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A Walk Into the Lobby of the World’s First Designer Hotel

I couldn’t imagine leaving Copenhagen without experiencing the classic Arne Jacobsen SAS Hotel that opened in 1960.

One of the things that makes this structure so unique is that Jacobsen was commissioned by SAS, the Scandinavian airline, to design the world’s first designer hotel. While the notion of a “designer hotel” is commonplace nowadays, before Jacobsen’s acheivement, luxury was a term more frequently associated with more vintage elements, like lavishly patterned carpets, heavy curtains and 19th C. moldings.

The granddaddy of modern Danish design transformed society’s understanding of a travel luxury into a sleek and modern thing. He applied the design innovations of his time into real life and the result was minimal, futuristic and thoroughly of its time.

His ideas were obviously inspired by mid-century New York buildings, notably Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s Lever House on Park Avenue, but he added an organic sensibility that is a hallmark of modern Danish design.

Originally, Jacobsen designed everything here. From the doorknobs to the cutlery, the lamps to the clocks, and even though many of the elements have since changed, what he is best known for remains, the Egg and Swan chairs. Both types of chairs continue to be used in the lobby of the hotel, which has since been renamed the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, and they continue to represent some of the most iconic examples of Scandinavian style. They give you a sense of what Jacobsen considered important in his most successful work: comfort, aesthetic appeal and simplicity.

If the chairs continue to look sleek, modern and beautifully conceived, time has been less kind to the hotel itself, which has the misfortune of appearing more like a time capsule than a window to the future. I almost expected to find people smoking at the table or desks. The marble floors and wood paneling feel thoroughly dated and the low ceilings, which appear to be acoustic tiling, don’t measure up to our contemporary associations with design luxury.

Only the main entrance, with its large gold dots that wrap around the glass walls and doors, and the suspended staircase, which spirals upwards to a meeting/conference area, provide the interior with timeless accents. Perhaps it is because this building and its objects have been copied so many times since it opened over 50 years ago, but the sense of wow this space probably evoked has since dissipated.

But don’t think that a visit to the hotel still isn’t impressive. I can honestly say it was one of my favorite things in the city. Walking through the space, I got a better sense of who Arne Jacobsen was and why he continues to be remembered as one of the finest designers of the 20th Century.

Arne Jacobsen’s SAS Radisson Blu Royal Hotel is located in the Vesterbro district of Copenhagen and adjacent to the Tivoli Gardens.

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