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Design Opinion: Truly Gifted Danes

indesignlive.com’s UK Editor, Alexi Robinson, visited Copenhagen for ’The Danish Gift’ exhibition. Such a showcase of legendary Scandinavian designers begged the question- do the Danes do it better?

Design Opinion: Truly Gifted Danes


March 31st, 2008

“Ah yes but let us not forget who designed your opera house!”

No type of attempted retaliation could have softened the blow from my Danish counterpart as the latest in a playful slinging match of Danish versus Australian design. I surrender, willingly, remembering the many times I’ve gazed upon Utzon’s soaring curves and decide to store for now the very tempting ammunition lying within her Crown Prince’s choice of bride.

Instead I am treated to The Danish Gift, an exhibition hosted by the Danish Design Centre in Copenhagen intended as an international look at Danish design by design firm King & Miranda. Today however the contents exhibit as a glistening reminder of just how many furniture classics have emerged from the Danes since the 1950’s and just how integral the values of quality, continuity and craftsmanship have been to their lasting appeal.

Borge Mogensen, Hans Wegner, Arne Jacobsen, Poul Kjaerholm to name but a few have not only graced the international furniture market for decades but have taken a curious and comfortable precedence in the composition of Australian interiors whilst doing so. Further still, Finnish design is no exception to the observation. I recall Mirrku Kullberg, Managing Director of Artek, making an excited visit to Australia last year in a bid to understand the noticeably high level of investment in Alvar Aalto product making Australia the second largest market in the world.

So why is it that Scandinavian and Nordic design integrates so effortlessly into contemporary Australian architecture? I wonder if the beautifully poised dining room of the James-Robertson House by Dawson Brown Architecture might have been so poised with an absence of the Wishbone Chair.

On the surface we could look for reason in the perceived acquisition of iconic, geographically exotic object to help validate an aspiring interior. We could even argue that the early ambassadorship of a certain Scandinavian architect may have engrained itself into the psyche of Australian design institutions and practitioners in a loop-like narrative filtering down to specification.

But what is more satisfying to consider is whether there exists a fundamental compatibility of values that resonate in the thinking of Scandinavian and Australian architects and designers. While climates differ dramatically there are strong parallels between notions of sustainable innovation, contact with nature through use of materials and in Australia the seamlessness of space and an honest approach to structure whereby technical details of construction are inseparable from the design process.

The resulting interiors made achievable through the unique climatic conditions from which they take shape provide a holistic bedding for the underpinning values of the pieces they so willingly adopt suggesting that the two work in unison and that our slinging match may have met its end. Until one of us next weakens that is.


Alexi Robinson is indesignlive’s UK editor. An Aussie expat living in London, working for design legend Tom Dixon, who better to send us a fortnightly report on the ever dynamic design scene over the sea.

Keep an eye out for the next ’Design Opinion’ piece in mid-April.

Got a comment for Alexi about this article? Send her an email



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