of Hollywood landmarks such as the Capitol Records building and the Cinerama Dome. In the 1960s, Tuttle designed houses in the Santa Barbara area but earned his greatest acclaim for furniture designs in sculpted wood and geometric stainless steel.
One of his signature pieces was the 1964 “Z” chair, which combined wood and metal in a streamlined Z form, and illustrated his affinity for combining materials such as wood, metal and glass into sleek, sculpted designs.
His custom work resulted in about 200 furniture pieces. Paul Tuttle was a pure California modernist designer but also had a strong connection to the international style of Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer. He wasn’t as well known as other California designers like Eames because very few of his designs were mass manufactured. Tuttle was a bespoke furniture designer for architects and many of his tables and chairs were handmade custom pieces.
His work was the subject of a number of one-man shows: in 1966 at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon); an exhibition titled “Paul Tuttle, Designer” at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 1978 and a retrospective titled “Paul Tuttle Designs,” at the University Art Museum at UC Santa Barbara in 2001.
“I think his work is unique because it doesn’t show a lot of jumping all over the place in terms of changing styles or being trendy,” said Marla C. Berns, former director of the University Art Museum, who curated the show. His consistency was exemplified in how “the early pieces related to the later pieces,” Berns said.
In addition to producing furniture, Berns said, Tuttle focused on “certain design problems that he worked on over and over again, taking them to what he called the essence of his design. He worked on a three-legged chair over a number of years, exposing more or less of the steel supports, working on details of how the steel penetrated the wood, until he came up with the final chair years later. When he came up with something that people liked, he’d still continue to play with it, to get it to what he thought was the perfect resolution that resulted from his own internal motivations.”
Those motivations, said Berns, who is now director of the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History and is working on the designer’s monograph, weren’t propelled by self-doubt, but “by the fact that he always thought he could do more. He kept pushing until he reached a certain level of perfection. It was his own rigorous standards. His big goal was not to see something go into mass production and make him a whole lot of money, but he struggled as a lot of artists struggle, to keep working until he made something that was pleasing to him.”
Perhaps no one was more familiar with Tuttle’s perfectionist streak than Bud Tullis, the Solvang-based master craftsman woodworker with whom Tuttle had collaborated on custom pieces since 1982.
“Sometimes we’d move a leg of a chair a quarter of an inch, or an arm a half an inch, and I’d pull my hair out,” said Tullis with a laugh. “But I learned from him that you never stop looking at design. The more I worked with him on the custom pieces the more excited he got because he was in total control. With his design work with manufacturers there were always compromises, and they don’t like to.
Jørn Oberg Utzon, was a Danish architect, most notable for designing the Sydney Opera House in Australia. When it was declared a World Heritage Site on 28 June 2007, Utzon became only the second person to have received such recognition for one of his works during his lifetime. Other outstanding works include Bagsværd Church near Copenhagen and the National Assembly Building in Kuwait. He also made important contributions to housing design, especially with his Kingo Houses near Helsingør.
Utzon was born in Copenhagen, the son of a naval engineer, and grew up in Aalborg, Denmark, where he became interested in ships and a possible naval career. As a result of his family’s interest in art, from 1937 he attended the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where he studied under Kay Fisker and Steen Eiler Rasmussen. Following his graduation in 1942, he joined Gunnar Asplund in Stockholm where he worked together with Arne Jacobsen and Poul Henningsen. He took a particular interest in the works of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. After the end of World War II and the German Occupation of Denmark, he returned to Copenhagen.
In 1946 he visited Alvar Aalto in Helsinki. In 1947–48 he travelled in Europe, in 1948 he went to Morocco where he was taken by the tall clay buildings. In 1949, he travelled to the United States and Mexico where the pyramids provided further inspiration. Fascinated by the way the Mayans built towards the sky to get closer to God, he commented that his time in Mexico was “One of the greatest architectural experiences in my life.”
In America, he visited Lloyd Wright’s home, Taliesin West, in the Arizona desert and met Charles and Ray Eames. In 1950 he established his own studio in Copenhagen and, in 1952, built an open-plan house for himself, the first of its kind in Denmark. In 1957, he travelled first to China (where he was particularly interested in the Chinese desire for harmony), Japan (where he learnt much about the interaction between interiors and exteriors) and India before arriving in Australia in 1957 where he stayed until 1966. All this contributed to Utzon’s understanding of factors which contribute to successful architectural design.
In 1957, Utzon unexpectedly won the competition to design the Sydney Opera House. His submission was one of 233 designs from 32 countries, many of them from the most famous architects of the day. Although he had won six other architectural competitions previously, the Opera House was his first non-domestic project. The designs he submitted were also little more than preliminary drawings. One of the judges, Eero Saarinen, described it as “genius” and declared he could not endorse any other choice. Nonetheless, concerned that delays would lead to lack of public support, the Cahill government ofNew South Wales gave the go-ahead for work to begin in 1958. The Anglo-Danish engineers, Ove Arup and Partners, put out tenders without adequate working drawings and construction work began on 2 March 1959. As a result, the podium columns were not strong enough to support the roof and had to be rebuilt. The situation was complicated by Cahill’s death in October 1959.
The extraordinary structure of the shells themselves represented a puzzle for the engineers. This was not resolved until 1961, when Utzon himself finally came up with the solution. He replaced the original elliptical shells with a design based on complex sections of a sphere. Utzon says his design was inspired by the simple act of peeling an orange: the 14 shells of the building, if combined, would form a perfect sphere. Although Utzon had spectacular, innovative plans for the interior of these halls, he was unable to realize this part of his design. In mid-1965, the New South Wales Liberal government ofRobert Askin was elected. Askin had been a ‘vocal critic of the project prior to gaining office.’ His new Minister for Public Works, Davis Hughes, was even less sympathetic. Elizabeth Farrelly, Australian architecture critic has written that
at an election night dinner party in Mosman, Hughes’s daughter Sue Burgoyne boasted that her father would soon sack Utzon. Hughes had no interest in art, architecture or aesthetics. A fraud, as well as a philistine, he had been exposed before Parliament and dumped as Country Party leader for 19 years of falsely claiming a university degree. The Opera House gave Hughes a second chance. For him, as for Utzon, it was all about control; about the triumph of homegrown mediocrity over foreign genius.
Utzon soon found himself in conflict with the new Minister. Attempting to rein in the escalating cost of the project, Hughes began questioning Utzon’s capability, his designs, schedules and cost estimates, refusing to pay running costs. In 1966, after a final request from Utzon that plywood manufacturer Ralph Symonds should be one of the suppliers for the roof structure was refused, he resigned from the job, closed his Sydney office and vowed never to return to Australia. When Utzon left, the shells were almost complete, and costs amounted to only $22.9 million. Following major changes to the original plans for the interiors, costs finally rose to $103 million.
In an article in Harvard Design Magazine in 2005, Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg argues that Utzon fell victim to a politically lowballed construction budget, which eventually resulted in a cost overrunof 1,400 percent. The overrun and the scandal it created kept Utzon from building more masterpieces.
The Opera House was finally completed, and opened in 1973 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia. The architect was not invited to the ceremony, nor was his name mentioned. He was, however, to be recognized later when he was asked to design updates to the interior of the opera house. The Utzon Room, overlooking Sydney Harbor, was officially dedicated in October 2004. In a statement at the time Utzon wrote: “The fact that I’m mentioned in such a marvellous way, it gives me the greatest pleasure and satisfaction. I don’t think you can give me more joy as the architect. It supersedes any medal of any kind that I could get and have got.” Furthermore, Frank Gehry, one of the Pritzker Prize judges, commented: “Utzon made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology, and he persevered through extraordinarily malicious publicity and negative criticism to build a building that changed the image of an entire country.”
Danish architect and designer Arne Vodder should be counted among the most influential Scandinavian mid-century designers. A student of world renown furniture designer Finn Juhl, Mr Vodder started designing furniture for Fritz Hansen, France & Son and Sibast, the latter for which he designed a wide range of furniture which received worldwide recognition and success. His beautiful designs were elegantly detailed but modest in their expression. He used natural materials primarily exotic woods such as rosewood and teak which he often combined with colorful eye catching panels. Today, Vodder is perhaps most appreciated for his beautiful rosewood and teak sideboards designed in the 1950-1960’s and produced by Sibast Furniture. Pieces by Vodder are regularly seen at high-end 20th century design auctions, and rare pieces can command high prices.
Poul M. Volther
Poul Volther was a cabinetmaker and later studied at the Danish Design School. Volther was against fads and aesthetic smartness, and loved the simple manufacture of fine materials. As a teacher at the Danish Design School, he influenced hundreds of young furniture designers’ sense of craftsmanship and quality. His friend and colleague Hans J. Wegner introduced him to FDB Mobelfabrik where he was employed in 1949 in their furniture design studio which was led, at the time, by another design great – Borge Mogensen. As chief architect, Volther focused on designed a variety of aestheticall pleasing dining chairs, lounge chairs and sofas. The corona chair is without doubt his most famous design and is gaining a status similar to Arne Jacobsen’s Swan and Egg chairs.
Ole Wanscher turned to the classic forms and reinvented them for modern times and means. Wanscher came to study of furniture design on trips through Egypt and Europe with his father, who was researching the history of fine arts. In addition to Egyptian furniture, Wanscher was heavily inspired by English period furniture.
Words like delicate, elegant and orderly come to mind when describing his designs. Wanscher was a student of Kaare Klint, and later followed in his footsteps as Professor at the Furniture School at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen. Like Klint, he was inspired by classical furniture, and he possessed a great interest in and knowledge about, not only English 18th century furniture, but also early Egyptian furniture. This influence is evident in “the Egyptian Stool” from 1960, a slight, delicate piece where luxurious materials and excellent craftsmanship is combined.
Although Ole Wanscher took great interest in industrially made furniture and designed several pieces with this in mind, his finest work was made in collaboration with master cabinetmaker A. J. Iversen.
Hans J. Wegner
With his love of natural materials and his deep understanding of the need for furniture to be functional as well as beautiful, Hans J. Wegner made mid-century Danish design popular on an international scale. He began his career as a cabinetmaker in 1931 and subsequently entered the Copenhagen School of Arts & Crafts. After receiving his architectural degree in 1938, he worked as a designer in Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller’s architectural office before establishing his own office in 1943.
With more than 500 different chair designs Wegner is the most prolific Danish designer to date. His international breakthrough and greatest sales success came in 1949 when he designed the Round chair. The American magazine Interiors featured the chair on the cover and referred to it as “the world’s most beautiful chair”. The chair rose to stardom when used in the televised presidential debates between Nixon and Kennedy in 1960 and has since been known simply as “The Chair”.
The real beauty of Wegner’s genius must be seen in context with his collaboration with master cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen. The attitude with which Johannes Hansen accepted the young designer’s ideas was the perfect combination between designer and craftsman. Their collaboration went on for many years, and they presented their work at the Cabinetmaker’s show every year from 1941–1966.
Wegner’s design went on to win worldwide recognition through the 1950’s and 1960’s and his furniture, in particular his chairs, are to be found in the permanent collections of the world’s most prestigious museums.
The Italian architect and designer Zanuso was a leading figure in 20th century Italian industrial design, both in terms of practice and theory. Born in Milan, he studied architecture at the Polytechnic (1935-39) and set up an architectural office after the Second World War. He also served as co-editor of Domus magazine and editor of Casabella magazine, during which time he began working as an industrial designer. This included the design of a tubular metal chair for the 1948 Low Cost Furniture Competition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 1950 he was commissioned for experimental furniture designs using foam rubber, newly developed by the Pirelli Company, underlining his career-long interest in the relationship between form and technology. The successful outcome of this work led to the formation of the Arflex Company as a subsidiary of Pirelli, with Zanuso assigned the key design role. His 1951 designs for Arflex included the foam-rubber upholstered Lady armchair, the Bridge folding chair, the St Moritz recliner, and a terrace furnished with foam rubber furniture shown at the Milan Triennale. Later Arflex designs by Zanuso included the Martingala armchair (1953) and Sleep-o-matic sofabed (1954). From 1958 Zanuso enjoyed a productive working relationship with Richard Sapper, resulting in a number of classic and elegant designs. These included several products for the Brionvega company, most notably a series of radios and televisions, including the Doney 14 and the Black 201 models, and the K 1340 polyethylene chair for Kartell (1964). Other designs by Zanuso himself included the 1100 Superautomatico sewing machine for Borletti (1956) and the ABS plastic Grillo telephone for Siemens. Zanuso’s significance has been widely acknowledged through the many prizes that his work has received over the years since 1948, including Gold Medals at six and the Gran Premio at three Milan Triennali, as well as five Compasso d’Oro awards. His work is also represented in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.