The SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, a Jet Age architectural landmark, has completed a redesign blending historic restoration with contemporary upgrades in a bid to reclaim its status as a design icon.
Opened in 1960 by Scandinavian Airline Systems (SAS), the Functionalist-style hotel featured a downtown air terminal and plenty of amenities for the jet set. This was the world’s first design hotel. It had a distinctly Scandinavian aesthetic, using lots of wood paneling.
The hotel was created by Arne Jacobsen, Denmark’s world renowned architect and designer. He was responsible not only for the architecture, but also for all the interior details, from the bespoke carpets to the light fixtures and even the glasses and cutlery used in the restaurant. His curvy Egg and Swan chairs, created especially for this project, became (and remain) massively popular internationally.
This comprehensive approach is an example of gesamtkunstwerk, the German term for a total of work of art in which all parts of a building are conceived as one unified whole. Although this idea did not originate with Jacobsen and was practiced by others, including Finland’s Alvar Aalto, the Royal Hotel is widely considered one of the best expressions of the concept. Although it was Jacobsen’s only hotel, it is his masterpiece and, at 22 stories, Copenhagen’s first skyscraper.
Despite the effort put into creating this architectural gem and the accolades it received, over the years the Royal Hotel’s interior elements were “discarded or altered beyond recognition,” laments architect and historian Michael Sheridan in his 2003 book about the building, Room 606: SAS House and the Work of Arne Jacobsen. Only one vestige has remained intact: guest room 606 was preserved in its original condition as an homage to the building’s unique design heritage.
With a revival of interest in Functionalist architecture and design in recent years, and perhaps due to competition from newer boutique hotels, the hotel has gone back to its roots. Radisson Collection Royal Copenhagen (the hotel’s new name) brought in interdisciplinary design firm Space Copenhagen to update the entire property and recapture the spirit of Jacobsen.
Completed in 2018, the renovation is a mix of old and new. For example, classic Jacobsen chairs have returned in collaboration with Fritz Hansen, the firm that manufactured the originals. Space Copenhagen has tweaked the original design by adding new colors. Firm partners Signe Bindslev Henriksen and Peter Bundgaard Rützou added new pieces such as their own Loafer Chair, produced by &Tradition.
Other changes include more open layouts in the public areas, reflecting a less formal separation of activities that fits today’s sensibilities. This is most obvious at Cafe Royal, a bar serving cocktails named for Jacobsen and other famous designers, such as Cecilie Manz.
Luckily for the purists, not everything has been changed. Room 606 remains in its original condition and is still available for bookings.
How does Space Copenhagen’s work compare with Jacobsen’s? Reviving and reimagining a masterpiece is an audacious undertaking. See it for yourself to judge whether this new incarnation rises to the challenge.
Radisson Collection Royal Copenhagen
(Previously: SAS Royal Hotel)
1611 Copenhagen V
Images courtesy of The Danish National Art Library.