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…

 

Kvadrat: A Design Family

Port travels to the new Copenhagen showroom of renowned textile designer Kvadrat, to learn more about the brand’s philosophy and conceptions of space

Kvadrat – the Danish textile company founded in 1968, beloved of architects and interior designers – prides itself on a focus on quality and heritage, just not at the expense of innovation. This unique mix of classic design and originality is evident in the brand’s new showroom in Pakhus 48, an old warehouse in the former freeport area of the Copenhagen docks, outfitted by the Bouroullec brothers, the renowned French design duo.

Having studied industrial design and modern art, Ronan and Erwan have been working together as product and interior designers since 1999. When we speak at the opening of the new showroom, Erwan tells me how they’ve fostered a relaxed and organic relationship. “We are brothers, we’ve been in the same place, and we’ve been drinking or eating the same things, so our relation to shapes and material are pretty similar. Yet, with our way of working, sometimes one of us can be much more inside something, while the other one can be in more of the surroundings.”

The Bouroullecs are long-time collaborators with Kvadrat. Since their first project with the brand, designing a display space in Stockholm 11 years ago, they have fostered a continuing partnership. The pair were asked to design Kvadrat’s original showroom in Copenhagen, as well as a number of products now sold by the brand – Clouds, a system of flexible panels, and Ready Made Curtain, a set of pegs that turns any fabric into a curtain, were originally bespoke products for Kvadrat’s offices.

The closeness of the relationship between the brand and the brothers is such that neither Erwan, nor Kvadrat CEO Anders Byriel, can remember when they first brought up the idea of the new showroom. “Anders never exactly asked, because we saw each other all the time,” says Erwan. Together, they seem to understand each other’s needs and interests and talk simply of how natural it was that they would work with each other.

During the time that the Bouroullecs have been collaborating with the brand, Kvadrat has grown from a handful of office staff to nearly 30: they outgrew their old offices and display rooms, and simply needed more space. This was the challenge for the Bouroullecs, how to set everyone at ease and return the focus to the materials at hand. Erwan tells me the first step was to set up the backdrop for the space by turning to the natural light, which floods in from two walls of south-facing glass, overlooking the expanse of the harbour and the low-lying city beyond.

Inside, the space is carefully divided up by panels of fluted glass and low lying brick walls, the physical weight and textural surface of which ground the space. Erwan points out the slight imperfections in the bricks and glass: for him, it highlights the hands that have gone into its production. The slight irregularity, as an example of resistance to industrial processes, is pleasing, even if it doesn’t please the German engineers that made them. These divide the open office space, which is filled with furniture upholstered in Kvadrat’s minimal Basel and Hallingdal 65 fabrics, and includes smaller, more intimate areas for cutting lengths of cloth. This brings a sense of humanity to what Erwan worried could have been a very empty, cold space.

Byriel and the Bouroullecs talk highly of the new typologies of bespoke products they’ve designed for Kvadrat, many of which have now entered into large scale production, for Kvadrat and for others. Here, they designed a modular and movable rail system to hang display fabrics from the ceiling. These finely machined aluminium links can be set to different heights and moved throughout the showroom to open up or close off areas. Strong enough to hold metres and metres of raw textiles with no cutting and stitching, the system presents the fabrics ready to be touched and inspected.

It’s hard not to see it as a gallery – over its history, Kvadrat has worked with artists and designers including Peter Saville, Olafur Eliasson, and Miriam Bäckström. But Byriel and Erwan are keen to emphasise the working aspect of the space. Byriel notes that a third of the entire showroom is dedicated to working space for architects and specifiers. “We have lots of people coming here every day, maybe you come with drawings, maybe you come with clients, you stand or sit and work. It’s a little bit more of a space where you interact and you touch the goods… You’re not allowed do that in art galleries.”

From the way Erwan talks, it is clear that the Bouroullecs work isn’t simply a case of installing parts to please a client. Rather, he espouses a philosophy of materiality and honesty: “It’s important to make sure that you embed inside objects a kind of a self-learning process, so that people can find out what it is… Materials have to express what they are, where they come from, they have to express if they’re fragile or if they’re strong, they have to express if they’re here forever or not, in order that people properly behave with things that are given to them, especially when they are customers.”

It seems that many people share this philosophy. Kvadrat textiles are seen all over the world, in hotels, offices, aeroplanes and recently, a concept car by BMW. Kvadrat have also worked with David Chipperfield architects to upholster the entire headquarters of Amorepacific cosmetics in Seoul, opening later this year. Likewise, Byriel has high words for the Bouroullecs work too. “In 100 years there will be four or five people who defined our times, and I really think the Bouroullecs will be one of them. Like Eames defined the mid-century, I feel they’re defining our time.”

A Moveable Feast: Noma Mexico

Whole grilled pumpkin with a kelp and avocado fudge

Inspired by Mexico’s rich food history, Copenhagen’s most famous restaurant has opened a temporary outpost in Tulum 

Noma in Copenhagen has been voted the world’s best restaurant three times. Since 2003, head chef and co-owner René Redzepi has taken an innovative approach to Nordic cuisine, with items like deep fried moss, edible flowers and ants all making appearances on the menu. While the original restaurant is relocating to Copenhagen’s Christiania neighbourhood, Redzepi has transported Noma to Tulum in Mexico for a seven week residency.
 
Staging successful pop-ups in Tokyo and Sydney, Redzepi and the team at Noma have been on the road for the last two years, but Noma Mexico is the third and most ambitious venture yet. Conceived as an open-air restaurant nestled between the jungle and the beach, it offers a meticulously researched tasting menu based on Mexican ingredients and traditions. For Redzepi, this was an opportunity to pay tribute to a country that has excited him for over a decade.
Noma Mexico
When the concept for Noma Mexico presented itself, Noma’s former sous chef, Rosio Sanchez, was the first person Redzepi asked to join the endeavour. She was brought up in Chicago by Mexican parents, from whom she learned a great deal about Mexican cuisine, ingredients and flavours. 
 
“For the last 6 months, Rosio, a small team and I have been traveling all throughout the country from Merida to Ensenada, from Oaxaca to Guadalajara, and everywhere in between,” says Redzepi. “We searched to find that special chile, to understand the seafood, to taste just a few of the infinite variations of mole, and to find inspiration in the vast and wonderful culture.”
 
To create new and compelling dishes, Redzepi and Sanchez also teamed up with Traspatio Maya – a nonprofit group of 15 Mayan communities situated across the Yucatan Peninsula – who provided them with hyper-local ingredients. Indigenous delicacies such as rare wild bee larva, pure sweet and sour melipona honey from the Calaukmul reserve, white naal teel corn and pumpkin seeds have been used to create an incredibly diverse 15-course menu. Other items include pinuela, tamarind, crickets, grasshoppers roasted in garlic, chile peppers, jackfruit, mangoes and Yucatan limes. Spice also appears throughout, with dishes ranging from cool masa broth with droplets of habanero oil to pasilla peppers with chocolate sorbet boiled in melipona honey. 
 
Noma Mexico is open until 28 May 
 
Photography by Jason Loucas