In my New Nordic Design class, with the lovely BB teaching, I visited the National Bank of Denmark which was designed by the famous architect and designer, Arne Jacobsen. Below is a short essay I wrote for my midterm, capturing my experience of the bank.
Walking along the outside of the National Bank of Denmark it feels as through I am passing an impenetrable fortress. The large, nearly windowless facade creates an enormous defense to the world. With its flat facade made up of the same material, Arne Jacobsen creates an imposing wall between the pedestrian and the bank. A simple, low hanging awning over the front entrance is the only signal to an opening. A purposeful and well thought out detail.
Before I am able to enter the main lobby of the bank I have to wait in a small tight vestibule.The vestibule doors won’t open until the outer door is closed. Even then you have to wait a few seconds for it to open. I believe this was a specifically designed moment that uses compression and release to prime you for the main lobby space. By enclosing you in the small, low ceilinged space you feel compressed. When the doors finally open and your able to enter the lobby your body feels the release of space. This effect makes the five story lobby it then feel much larger.
Once in the lobby one immediately has a sense of wonder. Though the space is simple and almost bare, it is impactful in two ways. Through the immateriality of the staircase and the dramatic use of day lighting.
The first thing that a visitor will notice in the space is the staircase. The thin concrete steps seem to float within the space. Neither attached to the ground or to the wall. General logic knows that this is impossible. Concrete stairs cannot float in space. But the effect of floating is still prevalent. After the initial view you notice the thin red wires hanging down from the ceiling. Stringing the staircase together. But still, these red wires seem too thin to support for the five story staircase. Reinforcing once more the floating effect desired by the designer. The color of the wire support system is intriguing as it is nearly the only color within the space. The walls and floors are made up of a beautifully varied grey tile. One would think the red would stand out, but no it is a detail noticed only after viewing the impactful staircase. A secondary experience.
Arguably the most dramatic and well designed feature in the lobby is the use of daylight. But daylight is limited within the lobby. Coming in through the long narrow slits in the facade it is designed to change the feeling of the space. 90% of the time the space is relatively dark and cave like. But for about 20 minutes each day the sun is able to shine through at just the right angle to create a dramatic beam of light on the far wall. This 20 minutes is what Arne Jacobsen designed the space for. This is the moment he wanted you to experience. This is why the rest of the space is relatively bare and simple. He wants to let that light have a dramatic impact for that short amount of time. And he wants you to experience it.
It is clear after visiting the space that Arne Jacobsen is a great designer. He has designed the space down to every last detail. The material choices. The use of sunlight. The way a visitor enters the building. Everything is designed, and designed well.