Life work of Knud V. Engelhardt

Knud V. Engelhardts (1882-1931)
(1882-1931) Se tidslinje
Design Museum Denmark, Copenhagen Se kort

By Charlotte Jul, skribent, editor and curator, 2006

Functionality: the key to good design

Knud V. Engelhardt was an architect and designed everything from trams to typefaces, cutlery and door handles. But he is probably best known for his street signs for the Municipality of Gentofte, a Copenhagen suburb, where the j’s are dotted with little red hearts. They signal warm-heartedness and open arms in an otherwise industrial design, proving the point that that a sign is not just a sign. 
Knud V. Engelhardt was one of the very first industrial designers in Denmark. He was of the opinion that it is the duty of the public authorities to create good design for the benefit of the multitude. A case in point is the 1910 Copenhagen public transport tram. Here, Engelhardt was in charge of everything from draft design and industrial manufacturing to the interior and exterior design of the trams. 

Urban design 

Advertising pillars are another example of urban design. Their mushroom shape protects them from wind and weather. And their roundness at the bottom keeps dogs from lifting their legs on them. The advertising pillar is simple and functional while at the same time rotund and inviting. This combination of tight functionality and soft humanism is characteristic of Scandinavian Modern, the style that Denmark would later become so famous for. 
Today, urban design is an independent discipline. Designs for urban spaces are created at architects’ offices all over the world to provide coherence between urban expression and function. Lamp posts, benches, promenades and buildings are all capable of tying urban districts together. For a city is not just a city either. A city only lives if people use it. And people will only use cities if they work and are a pleasant place to be in. Think about that next time you go for a walk in your city. 

Engelhardt’s graphic talent 

Knud V. Engelhardt was a ‘multi-designer’, but he made a name for himself in the graphic industry. Engelhardt designed typefaces and his graphic design still inspires young designers today. The graphic artists at the Danish bureau Spild af Tid (Waste of Time), experts in mixing genres like graffiti, free-hand drawing, collage and classical graphic elements, are inspired by old type masters like Engelhardt, Achton Friis and Biilmann Petersen.

Drawing for the Copenhagen Railways (motor vehicle with closed platforms). Pencil and watercolor, 1910. 67,4 x 124,5cm, Billedsamlingen & Arkiv for Dansk Design, Designmuseet. Photo: Pernille Klemp og Ole Woldbye.
Drawing for the design of the iconic poster pillars. Pencil and watercolor, 1910. 67,4 x 124,5cm, Billedsamlingen & Arkiv for Dansk Design, Designmuseet. Photo: Pernille Klemp.

Did you know?

Source: Erik Ellegaard Frederiksen: Knud V. Engelhardt. Arkitekt og Bogtrykker 1882 - 1931, s.40 , Forening for Boghaandværk, Arkitektens Forlag, København 1965.

Knud V. Engelhardt had a short career as a doorman. He was a man who emphasized cleanliness and health, and therefore designed a sign with Jeppe Aakjær's words: "Nature is always noble and pure, has no newspapers that fly. Do you make the land of God a gutter, I do not follow you by! ". Engelhardt then went door to door to sell the sign and encourage the homeowners not to pollute.

The committee's justification

By the Committee for Design and Arts, 2006

Knud V. Engelhardt is one of the artists who decisively shaped design concept in Denmark. He owes a debt to Thorvald Bindesbøll, but was also Bindesbøll’s opposite. Where Bindesbøll was an artist, Engelhardt was a rationalist, and probably the first real industrial designer in Denmark – the first to understand that industrial production resulted in completely different shapes, both for industrial design and graphic design.
The text on the road signs in Gentofte, for example, is a little rough, but it is also extremely legible. The typeface is concurrent with international groundbreaking scripts, but it has a completely different feel and personality that suggests Scandinavian modernism, which is just more organic than the international style.

Another example of Engelhardt’s work is the Copenhagen trams, which he designed to the smallest detail so that they were beautiful in all weathers, functional, straightforward to clean, and could be manufactured to a high quality in an industrial process. The trams were filled with all kinds of fittings and handles, all designed by Engelhardt, who was particularly sensitive to this area, expressing the hand’s grip and movement in their design. Something similar applies to his cutlery – good form derives from a great insight into human proportions and movement, and the knowledge that cutlery is not only form but also weight, surface and function.


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