Poul Henningsen (1894-1967) was born in Ordrup, Denmark, he trained as an architect at the Danish College of Technology in Copenhagen. Finding the style of traditional lighting designs to be insufficient for his interiors he began designing his own solutions. He was depressed by “how dismal people’s homes are,” and realised that “electric light gave the possibility of wallowing in light.” Henningsen was evangelistic towards the development of modern lighting.
His two most successful designs the “PH lamp,” designed in 1924 and the “Artichoke” have become icons of modern design.
The “PH” lamp, also callled the “Paris” lamp because of its award winning appearance at the Paris World Exhibition incorporates tiers of shades, allowing the user to direct light in several different directions without exposing the light source. The Artichoke is considered to be a classical masterpiece designed by Poul Henningsen more than 40 years ago. The structure is made of twelve steel arches. On this structure he placed 72 copper “leaves” in twelve circular rows with six blades in each row. Because each row is staggered from the previous, all 72 leaves are able to “cover for each other”.
Poul Henningsen Biography
One of the most influential architects of the mid-20th century, Louis Kahn (1901-1974) realized relatively few buildings, yet the formal restraint and emotional expressiveness of his Jonas Salk Institute is regarded as an inspired progression from the International Style.
Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine, saw the world much as Kahn did, he felt that great thoughts would flow more freely from a monastic setting, perched high on a cliff above the Pacific Ocean, that allowed the thinkers to ponder the great questions of life in solitude.
Jonas Salk Institute, La Jolla, California, USA by Louis Kahn
The Panton Chair is the first cantilevered chair made from a single piece of plastic. Sleek, sexy and a technical first, the Panton was the chair of the era. A glossy red Panton featured in Nova magazine’s 1970 shoot in which a model demonstrated “How to undress in front of your husband”.
Panton Classic Chair, 1968, by Verner Panton, for Vitra
“She designs with force, without making any concessions, and that’s what interests me — even if at times it can be a bit difficult”
- Michel Roset, co-owner of Ligne Roset.
France’s hottest designer Inga Sempé (b. 1968), graduated from l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle (ENSCI) in Paris in 1993 at the age of 25. She also won a scholarship for a year’s studies at the French Academy in Rome (Villa Medici). She achieved a complete breakthrough at the Milan Furniture Fair, where her wilful Brosse shelf was shown. The shelf, which has ‘curtains’ made of bristles from sweeping brushes, was displayed in Edra’s showroom and attracted a lot of attention. Since then, Sempé has been a hot name in the design media throughout Europe. Her first exhibition was held last summer at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Inga Sempé has worked with George Sowden (1989), Marc Newson (1994) and Andrée Putman (1997-99).
Mies van der Rohe’s famous Tugendhat House is the subject of a bitter custody battle. One of European modern architecture’s early classics, it was designed by Mies for an owner of a textile factory in Brno Czechoslovakia. It was also a project for which Mies designed every detail, from the doorknobs and light fixtures to the Tugendhat and Brno chairs, now classics of 20th-century design produced and sold by Knoll. The villa was seized from its Jewish owners Fritz and Greta Tugendhat by invading Germans in 1939, and was never returned to the family.
Tugendhat House, by Mies van der Rohe, 1929, Brno, Czech Republic.
Official Site: Tugendhat Villa
Buy the Book: Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography
Designed by Warren Platner in 1966, this distinctive series of tables and seating, transformed steel wire into sculptural furniture.
Platner Collection, by Warren Platner, for Knoll
Having worked for Charles and Ray Eames and Hans and Florence Knoll, Harry Bertoia garnered icon status as a designer when he created the Bertoia Collection for Knoll in 1952. Italian-born, Bertoia utilized his superior skills as a sculptor to bend and shape industrial wire rods into chairs that would become pinnacles of twentieth century furniture design. Now considered modern classics, the collection was so commercially successful that it allowed Bertoia to dedicate himself exclusively to his main artistic passion: sculpting.
Biography: Harry Bertoia
“Here we will build a monument dedicated to nature and we will make it our lives’ purpose”.
Le Corbusier’s ‘chapel of our lady of the height‘ is a pilgrimage chapel, though on most days more frequented by architectural pilgrims than the intended variety. Perched on a commanding hill above the village of Ronchamp, it is the latest of a long history of chapels on the site. Its predecessor was destroyed in fighting in the Second World War, though much of its stone is used in the walls of Le Corbusier’s building.
The thick, curved walls – especially the buttress-shaped south wall – and the vast shell of the concrete roof give the building a massive, sculptural form. Small, brightly painted and apparently irregular windows punched in these thick walls give a dim but exciting light within the cool building, enhanced by further indirect light coming down the three light towers.
Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, France, by Le Corbusier
Hans J. Wegner (1914 – 2007).
Born in 1914: Tønder, Denmark where he completed his early education and was trained as a cabinet maker. In 1936, at the age of 22 he attended the School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen, returning later as a tutor.
He worked as an assistant to Erik Møller and Arne Jacobsen until 1943, helping on their design for the Århus Town Hall, and adding some of his own furniture. In 1943 he opened his own office and came out with the Chinese chair which, along with his 1949 “Round” chair would provide the basis for many of his later chairs.
Interiors magazine, in America, put the Round chair on the cover in 1950 and called it ‘the world’s most beautiful chair,’ catapulting Wegner into international fame and sparking a profitable export market. It became known simply as,The Chair and began making high profile appearances like the televised 1961 presidential debates between Nixon and Kennedy. Of the design Wegner said, “many foreigners have asked me how we made the Danish style. And I’ve answered that it…was rather a continuous process of purification, and for me of simplification, to cut down to the simplest possible elements of four legs, a seat and combined top rail and arm rest.”
Inspired by classical portraits of Danish merchants sitting in Ming chairs, Wegner created series of chairs that helped establish Denmark as an international leader of modern design. Of this seies the Wishbone Chair is widely considered to be his most successful design.
In the early 1960s he came out with several variations on the Bull chair which came with or without horns, and was a fine example of the line Wegner could masterfully walk between elegance and playfulness. “We must take care,” he once said, “that everything doesn’t get so dreadfully serious. We must play – but we must play seriously.”
- Danish Design
Teddy Bear Chair, Circle Chair, CH 07, Wishbone Chair, Bull Chair.
Biography: Hans Wegner
Recommended reading: Danish Chairs
The Glass House is one of the most inspiring examples of the mid-century American interpretations of European modernism or, as Johnson and Henry Russell Hitchcock dubbed it in their 1932 book, The International Style. Perched on a leafy hill with a picture postcard view across the Rippowam Valley, the house consists of a roof, a floor and four glass walls supported by eight steel piers. The bathroom and a fireplace are enclosed in a brick cylinder, leaving the rest of the 65-by-32 square-foot, or about 6-by-3 square-meter, space entirely exposed to the surrounding greenery.
Hopelessly impractical though a transparent home would be for a family – or for anyone who wasn’t lucky enough to be able to afford quite so much land – it was perfect for the fastidious Johnson and his lovers.
“The only house in the world where you can watch the sun set and the moon rise at the same time. And the snow. It’s amazing when you’re surrounded at night with the falling snow. It’s lighted, which makes it look as though you’re rising on a celestial elevator.”
Alice Rawsthorne, the International Herald Tribune
Philip Johnson’s Glass House, 1949, New Canaan, Connecticut.
Official Site: Philip Johnson Glass House
+ Buy the DVD, Philip Johnson: Diary of An Eccentric Architect at Amazon