We Like — Hotel Royalty

2010 has seen one of Europe’s most iconic buildings celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. Arne Jacobsen’s Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, now named the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, has spent the year celebrating its unique heritage.

Arne Jacobsen's Royal Hotel, Copenhagen

Arne Jacobsen's Royal Hotel, Copenhagen

Some have termed Jacobsen’s sleek tower in the International Style, the world’s first ‘designer hotel’. In effect, its special place in history extends way beyond that. Although there is no doubt that it is in every way a designer hotel – the renowned architect designed everything from the room decors to the cutlery in the restaurant- its additional significance lies in the particular combination of form and function. It would not be hyperbolic to suggest that the hotel invented the ‘Jet Age’ style that would be come synonymous with international jet set chic in the second half of the twentieth century. One need to only think of how many first class waiting lounges or airline booking offices adopted Jacobsen’s style –the furniture designed specifically for The Royal Hotel- to recognise this.

Perhaps this is not so unusual when one realises that the birth of The Royal Hotel was so intrinsically bound up with air travel. After all, the hotel was originally commissioned and owned by the Scandinavian Air Service (SAS). In the post-war period of rebuilding, the airline recognised the need for increased high-calibre visitor accommodation, particularly for the affluent American business visitors as well as an increasing stream of made-good-in-America tourists returning to visit their Scandinavian roots, all facilitated by the ease of transatlantic air travel. The top prize, however, were the passengers of their unique transpolar route that connected Los Angeles with Europe: it proved extremely popular with the Hollywood set when filming in Europe.

During the 1950’s they invited legendary architect Arne Jacobsen to undertake the task of designing a landmark hotel in Copenhagen and The Royal Hotel was the result.

Completed in 1960, the project was unique in many ways. In addition to the pure formal aesthetics of Jacobsen’s glass tower rising above the otherwise low city of Copenhagen – for example he spent a lot of time considering the type and colour of glass to be used in order to optimise the reflections of the sky against the building- the project was a masterpiece in terms of usage and flow. Comprised effectively of two slab-like elements, the vertical tower housing rooms and the lower cantilevered building housing a range of street-level functions, Jacobsen’s design linked the traveller accommodation and the other key destinations; the city and the airport. For example, the lower horizontal building not only contained the essential services for a grand hotel – lobby, restaurant, shops etc- but a chic glass-fronted café at the front of the building, open to the public, linking it directly to the life of the city. The rear of the low-level building contained a natty little complex of shops, cocktail bar and waiting lounge from which visitors could alight or embark directly; the airport bus service provided a seamless connection. In this sense, Jacobsen’s design was the first to link the functions of a hotel directly with the routes by which visitors negotiate a destination or departure city. No surprise then, given his commission, that many of Jacobsen’s designs for the building would contain sweeping lines reminiscent of nascent jets.

Though much justified attention has been given to Jacobsen’s design as architecture, this has somewhat overshadowed the history of the project from the perspective of hoteliers. With a visionary foresight of what is now considered an essential part of creating a new destination hotel, SAS engaged the Swiss hotelier Alberto Kappenberger to work alongside Jacobsen from the project’s early development. Kappenberger had already gained a reputation as something of a gifted hotelier who understood the needs of the blue-chip visitors for whom the project was intended. Working together, he ensured that Jacobsen was filled in on all the necessary details of what it took to run a top-class hotel on a day-to-day level. After all, once Jacobsen’s job was done, it would be Kappenberger who would continue on until his retirement as one of those legendary hoteliers. Under his period as General Director, the hotel played host to heads of state, royalty and international celebrities, many of whom remembered the charming Mr Kappenberger after whom the hotel’s chic top floor restaurant with panoramic views of the city is now named.

And, in a nice circular narrative, in 2009, the new owners of the hotel invited Alberto’s son, Roy Kappenberger, to return as General Manger and oversee the yearlong celebrations in 2010 of this important local institution. Having grown up in the Manager’s apartment on the 22nd floor, it’s hard to imagine how being a hotelier himself could not have seeped into his blood. For those cynics who muttered their suspicions about what happens to a great independent hotel when it is taken over by an international corporation, Roy Kappenberger’s old-school continuation of the tradition of the hotelier as the best of hosts proves them very wrong.

Although much of the hotel’s interior architecture underwent a necessary re-design in the 1990’s to accommodate contemporary needs, on the whole it has sensibly retained the spirit and as much of Jacobsen’s furniture as possible. Diehard Jacobsen fans need not despair: Room 606 has been lovingly restored to Jacobsen’s original design and can be booked just like any other in the hotel.

Room 606 - Jacobsen's original interior for The Royal Hotel, Copenhagen

Room 606 - Jacobsen's original interior for The Royal Hotel, Copenhagen