The Airport Series

March 15th, 2011



I suppose this is a bit of a tease, but the recent sale of an Arne Jacobsen Airport Series sofa peaked my interest about its origins. The Airport Series was designed by Danish architect Arne Jacobson for the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, completed in 1960. Built for the Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS), the hotel's design emanated the concepts of advanced technology and luxury vaunted by the airline industry in the 1950s and 60s. Jacobsen's hand designed every element of the hotel, from the architectural form to the interiors, door handles, materials and furniture. The idea of designing in totality was not new in the post-war decades, but was developed by early 20c designers like William Morris and the founders of Bauhaus. The difference is, while early modernists could only dream of designing an environment in all its parts to create an inspiring and socially enhancing atmosphere, post-war architects had the tools and production means to make it a reality.

Scandinavian architects were undoubtedly influenced by the earlier Functionalist manifesto acceptura, written in collaboration by Uno Åhrén, Sven Markelius and other leaders of the early modern movement in Sweden. In acceptura, they claimed the architect must “accept the reality that exists – only in that way have we any prospect of mastering it, taking it in hand, and altering it to create culture that offers and adaptable tool for life.” Based on that same ideal, Eero Saarinen said in 1959 that "The total environment is the real problem and, in a sense, the new frontier of architecture", implying that ability to create a wholly satisfying environment lies within the architects hands. Then as today, not all architects work with such lofty goals, though it was possible then, with the sufficient financial backing of corporations looking to create a brand through architecture, to relegate all design decisions to the control and creativity of a lead architect. Today, the successful development of mass-production has made it inefficient in time and finances to do so. The building codes and regulations in practice today also weren't an issue when Eero Saarinen was designing the TWA Terminal or likewise, when Jacobsen was designing the SAS Royal Hotel.

The architecture of the SAS Royal Hotel represented the new lifestyle of jetsetters who could travel the world and experience the luxuries that wealth afforded. International modernism fit the environment of increased globalization and offered a formal architectural language that, in its overt avoidance of cultural influence, could be applied to accommodation from Copenhagen to New York to Beijing. Guests of the SAS Royal Hotel were greeted in the lobby by low lighting reflecting off marble floors, warm wood-clad walls and a sculptural spiral staircase set in contrast against a wall of windows of white light. The sparse ornamentation of the space was enlivened by the organic shape and colours of the furnishings. Of the Airport Series, the Egg Chair and Swan Chair are the most popularly known, but it is the relationship of the various pieces within the setting that solidified Jacobsen’s position as an eminent furniture designer. The pieces of the series vary in form, textile and colour, but there is a clear stylistic link between them all, sliding from the simple geometric forms of the sofa resting on elegantly slender steel legs to the expressively organic shapes of space-age ambitions. Through design, the furniture differentiated the function of certain spaces, for instance, the Egg Chair in the lobby invited one to sink in, relax, engage in conversation or absorb the scene of cosmopolitan guests arriving or leaving. Even when empty, the physical presence of the chairs made the lobby feel inviting and populated. The Drop Chair was suited for the bar area, with its slender pointed back inviting a full range of movement and the large-gestured conversations that often accompany alcoholic beverages. Where the exterior expressed the functionality of structural steel, concrete and glass, the interior exuded the sensuality of human experience. The door handles were designed as the negative space of the hand and the furniture was designed with ergonomic principles as a guide. In its totality, Arne Jacobsen achieved a space and experience that bespoke an easy comfort with the utmost class.

 Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics

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