Danish architect and designer Arne Jacobsen was an influential representative of functionalism in the mid-1900s. He became world famous for his chairs The Ant, Series 7, The Swan and The Egg, now considered to be furniture classics with almost iconic stature in the furniture world. Jacobsen is best remembered as a furniture designer, though he regarded himself primarily as an architect. He completed several prestigious projects both in Denmark and internationally. He was also a professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.
Like the great architects Joan Soane and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Jacobsen first worked as a mason before he was accepted in 1924 to the architecture program at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. However, already as a student Jacobsen made great advances as a designer when he won the silver medal at the Art Deco fair Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1925 for a chair of his design. In the same period Jacobsen was heavily influenced by the great heroes of international modernist architecture such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, whose idiom is characterized by strict functionalism.
After graduation, Jacobsen mainly designed private homes with clear influences from Gunnar Asplund’s 1920s classicism. He gradually began to win public contracts, such as the Bellavista neighborhood outside Copenhagen. He also opened his own architectural firm in 1930 which he ran until his death in 1971. Jacobsen was forced to flee to Sweden between 1943 and 1945 because of the German occupation. He mainly devoted himself to designing fabrics and wallpaper during that period. Upon his return to Denmark his career began to gather momentum with more and more large projects.
Jacobsen focused on selection of materials and the ability of buildings to integrate with the surrounding environment. He believed that all of the different elements of a building must harmonize with one another and that the overall structure should be characterized by balanced synthesis and practicality. Jacobsen was meticulous with details and wanted the interplay between environment, exterior and interior to permeate the entire building. For this reason he began to design furniture for his houses in the 1950s through furniture manufacturer Fritz Hansen. This collaboration actually began in 1934, but the technology to implement Jacobsen’s ideas was not yet available. The stackable Ant chair, made of molded plywood and stainless steel, was presented in 1952 and represented Jacobsen’s major breakthrough as a furniture designer. The successor Series 7 from 1955 was produced using the same technique, but with a slightly different design of the backrest and with four legs instead of three.
In the late 1950s Jacobsen was commissioned to design the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen. He was personally responsible for the entire design, from the almost 70-meter high skyscraper to the furniture, lamps, fabrics, cutlery, glasses, ashtrays and door handles. The Swan and Egg chairs, which also became best-sellers and furniture classics, were introduced in this context. The idea was that their organic shapes would serve as a pleasant contrast to the building's otherwise austere architecture.
As a designer, Jacobsen found inspiration from furniture designed by Charles and Ray Eames in the US in the 1930s, as can be seen in both the design and choice of material. In the 1960s he became increasingly interested in geometric shapes such as circles, cylinders, triangles and cubes, as reflected in the AJ lamps and Cylinda Line tableware. It should be underscored that Jacobsen primarily saw himself as an architect, but for him, as for many other architects, design was a key element in his role as an architect.