Nanna Ditzel - Design til nye højder

Nanna Ditzel – Taking Design to New Heights

Colourful and captivating, stimulating and insightful. The exhibition ‘Taking Design to New Heights’ is not only a huge testament to perhaps the greatest female designer of our time but also a sensual and enticing narrative that includes complete works and interior design in an explosion of colours and tactility. 

Right now, designer Nanna Ditzel is celebrated with an impressive exhibition at Trapholt that marks the centenary of her birth. A celebration filled with well-known design icons, jewellery art, textile design, and immersive installations. 


Nanna Ditzel, Bench for Two. Photo: Schnakenburg & Brahl.


A one-of-a-kind woman of influence 
Nanna Ditzel is considered by many to be one of the most influential Danish designers of the twentieth century. Constantly evolving and exploring, she created diverse and innovative designs throughout her more than 60-year career, which challenged traditions, the trade, and the spirit of the times with their poetic and artistic properties. In contrast to the more mundane and austere styles, she brought a tactile vision of the future into play with fluid narratives, individuality, and new ideas about post-modern structures and social norms. 

The exhibition manages to capture and convey her unique character and influential outlook on life through her diverse body of work and the universes and environments she has created over time. One of the exhibition's greatest strengths is its ability to capture her wild spirit, creative and innovative ideology, and ability to create relationships and bodily experiences by doing precisely that; creating a holistic, experiential exhibition for both body and mind.  

Toadstool, Nanna Ditzel. Photo: Kenneth Stjernegaard.

The body in focus - from jewellery design to immersive installations 
The exhibition spans multiple galleries and areas of the museum, divided into different sections that each explore a specific theme. You embark on a journey through the many decades Ditzel was active, explore a jewellery display, an outdoor area full of whimsy, a tribute to the Trinidad chair, as well as colourful and stimulating seating arrangements. Throughout the entire exhibition, there is a focus on physical communication and the creation of activating and inclusive areas. Just as Nanna Ditzel worked with and around the body and our humanity and presence in the world, so does the exhibition; the reproduction of Solgården from 1962, shadow experiments, the Fairy Tale Room from 1968 for the Lyngby Children’s Library, and other installations and stair landscapes created to be inhabited by visitors. 

Especially the creation of immersive installations and the recreation of works, such as ‘Gummicellen’ (the Padded Cell) from 1952 and ‘Bjergplateauet’ (the Mountain Plateau) from 1962, tell a story and manage to activate, involve, and provide a tactile experience. Stepping into her universe and experiencing her installations in their entirety makes all the difference. 

A vibrant colour palette 
If you know even a little about Nanna Ditzel’s universe, you will know that she was not afraid of colours. On the contrary, she managed to create playful environments connected harmoniously by their colours. This fact is conveyed to perfection in the exhibition, which includes a plethora of both designs and works recreated in detail and curated precisely – as Nanna Ditzel herself used to. Her playful colour palette includes saturated dark shades, intense, clear hues, and soft inviting tones. Her impressive talent for combining and staging colours along with the exhibited lamps and furniture showcase her unique talent. 

Nanna Ditzel, Folding stool, Nanna Ditzel. Photo: Kenneth Stjerngaard.

Designing for children 
Nanna Ditzel is recognised for her work, especially furniture and designs aimed at adults, but a significant part of her work also focused on designing for children. This includes furniture such as her children’s chair, a bunk bed, and the entire Trisse series. Also, her exceptional ability to design whole spaces has benefited the younger generation. For example, her unique eye for and understanding of children’s behaviour and actions are evident in the installation ‘Læselandskabet’ (the Reading Landscape) constructed at the Lyngby Children’s Library in 1968. A stair-like structure with cushions and seats provided children with the opportunity to read books or hide in the cozy cave, or ‘Børneparkering’ (Children's Parking), an activity installation from 1963 designed for a toy exhibition in Forum, where children could use their bodies and pass the time in active play. All this is accessible for children today to explore, investigate, and play with. 

For Nanna Ditzel, children were a significant part of her design universe. Likewise, children are a significant part of the exhibition’s intended audience. The installations themselves encourage interaction and for the audience to experience their original design purpose. Additionally, small oases have been created where children can play and unleash their creativity by building with wooden blocks, playing with dress-up clothes and hats, and exploring small hiding places to relax or jump on soft mattresses. 

Nanna Ditzel, Archive bracelet for Georg Jensen. Photo: Georg Jensen.

Nanna Ditzel High Tea 
In the museum’s Gustav Lind café, Nanna Ditzel’s essence is brought to life once again in a way that perfectly ties the exhibition together. Newly furnished with the Trinidad chair, the majestic bright room stands out and offers a perfect conclusion to the entire experience. Here you have the unique opportunity to experience Ditzel High Tea, a traditional British afternoon meal that includes various light dishes such as small sandwiches and tarts, cakes, and other snacks served with tea, in yet another homage to the designer’s essence and personality. It was afternoon tea that Nanna Ditzel would serve to her guests, a tradition she brought home with her after having lived in London for almost 20 years. 

There is little doubt that Nanna Ditzel and her remarkable and distinctive design legacy deserve an exhibition like the one Trapholt delivers here. The tribute is thorough, clever and diverse, informative and factual. It paints a comprehensive picture of a modern, courageous woman who lived and breathed for design. 

The exhibition was curated by Sara Staunsager and curatorial assistant Kristian Roland and can be experienced at Trapholt until 11 August 2024. 

By Johanna Nyborg Bendtsen.
Translation: Ann Lykke Jensen.
Published in magasinet arkitektur/design no 4, 2023

Image at top: Nanna Ditzel in Vilette Chair. Photo: Schnakenburg & Brahl

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