Design heritage education
As practicing architects and designers, our recent stay at this hotel actually fulfilled a life-long dream. Lets' start with some context. We had always known that we wanted to be architects at a relatively young age, and one of the catalysts that directed us down that career path was being inexplicably but inexorably drawn at a tender age to a certain illustrated volume of architectural works. We ended up repeatedly checking out this, and other rarely-perused design books, from the local public library. As one of these oft-neglected volumes on modern Scandinavian architecture, this particular edition covered the Arne Jacobsen-designed SAS Royal Hotel extensively. The book's pictures and drawings of the design of the hotel and its bespoke furnishings captivated our imaginations ever since. As a result, we felt like we knew this property intimately inside and out, in our minds, by the time we were eleven years old. The hotel became our own secret obsession, probably because nobody else seems to be checking out this book, or any other design volumes for that matter, from the library. Over the years, this hotel transpired to become a temple that housed the altar of Jacobsen that we would worship in our imaginations, while we pursued in the following decades the craft of architecture. Finally the opportunity to visit Copenhagen came in the present day. Although we did not have the chance to book the legendary room 606, staying at this hotel was fulfilling a pilgrimage nonetheless.
When you have such high expectations, you're almost inevitably bound for some sense of let down, if not outright disappointment. Thankfully, our experience conformed more to the former than to the latter. The biggest disappointment comes from the fact that the ground level floors have been significantly altered since 1960, and therefore the scope of the hotel has been greatly reduced. The air terminal and atrium are now gone, and half of the podium portion of the complex has now been subdivided and leased to external commercial and retail outlets, namely a gym (accessible to guests) and supermarket (which may be convenient for travellers, but all these changes feel somewhat incongruously tawdry in such an icon of Danish architectural heritage).
However, what remains inside the hotel is still amazing to behold: the famous spiral stair; the mid-century minimalism of the elevator lobby; the egg and swan chairs; the Louis Poulsen lamps in the rooms. As to be expected, the most recent renovations to the rooms are tasteful and up-to-date, which may please most travellers, but for design connoisseurs, you wish that more of the original elements could have been preserved-- both in the rooms and in the public areas. Radisson management should understand that this hotel is a national treasure, and that its mid-century design heritage is its strongest card in their deck, and they should have played it to the tilt (instead of timidly, as they have done here so far). Hopefully, one day they would strive to make this establishment a UNESCO World Heritage Site-worthy destination, by strengthening or restoring the original design elements.
In terms of location, one cannot find a more central property, as it is virtually adjacent to the central station Københavns Hovedbanegård, to the Tivoli, and to the main tourist office. You can be at the airport within half hour, door-to-door, without taxi. By deciding to stay here, you are also ticking off an item on your list of must-do's of Copenhagen attractions. Saving time should offset the relative high cost of staying here. Par for the course at a five-star establishment, the hotel delivers on all the basics: cleanliness, competent housekeeping, impeccable front desk and 24/7 room service, comfortable bedding, adequate room temperature control (with nice operable windows), sufficient supply of towels (in a variety of useful sizes, a nice touch for picky North Americans), inclusion of bath robes and slippers and hair dryer, good water pressure and water temperature controls in the bathroom, very customisable and varied lighting schemes, enough electrical outlets to charge your piles of modern junk, and adequate toilet pressure. The food service here is top notch. While expensive, the breakfast buffet is gloriously sumptuous. Not only does it highlight renowned Danish pork and dairy products, but if also offers East Asian options such as dumplings. Finally, all staff members from the bartenders and concierge to the chambermaids should be complimented on their professionalism.
You can still admire the then-innovative curtain wall system, the bespoke furniture and fixtures in the public and lobby areas, but you cannot but feel a tinge of loss, when you know what had once been here. However, an experience here is still a worthwhile lesson in history of modern Scandinavian design, but it is sadly an incomplete one.