Space For Living: SPACE Copenhagen

Jacob Charles Wilson meets the award-winning design duo SPACE Copenhagen to discuss their latest project – the renovation Arne Jacobsen’s iconic Radisson Blue Royal Hotel

Signe Bindslev Henriksen and Peter Bundgaard Rützou have known each other since their years studying architecture at the The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. They first set up their own rival design firms before joining together in 2005 to work as SPACE Copenhagen, designing  furniture and interiors for private clients, hotels, and restaurants including the world renowned noma, Geranium, and Geist. We met at Copenhagen’s Atelier September to talk on how they came to work together, their thoughts on space and materiality, and their recent project renovating the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Copenhagen – designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1956 today recognised as a singular masterpiece of mid-century architecture in a city of discerning tastes.

Taking a look through your projects, you’ve worked for restaurants as well as private residences, why did you start taking on these projects? 

SBH: Twenty years ago in Copenhagen there was an amazing wave of new young chefs who were in their own kitchens, doing their own thing, bringing in new ideas, and becoming more ambitious about changing the scene. Back then, when you came out of architecture school, you’d go to a big firm and you’d aim to do large scale architecture – nobody else was interested in paying attention to retail spaces and furniture design. So, we started our own companies and we were each other’s best competitors for many years because there was noone else.

PBR: This juxtaposition between the small details and the abstract space was something that’s found in great masters and I think the whole impact of what made Danish design famous also became a complex for a whole generation – how do you move from that? That’s one of the most interesting things about restaurants – more than anything they’re a social experience. Whatever you do with it is a reading of that social activity. So it’s a psychological reading translated into design and eventually into space, and that’s just really exciting.

What does it mean to you to approach and reimagine Arne Jacobsen’s icon of both the city and of Danish mid-century design?

SBH: Well it’s obviously a great honour – in many ways Arne Jacobsen was one of our icons while studying, and he was one of the best examples of actually completing a whole universe from the door handle to the entire building, and the process of storytelling involved in that. There’s this very fixed image of what Danish design is, and when you actually look back and look at Jacobsen’s work compared to Finn Juhl, to Carl Hansen, to all the great masters, they’re extremely playful, they’re very inspired by the outside world, they travelled a lot, with inspiration from Japan and Africa and the US. So we felt that we were lucky that it was someone like him, who had a vibrant open mind.

PBR: When you get started you look very carefully at the design and you realise it was indeed a very different time. You have to look back to the social structure that defines the architecture; first of all the building was actually the hotel and check-in terminal for Scandinavian Airlines. Something we thought about is that people want to have all kinds of experiences at hotels folded into one, we no longer differentiate sharply between one space or another. In this case, because the lobby is so huge, it’s an open space relationship between a lot of different activities. It was a challenge, but it also makes the site fun, it’s like a puzzle, you need to crack it somehow.

Signe Bindslev Henriksen and Peter Bundgaard Rützou

What is the experience you want to give people who stay in the space and feel the materials

SBH: It’s a part of the story that’s difficult to show now – a lot of our work was also trying to bring back the original building – a lot of construction has been going on here and there in the hotel for the past 50 years, so a lot of the work was just tripping off layers of things that hiding the beautiful old building, trying to restore the floors, trying to bring back the beautiful windowsills in the rooms, little things that you won’t really see unless you know how it was years back.

PBR: Another aspect of the building is the fact that it’s the only highrise in Copenhagen. It’s such a horizontal city – through all of the 20th century we’ve had this restriction of five floors within the inner city. So, you go to this building and all of a sudden you see the city as a cityscape, it’s just really beautiful. Every room has a view, and there’s just nothing else like it in the city.

SBH: When people enter the room they go straight for the window and look out, it’s what everyone intuitively does. The view is mindblowing, it’s so rare that you actually see the city from that angle, it has an almost dreamlike feel.

So what’s the experience you intended people to have entering this space?

SBH: The staircase was very important for the layout studies we did. We created this stretch of round ceiling alcoves which reflect this beautiful staircase feature. You get a sense of how the space is laid out, with the bar on one side and the restaurant on another. The circle was an important feature for Arne, throughout the whole project. The skylights, the floor, the balcony skylights and the ceiling. He uses the ground staircases and the ground pillars that define the overall structure. Small circular designs on the door. As Peter said, you have the masculinity, but paired with the softer elements, the organic feel and materials.

Do you see this project as drawing from a Danish design history, or do you look further for inspiration?

SBH: We can’t escape who we are, we grew up with in this tradition; our parents and grandparents, our ten years of studying within this field – it made us. But we’ve tried to escape, to look a bit further, to not be too intimidated by it, and actually hold onto the fact that curiosity comes from being such a small country. Because, a lot of things do not get fulfilled here, so that’s why we get a total urge to go somewhere. There’s that feeling of going up a skyscraper and looking out on the world.

PBR: There’s a lot to learn from – classical architecture to art nouveau, and further back – design is something you can disappear into, just thinking how two pieces of wood fit together, and how can you translate that into a building, and whether we use it in a project or not… it’s the foundation for our inspiration. It’s having curiosity at the drawing board, knowing how to play and nurture that, how to fill yourself with opportunity and let go.

SBH: And of course it’s also daring to not fulfil people’s obvious expectations for what Danish design is…


London Design Festival 2017: The Round-Up

PORT’s design editor, Will Wiles, reflects on this year’s London Design Festival

Camille Walala’s ‘Villa Walala’, photograph by Gilbert McCarragh

Memories of the 2017 London Design Festival will inevitably be dominated by two colourful installations, both of which made inviting destinations for the Instagramming crowds. Tucked behind Liverpool Street Station was Villa Walala, a dashing inflatable pavilion designed by textile designer Camille Walala and intended as a space for play and wonder.

More formal, but no less jazzy, was Gateways at Granary Square, designed by ceramicist and writer Adam Nathaniel Furman. This was a sequence of four arches laid out in front of the Central Saint Martins building, each with a differently shaped aperture and all faced in colourful tiles.

‘Gateways’ by Adam Nathaniel Furman, photograph by Gareth Gardner

Gateways was intended to promote Turkish ceramics, but it far exceeded its brief, becoming the visual focus for the whole festival. This underscored the growing importance of Granary Square, home to an expanded Design Junction, and the multiplying locations of the festival – the traditional poles of 100% Design in the west and the London Design Fair in the east are now joined not only by King’s Cross but also by Somerset House, home to Design Frontiers (in an off year for the London Design Biennale). Kvadrat’s “My Canvas” exhibition of 19 emerging designers was the draw to the latter.

Kvadrat, ‘My Canvas’

Away from the big commercial shows in the Shoreditch heartland of the London design world, there was as ever much to be discovered and enjoyed in backstreets and unexpected corners. A particular highlight was Universal Design Studio’s “On Repeat” pavilion for The Office Group on Rivington Street. The pavilion’s simple, orthogonal wooden frame is given life by a ceiling of paper lanterns which sway and stir in the breeze like a shoal of fish. These lanterns are made by visitors to the pavilion as an example of pavilion’s guiding idea: the soothing, focusing power of repetitive creative activity. It formed a space for other demonstrations of the principle, such as a sushi-making workshop. See our interview with co-director of Universal Design, Hannah Carter Owers, here.

Interior of the ‘On Repeat’ pavilion

A few minutes walk away, on the far side of Old Street Roundabout, is Established & Sons’ new home on Tilney Court. Sebastian Wrong has again taken the helm at Established, the brand he founded in 2005, and has marked the occasion at LDF with the revival of new versions of old favourites. Barber & Osgerby’s Zero-In coffee table makes a welcome return, and there are refreshed additions to the Wrongwoods range, furniture stamped with Richard Woods’ distinctive wood patterns.

Established & Sons’ ‘Wrongwoods’ table

Another welcome return could be found at the Fritz Hansen showroom in the West End: the company is reviving Arne Jacobsen’s Oksen armchair, first launched in 1966 but only made for a few years and unavailable for decades. Oksen is a surprise for those familiar with Jacobsen’s sweet-tempered Scandic modernism: it’s an angular, charismatic, leather-clad brute well suited to the Bond villain or crime boss in your life. We wanted one immediately. 

Arne Jacobs’ Oksen chair


Remembering Arne Jacobsen

At the relaunch of the iconic Oksen chair, Christian Andresen, head of design for Fritz Hansen, remembers one of the greatest Danish designers and architects Arne Jacobsen was at the time, and probably is still, only one of a handful of Danish architects and designers who ventured beyond Denmark. A total designer – he was interested in everything, from objects and furniture to landscape and urban planning – he brought Danish design to an international audience.

Jacobsen was educated at the Danish School of Architecture at a time when the old masters of architecture – those who had grasped an industrial way of thinking about design during the 20s and 30s, and had pioneered Bauhaus-inspired Danish architecture – were teaching there. It was a breeding ground for some of the best designers to have come out of Denmark and yet, of his contemporaries, such as Jørn Utzon who designed the Sydney Opera House, Jacobsen was probably the most talented.

Both an academic designer and an architect, Jacobsen both made projects with contractors and clients on a professional level, and had a love for experimenting with shape. It was this approach that would transpire with Fritz Hansen. Hansen’s forward-looking son, Christian, and Jacobsen both had a passion for new technology and an interest in how designers like Charles and Ray Eames were making furniture in the US with plywood.

The Oksen chair
The Oksen chair

The ambition of Jacobsen was to do a one piece chair and in developing the technology to produce this – a mould that can press a two-dimensional shape into a three-dimensional shape – the core of our business was founded. We are slow making products compared to our competitors, but we want to challenge, and that always puts a lot of love and frustration into project. The way that Jacobsen and Hansen worked together has become part of our culture.

The Oksen chair took Jacobsen six years, and a lot of hard work at the company, to produce. He would die in 1971 and it was the last big project he worked on. I thought it was about time that we showed it off.