The World’s First Design Hotel

6th June 2024

Today I have been exploring, through the portal to the past that is the internet, the world’s first ‘design hotel’. Built in 1960, the SAS Royal Hotel was the height of design excellence in Copenhagen at the time. All elements of the city’s tallest building were created by the renowned Scandinavian Modernist designer, Arne Jacobsen.

1960s Modernist hotel by Arne Jacobsen
Hero image: 1) The hotel lobby, 1960. Photo: Aage Strüwing © Jørgen Strüwing. 2) Restaurant seating. 3) Women fixing hair in room. This image: 1) The restaurant in the SAS Royal Hotel with Giraffe chairs. Photo: Aage Strüwing © Jørgen Strüwing. 2) SAS Royal Hotel, 1960. Photo: Aage Strüwing © Jørgen Strüwing. 3) The Drop chair. 4) SAS Hotel. Photo Norm Architects. 5) Suspended plants and elegant seating.

Ten years ago now we at Pickle created a poster calendar in homage to iconic chair design, Jacobsen appeared more than once. For this hotel and airport terminal he created some of the most lasting chair designs, the Egg, Swan and Drop to name a few.

Details of the SAS Hotel in Copenhagen
1) Arne Jacobsen’s winter garden with hanging orchids and Pot chairs, approximately 1960. Photo: Arne Jacobsen. Original is found at the Royal Danish Library – Danish National Art Library. 2) Arne Jacobsen’s drawing of glasses for the hotel restaurant. Photo: Royal Danish Library – Danish National Art Library. 3) The Pot chair in the Orchid Bar. 4) ‘Semicircles’ the pattern Jacobsen designed for the curtains and the bedspreads. Photo: Arne Jacobsen Design.

What a dream this must have been for him, to consider everything, from the lighting in the restaurant to the waste paper bin in the bedrooms. All perfectly modern, utilising that much-appreciated design ethic of combining simple form with warm natural materials. The chairs seemed to hug you as you sat in them. The lights hung like suspended pine cones and the windows wrapped round the building providing views for all across the city.

Arne Jacobsen's vision perfectly preserved
Room 606 restored to be just like how Arne Jacobsen intended it.

The building itself gained the nickname ‘The Punch Card’ as the city’s first sky-scraper sat tall and stiff like a hole-punched piece of card. Today the hotel is named the Radisson Collection Royal Copenhagen and there are still plenty of Jacobsen’s design influences proudly on display. You can visit room 606 which has been left untouched, a frozen 1960s moment with all Jacobsen’s classics on display.

Radisson Collection Royal Hotel, Copenhagen
The newly named Radisson Collection Royal Hotel, Copenhagen keeps some key features of Jacobsen’s vision.

It’s a triumph of Modernism, and a lovely example of one man’s vision carried out completely. Rarely do we see such all-encompassing design. A delightful design stop off for a Thursday morning.

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