{it’s only an addiction if you don’t have fun}

To our dearest {spacial cadets}:

We’re finally back from our (very long) blogging hiatus.

First: You’re welcome.

Second: We didn’t come back empty-handed. In fact, we have the very distinct pleasure of introducing you to something that was brought to our attention by some of the spacial cadets who were spending a semester studying abroad in Copenhagen.  In a similar fashion to the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui, the Danish design concept “Hygge” serves as a means of bettering one’s surroundings.

David, one of our  spacial cadets, has graciously contributed an article he wrote on Hygge:

The Concept of “Hygge” and a Discussion of Danish Design

David Spatt

“Hygge”, (pronounced “hue-gah”) is a Danish word that describes a feeling or mood that comes form taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary everyday things simply extraordinary. Words like coziness, security, comfort, reassurance, fellowship, simpleness and living well are often used to describe the idea of hygge.

One of the most important aspects of Danish culture and daily life is design. To totally understand life in Denmark, it is of crucial importance to understand the role of and significance that design plays for Danes. All aspects of design: architecture, clothing, furniture, public, and private design alike must be considered and all have important social functions. True Danish design can be summarized by three words: functionality, craftsmanship, and tradition. Aesthetic nature of a design is not of primary concern, as the Danes believe that if all other aspects are considered first and foremost, then beauty will follow. Design provides Danes with an important self-image as it reinforces important cultural values.

The principles of design in Denmark are founded in line with the same ideology of the welfare state of the country that “strives to create uniformity and averageness, innate solidarity, [and] exclusivity in regard to the outside world” (Jespersen). Danes are very concerned with an “us-us” mentality and are very cognizant of not standing out above their fellow Danes. It is very instilled within Danish society that everyone should gain from the same benefits. This mentality is also seen through design as it aims not to be flashy and exclusive, instead subtle and widely available. Many of the most famous examples of Danish design have been standardized and are available in a variety of materials so that everyone can afford them. Danes are also very partial to natural born designers and as a form of national pride, hold their own designers above all others.

Design has become synonymous with Danish culture and lifestyle and it permeates all levels of society. Much more that design in the United States, Danish design aims, above all else, to be democratic and all-inclusive: “Social stratification [is] minimized rather than maximized and…individuals, regardless of their wealth or social status, ought to be treated as possessing equal human value” (Borish). Danish Design in many disciplines such as clothing, furniture, and architecture follow similar principles as in each case, objects (be them shirts, buildings, or furniture) are designed with every citizen in mind with an attempt to raise the total standard of living of the nation. There is less importance on outward beauty in Danish design, instead the focus lies on functionality and making people’s life easier and better: “Luxuriousness was simplified and toned down and thereby often became more human and sincere. In building as well as in furniture-making, economic limitations made it necessary to stress utility value instead of external brilliance” (Møller and Kay-Larse). Beauty is not derived from artificial aesthetics in Danish design, instead from tangible, real world functionality.

The most important aspect of Danish design is functionality. While in many cultures and societies, aesthetics tends to play the central role driving design; beauty in Danish design derives directly from the usability of an object. As the Danish architect G.F. Hetch says about the role of functionality, “The object of everything relating [to design], large or small, must be that is answers its purpose and meets two main conditions: usability and suitability, and should be designed with this in mind…Beauty [that follows] must always depend on usefulness because without this no satisfaction can be gained for the eye or the spirit” (Møller and Kay-Larse). Objects in Denmark ranging from chairs to buildings to public transit systems are all hyper focused on their functional nature. It is through an object’s usability that Danes not only find beauty but also develop a keen admiration for good design.

Once Danes find a well-designed object they tend to cling onto it for generations, incorporating it into multiple facets of their daily life. This is especially true of two common items: lamps and chairs. Today, the lamps and chairs found in both homes and business of Danish men and women are almost exclusively by Danish designers. Poul Henningsen and Hans Wegner are likely the most famous and well-known designers of lamps and chairs, respectively.

Nearly every Danish household has at least one Poul Henningsen number 5 (PH5) lamp, commonly used to light a central eating area. Danes have prized this lamp not only because of its subtle yet beautiful flowing design, but primarily because of the quality of light that it creates. Originally designed in the late 1950’s, Poul Henningsen strove not to create a beautiful lamp, instead an instrument that generates a specific quality of light. As natural daylight is, especially in the fall and winter months, in short supply, homes in Denmark require a lot of artificial sources of light. Henningsen was bothered by the harsh glaring quality of light that was common to most lamps. His PH5 design is careful to disperse light so that while providing illumination (the very purpose of a lamp) it also has a soft and warm quality. From a viewer’s perspective, it is nearly impossible to see the origin of the light source looking at the lamp, as it is carefully and masterfully concealed by elegant curves. Again, this is so that a warm character of the light is retained. Specially painted sections within the interior of the lamp also ensure that the desired quality of light is achieved even when different bulbs are used. Ultimately, all of these factors combine to provide a “hygge” atmosphere – perhaps the most Danish concept of all.

Henningsen designed the PH5 first and foremost to achieve a purpose, that is, light a darkened interior. He then took the process one step farther as he debated what kind of light the lamp should produce. When he was finished, he was left with an elegant, curving, sleek, modern design that is, even without being lit, striking and beautiful. However, the very beauty of the design was born from pure functionality, as no superfluous aspects exist. Every piece of the lamp serves a function. The PH5 lamp is not a designer piece of furniture, instead, merely an instrument that produces a special, precise, and warm character of light.

Hans Wegner chairs are perhaps some of the most famous pieces of furniture in the world. He is known especially for his wishbone (also called “Y-back”) chair, peacock chair, and the iconic round chair. As with Poul Henningsen lamps, nearly every Danish household and business utilize examples of Wegner’s furniture. His most famous and well-recognized piece, the round chair, designed in 1949, holds a special place in Danish history and culture and today is so famous that is commonly referred to as simply “the chair”. Wegner’s round chair gained international fame after being featured in the American presidential candidate debates between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. Both candidates sat in the Wegner chair, carefully chosen for the debates for its simplistic yet extraordinarily beautiful nature.

Though famous, this piece, as with the best examples of Danish design, is founded in pure usability. The chair’s very functionality has a direct and inseparable correlation with its beauty. Just as Henningsen designed a lamp around the purpose of creating a specific quality of light, Wegner created and molded a chair to fit and cradle the human body instead of designing a chair that someone would later sit in. In this way, the round chair is transformed from something to sit on, instead, becoming something to sit in. Wegner’s round chair has careful and meticulous attention to ergonomics of the body and the use of material – soft traditional woods.

In the tradition of a true craftsman, Wegner chose to join the wood in an elongated dovetail fashion that eliminates the need for nails. Not only does this feature this make the piece more beautiful and striking as all of its curves and lines flow seamlessly together, but it is also much more pleasant to touch and much more enjoyable to lounge in. It does not need to be covered up with cushions or pillows to make it more comfortable as this is already built into its design – precisely the intention of Wegner. A viewer can see this chair existing in two separate facets, the first as a tangible object, and the second as a sculpture – a piece of art that belongs on display. The round chair is thought provoking and gorgeous without someone sitting in it; its aesthetic nature being founded in the Danish design principle of functionality. Through the beautiful bowed lines lies an object designed with the distinct purpose of enhancing its user’s life. The chair feels proper, precise, and simply pleasurable to sit in. Its beauty founded in functionality helps to solidify the round chair’s place in the Danish design tradition.

Poul Henningsen’s PH5 lamp and Hans Wegner’s round chair are only two examples demonstrating the functionality that drives Danish design, but many exist. Denmark has a tremendous amount of pride in its designers and many carefully created objects (as well as buildings and other design elements) have become synonymous with daily life and the culture. Values of equality permeate Danish design, influenced directly by the welfare state, and items of design are widely available to all people with the ultimate purpose of enhancing everyday life. To understand Danish design and the basis on which its built gives a broader and more accurate understanding of Danish culture altogether.

Tone it down,

{the spacial cadets}


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