The Klampenborg chair marks the beginning of a remarkable collaboration between Fritz Hansen and Arne Jacobsen.
In the mid-1930s, architect and designer Arne Jacobsen worked on an impressive project at Bellevue just north of Copenhagen, the so-called White City. It is still in use today and still stands as a landmark. Arne Jacobsen was not only the architect behind its Bellevue Theatre, the Bellavista Housing Estate, and the Bellevue Beach facilities – he also designed pretty much everything else, from tickets to chairs.
This makes the Klampenborg chair, designed in 1934 for the Bellevue Theatre restaurant, interesting in itself. Moreover, the chair was also innovative in its use of materials, making it cheaper to produce than similar upholstered chairs of the same era. And finally, the Klampenborg chair was the first chair that Fritz Hansen and Arne Jacobsen developed together, marking the beginning of a truly remarkable collaboration.
In 1956, Arne Jacobsen was invited by Scandinavian Airlines Systems (SAS) to create ‘the world’s first design hotel’; the 22-storey SAS Royal Hotel (now called the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel) in the centre of Copenhagen. It is widely considered to be Jacobsen’s masterpiece and was designed as a gesamtkunstwerk, translated as ‘complete artwork.’ This means that Jacobsen designed every element of the hotel, both interior and exterior as a singular work.
For the hotel, Jacobsen created design icons includingthe Egg™ and the Swan™ chairs. Jacobsen used hen wire and plaster to create the organic forms of his famous chairs. In the process, true to his infamous perfectionism, he sent the prototypes to stucco workers tens of times, making constant changes. In the very end, they sent the prototypes back without having changed a thing; happily, Jacobsen was satisfied. Through the years, the Egg and the Swan have undergone minor changes, but always with respect for the original 1958 designs.
Other classic pieces first found at the SAS Royal Hotel include the Drop™, Giraffe™, and Pot™ chairs, all of which are still being sold today. His 3300™ series of sofas and lounge chairs for the airport terminal at the hotel added another layer to the design universe.
The Swan Sofa went out of production in the 1970s but was reintroduced by Fritz Hansen in 2001. The Drop, a beautiful chair defined by its simplicity, and one of Jacobsen’s personal favourites, did not go into production outside of the hotel until 2014, when Fritz Hansen introduced it in its original, as well as a new plastic, form.
The SAS Royal Hotel was completed in 1960 and featured a gym, a restaurant, shops, and the air terminal with bus connections to Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport. Jacobsen designed all of it, from the main structure to the lamps, the door handles and the window frames – and of course the magnificent furniture produced by Fritz Hansen. Room 606, called the Arne Jacobsen Suite, has been left untouched for six decades. To this day, it holds some of the most recognisable and influential furniture pieces in the world.
Michael Sheridan, author and Danish design and architecture expert, reflects on the legacy of the Ant chair – now celebrating its 70th year in circulation.
On October 24th 1952, Søren and Poul Hansen – grandsons of the original Fritz Hansen and directors of Fritz Hansen – celebrated the company’s eightieth anniversary by unveiling a radically new type of chair: FH 3100. Designed by architect Arne Jacobsen (1902-71), the chair consisted of an innovative double-curved shell of laminated wood, supported by three, slender steel legs. Despite the radical form, the design was based on the conventional concerns for utility and comfort that distinguish all of Jacobsen’s finest work.
In 1950, Jacobsen was renovating an office building that he had designed in the 1930s, which would now include a staff canteen. Inspired by Parisian cafés, he hoped to furnish the canteen with a lightweight chair that could be stacked, so that the floor could be washed. To that end, Jacobsen began working with Fritz Hansen on the design of a moulded plywood chair. One of the foremost challenges was the transition between seat and back, where the bending stresses caused the nine layers of veneer to curl. The solution was to remove as much material as possible, following Jacobsen’s drawing of a narrow waist. Moreover, the designer insisted on the thinnest possible steel tubes, so that the legs would be slightly flexible. Rather than a traditional rigid frame, Jacobsen’s new chair would be a resilient structure that responded to the posture of the sitter.
In November 1952, Jacobsen’s organic invention barely attracted the attention of the press, which regarded the 3100 as a peculiar novelty. Three months later, the architect arranged several dozen of the chairs in a spectacular installation at the annual exhibition of Danish handicrafts and industrial design. The large number of chairs expressed Jacobsen’s vision of an inexpensive, mass-produced artifact, and captivated the press. Amid the resulting wave of publicity, a Swedish writer inadvertently coined a new name for the 3100, by observing, “… designed in black, it is a little reminiscent of an ant and probably just as useful.”
The chair that has become known as the Ant marked a turning point in Arne Jacobsen’s design work: as he embraced industrial production and realized his mastery of taut lines and elegant profiles. At the same time, the Ant initiated an intense collaboration between Jacobsen and Fritz Hansen that continued until the architect’s death. The high points include the laminated wood armchair, 3207, that provided the basis for the Seven series; the Egg, Swan and Drop chairs that were designed in 1958, and remain in production; and the laminated wood experiments for St. Catherine’s College that formed the basis of the Oxford series. As such, it is clear that the début of the Ant was not only a watershed moment for designer and manufacturer, but also a momentous event in the history of modern furniture – worthy of celebration this year (and every year), by anyone who appreciates Jacobsen’s rare ability to unite physical comfort and aesthetic delight.
About the author: Michael Sheridan is an American architect and a leading authority on Nordic architecture and design, with a particular focus on Denmark. His books on those subjects include Room 606 – The SAS House and the Work of Arne Jacobsen, Poul Kjærholm – Furniture Architect, Landmarks – The Modern House in Denmark, Louisiana: Architecture and Landscape, and the forthcoming Archetypes: The Modern Tradition of Danish Design (2023).