The Oxford Chair
Designer: Arne Jacobson
Location: 4th floor - Video Seminar Room
Arne Jacobsen designed the egg chair, which is probably the first chair you’ll notice upon entering on the second floor of the library. But we’re here to talk about a later design of his: the Oxford Chair.
Jacobsen was not only contracted to build the chair, however, he was contracted to build a majority of the buildings for the school. But before we get there, let’s take a step back and look at how the university came about, as it has a rich modern history.
In the mid-1850s, a college education in Oxford was prohibitively expensive (apparently crushing student loan debt didn’t exist yet?). The Royal Commission came up with a plan that basically allowed students to congregate and learn under a University, without paying the cost of attending college. The group was called the Delegacy for Unattached Students. Over the years, this group evolved and changed into the St. Catherine’s Society. They had been meeting for many years in various locations, however, they had no central campus. Finally, after decades of relocation and decentralization, the time had come for the group to get a campus of their own. After a few years of fundraising by University head Alan Bullock (who wrote the first comprehensive biography of Hitler) they finally had the funds to build a campus of their own.
Arne Jacobsen was chosen as the architect after a handful of Oxford dons visited the Munkegaard School and the SAS Royal Hotel. There was some uproar over the commission of Jacobsen to design the buildings and interiors for St. Catherine’s College. The debate was over the idea that a modernist foreign designer on the payroll for such an important task. However, a university with a modern mission needed an equally modern designer. Upon revealing Jacobsen’s designs for the college, including the Oxford chair, everyone’s fears were quelled.
Jacobsen received an honorary doctorate from Oxford upon completing the project. Today, the Oxford chair stands as one of Jacobsen’s outstanding design achievements.