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The Curators: Space Copenhagen

Alia Akkam • July 30, 2018
Peter Bundgaard Rützou and Signe Bindslev Henriksen. Photography by Martin Bubandt, Joachim Wichmann, and courtesy of Space Copenhagen

Photos: Recent Projects

The restoration of Arne Jacobsen’s iconic circa-1960 Royal Hotel into the 259-room could have easily been intimidating. Of course, “there was a certain hesitation to working on such a legacy [project],” acknowledges Peter Bundgaard Rützou, one-half of alongside cofounder Signe Bindslev Henriksen, “but there was also great possibility.” True to Rützou’s words, the hotel preserves and showcases the stunning skyscraper, a backdrop buoyed by contemporary elements like Jacobsen’s renowned, made-for-the-hotel Egg chair, now upholstered in a luxe velvet.

After three years, the hotel underscores the studio’s devotion to human engagement “because we are giving birth to something someone else is going to take over,” explains Henriksen. They aimed for fluidity, removing the strip of retail that blurred the view to the street and amputating the lobby. The check-in desk was moved to a more ideal spot, making way for Café Royal, an energetic restaurant with an open kitchen, oak and brass bar flaunting a mesh screen, and the green and blue hues that Jacobsen often employed.

Digging through a stash of forgotten furniture in the hotel basement, the duo uncovered old slabs of marble that were reinstalled, as well as lithographs that once hung in each guestroom and now brighten meeting spaces. Jacobsen’s centerpiece spiral staircase in the lobby, “one of the world’s greatest that even transcends the building,” Rützou says, “had been misused with linoleum, and to achieve a sense of patina, we brought in leather.”

Such thoughtful, considered design has long fueled their work. After meeting as students at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture in the ’90s, Henriksen and Rützou, who both started their own practices upon graduating, joined forces in 2005. The firm was established on a mutual “interest and fascination with scale related to human beings and life, the psychology of what we do and why,” says Henriksen. They launched with restaurants during an ambitious era for Copenhagen chefs. “It suited us to get deep into the dialogue, to distinguish their universes from each other and challenge ourselves,” says Rützou.

From the sleek bakery concept Lagkagehuset to the café in the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art north of Copenhagen and city hotspots like Fiskebaren, Kul, and champagne bar Balthazar at the Hotel D’Angleterre, Space Copenhagen exhibits a knack for atmospheric versatility, yet a penchant for elegance and subtlety. “When you work in a small city like this, there is a sense of home,” explains Henriksen. “We feel connected to many of the environments we created, not only because of our designs, but because of the life that is infused in them after we are gone.”

In 2016, the studio worked on New York’s 11 Howard, its first hotel—and U.S. debut—alongside celebrated developer Aby Rosen and creative director Anda Andrei. Now, they are dreaming up a hotel for the soon-to-open, SOM-built 42-story Manhattan Loft Gardens residential tower in Stratford from the team behind Chiltern Firehouse and the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. A similar project in a Rem Koolhaas-designed building in Tokyo is on the boards, as is a residence in Moscow and an intimate golf resort outside Copenhagen.

Like Jacobsen, Space Copenhagen enjoys populating their projects with as much of the studio’s own work as possible. About eight years ago, this led them to add furniture design to their résumé with their own Loafer chair effortlessly mingling with Jacobson’s Egg in the vast lobby of the Royal Hotel Copenhagen. “Even though it’s different from Jacobsen’s language, there are similarities,” she says. “The Loafer and the Egg have become good friends.”

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