Square boxes, then and now...

by Tim Anderson (timothyanderson2005@gmail.com)

As irrelevant an issue as it may seem, I simply can’t resist offering my opinion regarding a classic discussion, the SAS Hotel in central Copenhagen designed by the legendary (and deceased) designer/architect Arne Jacobsen, source of much debate in Copenhagen over the years.

In Denmark, Arne Jacobsen is about as mainstream cult as one can possibly be. Even if his penchant for wearing bow ties created an aura of stiffness surrounding the man himself during his lifetime, most of his building and furniture designs pushed the boundaries of the time. There is no question that his influence lives on today in Denmark, particularly in Copenhagen - perhaps to a much greater extent than it should, some have suggested (after all, the man did most of his great work back in the 50’s and 60’s!).

Jacobsen never feared being provocative; just consider the classic SAS Hotel in downtown Copenhagen that was entirely designed by the great man – the building itself and all of the interior furnishings. Though only one room (room 606, pictured) exists today with the original furnishings as selected and designed by Jacobsen intact, the image Jacobsen aspired to create lives on.

Debate about its exterior has never really ended, with opinion consistently split between those regarding it as brilliant (and very much ahead of it's time), and those less impressed who generally regard it as being dull (or worse). As history teeters towards myth (certainly the case in Denmark regarding anything involving Arne Jacobsen) and reality consequently becomes clouded, debate becomes more challenging.

However the SAS Hotel may have once seemed, and whatever the dissenting voices even today may whisper or shout, a quick glance at this industrial looking, army-green coloured box tells all you need to know – it is pretty ugly!

About the only thing remarkable about it's exterior at this point is the fact that it was designed by Jacobsen. Unfortunately this knowledge does nothing to improve the building's present-day appearance, though it may change one's perception of it, somewhat.

Discussion regarding this 60's building does matter, if only because so little has changed since that time. Though the building is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, new highrises continue to be built in Copenhagen, some with quite striking architecture, others less so.

Copenhagen, in spite of being the capital of Denmark and a fairly internationally oriented city, is not a place where the highrise building has ever really been embraced (ie. buildings higher than 10 stories). It's towering older brother, the skyscraper, even less so (ie. New York, Chicago or Toronto style).

In touring around Copenhagen (I would suggest a bicycle for the job) most buildings are no more than five to seven stories high, and very few more than ten stories - though there are a number around. Of those that exist, one may not be inclined to go as far as calling them ugly, however many would agree they are certainly not 'beautiful' in any most senses of the word. Perhaps uninspired would be a better term.

The very recently completed headquarters of Codan, a Danish insurance company.

In took a while to figure out what to do with this one, though it has recently been converted into a youth hostel.

Suffering from a little too much Arne Jacobsen influence?

On the other hand, recent residential highrise buildings such as some old warehouse conversions at Islands Brygge, overlooking the channel, (pictured below) show a degree of flair, creativity and inspiration clearly absent in most of the existing commercial highrises. In any event, the debate will continue, and hopefully more inspired building such as these will continue to appear.

1 Response to "Square boxes, then and now..."

  1. Anonymous says:

    I find the newer danish buildings pretty boring, but think the Sydney Opera House is still one of the most inspiring buildings around. Maybe it's not that Danes can't design inspiring buildings, but there is just something Danish that stops such inspiring buildings from happening in Denmark ?

    I love their old buildings from Christain IV's time, and the old and semi-old trainstations (Central, North city and East city) but the new stuff like Black Diamond, the new train stations - why is it that new danish buildings have to be so cold ? or like the new Opera House, so boring ?

    Another thing is Arne J's SAS and bank building may seem very harsh and ugly on the outside, but his watercolours (I saw a book just on this in the Lousiana (sp?) gallery bookshop) are totally different - colourful, nuanced and beautiful.

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