Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971) was born in Copenhagen and studied as a mason at the Technical School there, and later as an architect at the Royal Danish Academy of Arts. In 1930 he opened his own architectural office in Hellerup, where he created some of the most influential, innovative and perennially ubiquitous pieces of mid-century design.
A harbinger of the ways in which he would push the traditional envelope of Danish design was his winning 1929 project for a "House of the Future" contest. For the circular structure, augmented by a rooftop landing pad for helicopters, he and collaborator Flemming Lassen designed all the interiors, furniture and textiles and colors. This kind of involvement at every level– from the architecture of the building right down to the design of the forks– would characterize Jacobsen's major work and result in some of his most famous designs. In 1943 he and his wife Jonna, a textile printer, fled to Sweden to escape the German occupation of Denmark. While there they worked together on a series of textile prints and wallpaper. When they returned to Denmark in 1949 he began work on the Munkegård School outside of Copenhagen, a project that would last until the mid-1950s. He was praised, during this project, for his ability to design for a child's scale of perception. A chair he designed for the school, the "Tongue," was a close relative of the 1952 chair that began his rise to international fame, the "Ant." These stackable, three legged chairs had a seat and back carved out of a single piece of molded plywood that was at once visually arresting and comfortable. This chair introduced an era of modernity into the period's clean, almost severe architectural spaces that it entered. The "Ant" also evolved into the successful 1955 "Series 7" chairs, which came in a four-legged and a swivel version on castors.
Jacobsen began his work on the SAS, or Royal Hotel in Copenhagen– which today is the Radisson– in 1956. The building itself was not an immediate success, and Jacobsen recounted in an interview that, "when the SAS building was inaugurated a paper ran a competition to select the ugliest building in the city– I won first prize." He was not deterred however, stating, "I can't stand the term 'good taste'...I would rather say: artistic approach, receptiveness, alertness." From the SAS came work imbued with just those things, including the enormously popular "Swan," "Egg," "Pot" and "Drop," armchairs, upholstered in a single, organic, free form structure that introduced a new kind of classic design. The "Swan," for example, was not simply an upright chair to support someone, but also one that facilitated a wide variety of sitting positions. Jacobsen once reported that, "it has been said for many years that when a thing is practical and functional, it is beautiful as well. That I don't believe." These chairs, however, managed to be all of those things, sculpturally unique and designed, above all, to be used. He next embarked on another large-scale project, for St. Catherine's College at Oxford. He designed a new series of chairs appropriate for this space, including a plywood swivel chair and several high backed chairs that appeared curved in profile but looked rectangular from a head-on view.
A visionary of the future, Jacobsen's flatware designed for the SAS was used in the film "2001: A Space Odyssey." Into the third millenium, Jacobsen's furniture indeed remains exciting and relevant.