The Finn Juhl Legacy
Salto & Sigsgaard
Reinventing Danish Classics
Danish Arts Foundation
New York City
Reiterating past models is an integral part of the design process, but the industrial designers Kasper Salto and Thomas Sigsgaard of Salto & Sigsgaard found themselves with an especially daunting project last December. The Danish Arts Foundation Committee for Crafts and Design invited them to participate in a competition, Reinventing Danish Classics, which challenged five studios to update three furniture pieces by one of the country’s seminal midcentury modern icons, Finn Juhl. The winning entries would be implemented as part of a $3 million renovation of a Juhl-designed site of global significance: the Trusteeship Council Chamber of the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan.
Following three months of intensive research, Salto & Sigsgaard were announced as winners of the contest by Her Majesty the Queen of Denmark and His Royal Highness the Prince Consort at the Museum of Modern Art last June. In spite of the high cultural stakes at hand, the duo approached the task in an impressively methodical fashion, reinterpreting Juhl’s Secretariat chair, Secretariat table, and Delegate table.
“We had to maintain the overall feeling, the Finn Juhl way of doing it, but of course, we live in 2011 and have so many more materials and technologies at our disposal,” explains Sigsgaard. “We were given the task of respecting the chamber, but taking the design into the twenty-first century.”
To do that, the designers evoked the body-contoured silhouettes and muted palettes of Juhl’s midcentury aesthetic while employing stronger construction methods such as 3-D veneer technologies and CNC milling—vast advancements from that era’s technique of merely layering veneer and bent plywood.
The elegant two-part seat of their Secretariat chair, for example, was molded with cutting-edge software and machinery, using lasers on the inner surfaces to create the intricate perforations along which the wood was bent.
In lieu of visiting the site—like much of the UN headquarters, the chamber is completely gutted and off-limits to the public—Salto and Sigsgaard picked the brains of two designers, Marianne Riis Carstensen and Bo Koch Clausen, who worked with Juhl on his original 1952 design of the room’s interior. They offered the two young designers invaluable insight into Juhl’s process and his legacy.
“In Denmark, we talk a lot about Arne Jacobsen and Poul Henningsen,” Salto says. “But Juhl is one of our first [midcentury modern designers], and while he’s not quite the forgotten one, we think he’ll have a revival now because the other guys have had their turn.”