Friday, June 29, 2012

10 Things We Learned in Scandinavia

 We saw this blog post by Build LLC the other day and thought we'd share it. Enjoy!

10 Things We Learned in Scandinavia


Last week we were invited to be part of Pecha Kucha #36 at the Nordic Heritage Museum in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. It was a blast closing out the event and we had a ton of fun watching the other participants; see the full roster here. The theme was “Nordic Love” and we decided to divulge the top 10 things we learned while studying in Scandinavia. Afterwards, we were thrilled that so many people asked if the presentation would be up on the blog. So we said, “Heck yeah, we’ll put it up.” Enjoy.

In the fall of 1993 we each boarded an airplane from our respective universities with our sights set on studying architecture in Copenhagen, Denmark. At the time we knew very little about Denmark; we knew about the popularity of cheese, the public acceptance of funny sweaters and the abundance of oddly named pastries. We had no idea how influential Scandinavia would be in our lives and our careers as architects.

 1. Everything can be designed.
Everything was designed well in Scandinavia, from entire buildings right down to glassware at the local cafe. The Danes even applied their design skills to the hot dog bun, or pølse, as they called it. The bun was baked with a hole perfectly sized for a hot dog (insert humorous but harmless phallic observation here).

2. Good design always trumps fashion.
The objects that surrounded us in Denmark weren’t just well designed, they were timeless. They were designed in such a way that you bought something once. You used it your entire life and then handed it down to your grandchildren. A great example of this is the famed PH5 lamp designed by Poul Henningsen in 1925 and manufactured by Louis Poulsen.

When things are designed well, like chairs, and books, and cabinets … you don’t need fashion. This is the Egg Chair designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1958. Did we mention that the Scandinavians are also very skilled at marketing?

3. Modest private spaces – celebrated public spaces.
In Scandinavia, people live modest personal lives with unpretentious, economical homes. Energy, resources and pride are put into the public spaces. This is one of the many courtyards along Copenhagen’s main shopping street, the Strøget.

Locations like plazas, courtyards and mezzanines become places to gather and celebrate the daily rituals of life. The Royal Danish Library is an excellent example of an indoor gathering space. The new addition, designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen, was completed in 2006 and is an extension to the original library from 1648.

4. Public transportation needs to be the path of least resistance.
Not only is there an excellent public transportation system in Copenhagen, but the policies around using public transportation are also very clever. At the time of our studies, anyone who bought an automobile was given a train pass. Even after you had abandoned the public transportation system the Dane’s still didn’t give up on you. The encouragement to use public transportation was astonishing.

Copenhagen’s “five finger” transportation system reaches each of the 5 main prominent neighborhoods. Like most things Scandinavian, they’ve taken a complex system of information and have boiled it down to an elegant and easily understandable diagram.

5. Personal freedom trumps rules.
This is the Carlsberg Brewery, where decades ago employees of the brewery were allowed to consume six beers per day on the job (seriously). Naturally, workers maxed out their daily limit more often than not.

When the brewery eliminated the limit, making it possible to drink as many beers as one liked, the number of beers consumed per employee went down.

6. Being good is more important than being famous.
The anonymity of Scandinavian designers always impressed us. Every time you turned a corner in Denmark you found great architecture by architects you had never heard of, architects that don’t care about popularity.

Scandinavian’s don’t yearn to be rich, famous or published. It’s enough just to do good work and have a good life.  This is the folding chair designed by Hans Wegner in 1949.

7. Lower your expectations and you’ll be happier.
The Scandinavian countries are cultures that believe they have enough; they’re happy with things just as they are.

The Dane’s do not tie their happiness to the stock market or what they’re driving.  Simple pleasures and daily routines can offer as much joy in life as you want them to.

8. Anybody can cook well.
When we lived in Scandinavia it was all meatballs and potatoes. There was no point in going out to eat because there wasn’t any good food. And because no one would go out to eat, new restaurants wouldn’t open up.

Now the Scandinavians have the best restaurant in the world, NOMA. On a typical Danish menu you can now find terms like herb emulsions, sea foam, and foraged blueberry meringue. If the Danes can pull out of this culinary tail spin, anybody can do it.

 9. Save the schnapps for last.
There is etiquette to drinking in Scandinavia: you start with a beer or two, then move onto wines with dinner and maybe an after dinner drink. Later in the evening, Farfar heads down to the cellar to fetch a bottle of that schnapps he made a few summers ago. This is an ancient drink for the soul; it embodies the tradition, the beliefs and the happiness of an entire culture.

There is a social significance of sharing drink; it happens with good people around a table of food and stories and wine stains. It can’t be bought, it can’t be acted out, and it can’t be found on Facebook.

10. We all need more hyggelig.
The Danes have a word, hyggelig, that doesn’t even translate in the English language because we don’t have enough of it. Its closest relative is “cozy” but even that doesn’t come close to encompassing everything that hyggelig embodies. It’s about a calm, comfortable surrounding with good friends or loved ones, often while enjoying good food and drink. And it’s something we all need more of.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Pursuit of Happiness

 Below is a blog post about the relationship between design and happiness by Kate Watson-Smyth from that we found interesting.

The pursuit of happiness

Can good design in the home actually improve your life? The Danish think so 

Copenhagen regularly features on lists of cities that offer the best quality of life. It is also hailed as one of the most environmentally friendly places to live; its harbour is safe for swimming and 55 per cent of its citizens commute to work by bicycle. In this year’s OECD global happiness survey, the Danes were ranked as the happiest people on the planet.
Although the reasons for this national contentment are a matter of debate, many say it has to do with the Danish belief that good interior design improves people’s lives. And Danish homes, from traditional townhouses to sleek studio apartments, reflect this philosophy.

Interiors are typically clean and minimalist: white walls and floorboards provide a structural, almost architectural backdrop to simple, utilitarian furniture. The color palette is monochrome and muted, with perhaps a single splash of color from a lamp, cushion or chair. The curtains, if indeed there are any, are white and open. And every house is full of candles – a Danish obsession, which helps provide hygge (loosely translated as atmosphere or comfort), the state to which every Danish home aspires.

This distinct approach to interiors dates back to the years following the second world war, when architects and designers promoted the idea that affordable, high-quality furniture would enable the average Dane to live better. That view still holds true today, more than 60 years on, and their simple and uncluttered homes are admired around the world.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Index: Design to Improve Life, a non-profit organization that promotes the idea that interior design is a decisive factor in creating a better world. Established in Denmark, it is now internationally recognized and offers the world’s largest monetary prize for design at €500,000.

Danish tiered chandelier
Modern Danish tiered chandelier, $1,275,

Today there are 400 furniture companies in Denmark producing about €1.75bn worth of goods, of which 80 per cent are sold abroad, making homewares the country’s fifth most important export industry. Much of this furniture is still influenced by those original designers such as Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner, Verner Panton and Poul Henningsen.

Their work, also known as Danish Modern, is based on the minimalist principles of the German Bauhaus movement. The lines are simple and every element of every piece is there for a reason. The old adage that “form follows function” is rewritten in Danish design, where the two are of equal importance. As a result of this attention to detail, many original designs, such as Jacobsen’s Egg and Swan chairs, Wegner’s Wishbone chair and Henningsen’s Artichoke light, remain in production today and continue to be in high demand.
Mads Johansen and Antonio Scaffidi were both trained at the Danish Design School in Copenhagen. Their latest product, the Njord chair for Kusch+Co, was shown in the UK for the first time at Clerkenwell Design Week last month. Both acknowledge a debt to what Scaffidi calls the “old masters and their attention to detail”.

“It is a nice challenge that we have to live up to,” says Johansen. “In that sense we are blessed that we have been given this insight. I think it must be harder for designers in other countries because they do not have the benefit of being around this culture of design.”

Danish interiors

From left: Bentwood floor lamp by Caprani Light, $550,; mirror sculptures rug designed by Verner Panton, £1,465 for 2m x 3m,; coffee table, €325,; teak and oak chair by Finn Juhl, $7,735,; big drop grey and dash coral 45cm x 45cm square cushions designed by RosenbergCph, €54,; Finn Juhl Poeten two-seater sofa, $11,000,; gateleg table by Kurt Ostervig, £2,089,

Marianne Brandi, creative director of the leading Danish design house, DAY Home, believes the Danes are so used to good furniture that they take it for granted. In primary schools, for example, children sit on Fritz Hansen chairs and Poul Henningsen lamps illuminate hospital foyers.

“My father’s office had Poul Henningsen lamps over every desk,” says Brandi. “They were even in the toilets. When I met my husband, he had four Arne Jacobsen chairs, but they were the same as those in my dentist’s waiting room, so I didn’t want them in my house,” she says.

Candle holders
Candle holders, $500
Christian Rasmussen, head of design at Fritz Hansen, which has been manufacturing furniture since 1872, believes that to understand Danish style you have to first look at the structure of the country.

“Our society is based on a very traditional democracy,” he says. “We have free education, free hospitals and health care. We don’t have extremes of class like you find elsewhere in Europe, and that is reflected in our approach to design. Furniture was built to last because we couldn’t afford to go and buy another piece next year, and that idea is firmly planted in the heads of our designers. Materials are treated with respect, and there is always a good reason for why a piece looks the way it does.”
But, he adds, the climate also plays an important role in their style.

“Our winters are long and dark and we keep the walls white because we need to bring in as much light as possible,” says Rasmussen. “People spend a lot of time and energy on their homes because it is our way of showing who we are, how we live and what we believe in – and we believe absolutely that beautiful interiors make people happy.”