Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971), the subject of a retrospective exhibition at London' Design Museum, was perhaps the most outstanding Danish architect of the twentieth century. But more significantly, he was among the first to make the transition from architect and designer to industrial designer. Architects had designed furniture before, with varying success -- Hoffmann in Vienna, Lloyd Wright in Chicago and Mackintosh in Glasgow -- but only for use in their buildings. Jacobsen's objects, from chairs to cutlery, were born of imperative post-war needs and manufactured using techniques of mass production.
His celebrated Ant chair was originally designed in 1952 for the NOVO factory canteen in Copenhagen. The factory needed a light, comfortable, stacking chair and Jacobsen responded by producing a wafer-thin laminated plywood seat set on three spindly steel legs. The design ingeniously exploits the inherent elasticity of the steel and plywood to obtain maximum comfort, strength and eas of manipulation. The separation of seat and structure has its origins in the late 1920s, epitomised by Marcel Breuer's cantilevered steel tube chair with cane or leather seats. Jacobsen's radical design embraces this functional dichotomy and links it to a more traditional structural logic, but takes it to an extreme by eliminating one of the legs. This produces a degree of imbalance, countered by allowing for a subtle rocking movement where the two parts of the chair are joined. Rubber stoppers fixed to the upper part of the legs constrain any excess movement. The result is a surprising flexibility that offsets the hardness of the wood, which maintains its warmth and sensuality, despite being industrially processed.
Following an initial run of three hundred, the Ant chair was subsequently mass produced by the Danish manufacturer Fritz Hansen. A four-legged version of the Ant soon followed, which led on to the next version, the 3107, shown at the Helsingborg exhibition of 1955. It entered production that year and is sometime known (though never officially) as the Butterfly chair.
The chair has come to occupy a remarkable position in late twentieth century design culture, with over four million sold, and also achieved a certain ironic notoriety when a clutch of '60s celebrities such as famine fatale Christine Keeler and playwright Joe Orton were photographed sitting astride it naked, wit only the hourglass form of the chair itself for modesty. The chair was in fact an unauthorised copy, identifiable by the rogue cut-out finger slot on the back
Despite being highly original, Jacobsen worked not to shock but to serve. His diligently productive career was characterised by a balance of intellect, intuition and emotional force that communicated a rare humanism. In an era now dominated by superficial stylistic debate, Jacobsen's elegant, socially inspire designs are a timely reminder of the original impetus of Modernism.
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|Title Annotation:||works by architect and designer Arne Jacobsen|
|Publication:||The Architectural Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1994|
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