Where excellence is the Norm
If Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen had to name one building he would have liked to have designed, he’d choose Carlo Scarpa’s Brion Cemetery in Italy. It’s a manifestation of water and concrete, originally created for a local industrialist.
“It’s highly ornamented, which makes it different from what we’d normally do. Scarpa used simple materials and made something -wonderfully complex out of them. A complex building can easily become ugly, but the Brion Cemetery is very poetic and offers so many different spatial -elements,” says the co-founder of Norm Architects.
After a pause, he continues: “It’s something we could never do, and it’s easy to become envious of something that’s out of reach.”
Norm Architects was established in 2008 by Bjerre-Poulsen and his friend, Kasper Rønn, and in 2013, Linda Korndal came onboard. Together they have worked on everything from private residences and design to branding, photography, and store design.
Today, the studio is yet another high-profile link in the Scandinavian design tradition in terms of their use of natural materials, clean lines, and sparse ornamentation.
The golden years of Scandinavian design were the 1950s and 1960s, with Danes Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner, Poul Kjærholm, and Børge Mogensen propelling the phenomenon that became known as Danish Modern.
“We haven’t gone for the New Nordic style specifically, although obviously we’re a part of the movement. We see it as something global, though, just as the Scandinavian style of the Fifties and -Sixties was part of continental European modernism and closely related to Bauhaus, de Stijl, and Russian constructivism, which all developed in the Twenties,” Bjerre-Poulsen says.
“But there’s something in our design culture that’s born out of our connection to the Nordic climate, to the crafts and the natural materials that surround us, and that something makes us stand out.”
In design history, classic Scandinavian design is referred to as a more humane version of industrial -modernism.
The same cult of raw materials also puts Denmark at the top of another list – the list of the world’s best restaurants.
“The food scene in Scandinavia – led by Noma in Copenhagen – has a close relationship to the nature that surrounds it. This is evident not only in the ingredients used, but also in the way the food is served and presented, and in the symbolism of the terroir,” Bjerre-Poulsen says.
And Norm Architects should know.
Along with the design company Menu and restaurant chain Cofoco, they have opened Höst, an extremely scaled-back New Nordic restaurant. Höst is part of a huge corporate design effort carried out on behalf of Menu, for which Norm Architects was named Designer of the Year by Danish home decor bible BoBedre.
“It’s nice to win, but I’m not sure what it means to us in creative terms,” Bjerre-Poulsen says.
The work for Menu was carried out in record time – just two years – and encompassed a completely new mindset, product range, and even partnerships with new designers, such as Danes Cecilie Manz and Søren Rose, Brit Benjamin Hubert, and the Swedish agencies Form Us With Love and Note Studio.
“Scandinavian design became this big thing in the Fifties, and while the balance of power has shifted back to countries such as the Netherlands, it’s back on the upswing, especially since the global financial crisis in 2008,” Bjerre-Poulsen says.
The last boom in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish design around the turn of the century had a completely different character. It was design in the form of art, interrogating and investigative. In the firing line were the aesthetics on which Norm Architects is building its business.
“Design that’s experimental, playful, and driven by fashion is absolutely fine for galleries and art exhi-bitions, but design for mass production has to be timeless, it has to meet a need, and it has to be high quality in every way,” Bjerre-Poulsen says.
“It has to stand the test of time. You should be able to look at it in 10, 20 years’ time and still find it useful and beautiful.”
An agency name like Norm Architects probably wouldn’t have gone down as well at a time when designers and artists were interpreting their task as the dissection of modernism and turning the principles “less is more” and “form follows function” on their heads.
The name is meant to reflect the norms that have made modern life a little easier. “Norms aren’t boring,” Bjerre-Poulsen says. On the contrary, the firm wants to make use of all that centuries-old wisdom that we now know as design and architectural norms.
“We go for evolution rather than revolution – why try to change things that have been refined over millennia? Most things have been done before, but we always try to add a new function, to produce or combine materials in a new way, before putting a new product on the market,” Bjerre-Poulsen says.
Text: Emma Olsson
Published: January 29, 2016