The Sydney Opera House is undoubtedly one of the world’s most famous buildings, and equally an international Danish architectural and design icon. On its 40th anniversary this month, Danish Design at the House is to open – a unique exhibition and cooperation between Danish culture and business - with Jørn Utzon’s masterpiece providing an exclusive platform for Danish business and culture
By Julian Isherwood, October 2013
For Australians, October 25 is a special day this year. For Denmark, no less so. Impressively perched on a tongue into the harbour, the Sydney Opera House, renowned across the world for its imposing architecture and technological advancement, celebrates its 40th anniversary.
Created by the Danish architect Jørn Utzon and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, The House, as it is affectionately known, has been an icon of Danish design and architecture since its opening in 1973. This year, the building’s Danish roots are to be emphasised even more as The House opens its doors to the Danish Design at the House exhibition.
Invited by The Opera House to showpiece Danish design and architecture in the spectacular light and surroundings of Utzon’s pristine shells, teams from the Danish Agency for Culture, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and the Trade Council in Sydney have been busily preparing a unique and eye-catching exhibition.
“It’s the first time that the Opera House has mounted such an exhibition and supported this type of project. What we are doing is to show how each of these 25 Danish companies are unique in their own way; grouping them into themes so that each product supports both the theme and itself,” says Consul General and Trade Commissioner Michael T. Hansen.
The Danish Design at the House team in Sydney: back row from left: Consul General Michael T.Hansen, Danish Agency for Culture Head of Program Søren Krogh. Front row from left Deputy Consul General Rikke Scheel Gamborg, Commercial Adviser Anne Weisz Mortensen.
For Michael T. Hansen, who has been preparing the exhibition on site for the past six months, the unusual marriage between culture and business, in the exceptional surroundings of the Opera House is a spectacular first – not only for The House, but for the Danish export effort as well.
“This exhibition is a unique mixture of art, products and businesses, giving companies a completely novel platform from which to show their products,” Michael T. Hansen says, adding that many of the companies concerned have seen the exhibition as a milestone in the way that they can showcase their products.
“They each have their own brand, but they are also part of a comprehensive space and overall branding effort that demonstrates Danish quality and innovation,” he says.
But merging the traditions of businesses and cultural organisers has presented some challenges. For the Danish Agency for Culture, preparations have been a learning curve on how to merge and manage the agency’s innate culture for curatorship, with business expectations.
“Curatorship is something that is part of our DNA. Businesses are not used to seeing themselves put into a framework determined by a curator – so this was something new for them. We have provided the attractive framework, setup and storyboard as a basis for their commercial content. It has been a learning curve for all of us, but those involved have been very positive,” says Agency Director Anne Mette Rahbæk.
“What has been important for us, is to demonstrate to visitors that Danish design and innovation, so aptly represented by the Opera House itself, has not stood still. That there is a firm tradition for quality that has continued unabated and strengthened since the 1950s,” Rahbæk says.
“What we have done is to renew the story of Denmark’s quality in design and architecture and to present new design products as inheritors of a proud, permanent and continuing tradition for quality,” she says.
For Michael T.Hansen, that tradition is based on the ways in which the idea to product process is welded by a close, cross disciplinary cooperation between architects, engineers and designers.
“This allows us to develop products of high quality and design, and particularly taking the human element into account. From Bang and Olufsen’s classic designs to Grundfoss’ latest pump that gives energy savings of some 20%,” Hansen says.
“These are the stories that our exhibition tells, and in a way that lifts products up to a different level than simply a trade fair,” he says, adding that another key element is that the general public – some 8 million visit the Opera House each year - is presented with products in a more accessible way.
Whether the unique Danish Design in the House exhibition will give immediate returns in the form of new or increased export orders, remains to be seen but this is definitely the goal. For those involved, there is little doubt that such a novel way of presenting Danish ingenuity and products is a potential winner.
“Whether we will be able to directly transfer what we have done in Sydney elsewhere, is not certain. In Sydney we have the unique surroundings of The House – which in itself oozes Danish quality. At the end of the day we’ll be evaluating the exhibition and hope that we will also be able to do the same sort of thing elsewhere – combining something well-known with something new in a coordinated storyboard,” says Anne Mette Rahbæk.
While the centrepieces of the exhibition are undoubtedly the well-presented products and classical items, the organisers have been careful to give a Danish feel throughout, and with a large number of other events highlighting Denmark.
“The café will be serving coffee and Danish, the bar Carlsberg and Danish food. There are also a large number of Business to Business projects in which companies invite their guests to view exhibits – and not just their own,” Michael T. Hansen says.
“We have arranged a tourism campaign and among other events, René Redzepi is coming to talk about his new book and the Nordic cuisine that Australians are so interested in. It is really amazing what we have managed to set up in such a short space of time. Everyone has been so positive,” says Michael T.Hansen.
The exhibition itself
The Danish Design at the House exhibition is to be opened by Culture Minister Marianne Jelved in the presence of Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary. The exhibition runs from October 25 to November 11. Curated by architects Gerard Reinmuth in Australia and Karen Kjærgaard in Denmark, the six-part exhibition will be found in the recesses of the characteristic deep windows of the Western Foyer. Each of the six windows has its own special focus, covering ”materiality”, ”human”, ”crafts”, ”technology”, ”pragmatism” and ”desire”.