Creating gender equity awareness through design: 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen

Giulia Frittoli (BIG), and Ragnar Hjartarson (Georg Jensen) on the 50 Queens installation and the custom necklace designed to mark Queen Margrethe II’s 50th Jubilee.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Oct 24, 2022

In light of the recent passing of the UK's longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, discussions erupted anew on the relevance of enduring monarchies, the sanctity of the crown and its evolution into constitutional and federal systems, in today’s modern-day and age. There remain a few countries, most notably, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Denmark, where privileges assigned to royal successors and their extended family are still upheld. While the age-old system has assimilated into contemporary society within emblematic, political and architectural layers, from currency to shifting regimes and grand royal palaces, it remains one of the most significant visual remnants of an urban settlement in most countries. How have the creative disciplines of architecture and design debated pertinent issues, and accorded to a society's evolution, in step with reigning monarchies and their systems?

The sketches of BIG’s 50 Queens installation in inspired the necklace design by Georg Jensen, made to mark Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II’s 50th Jubilee | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
The sketches of BIG’s 50 Queens installation in inspired the necklace design by Georg Jensen, made to mark Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II’s 50th Jubilee Image: Courtesy of Bjarke Ingels Group

A recent collaboration between Danish architectural giants BIG, and acclaimed jewellery designer company Georg Jensen commemorated the Danish monarchy, through a partnership bringing together public space, landscape design and a stunning piece of hand-crafted jewellery - the Bjarke Ingels Group unveiled a sculptural installation in Copenhagen titled 50 Queens, in honour of the 50th Jubilee of Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II, which also inspired the form of the “architectural necklace” designed by Georg Jensen, as a modern ornament fit for the Queen. The necklace design as well as the temporary architectural installation highlights 50 inspiring and “fearless” Danish women of cultural and historical significance to the Scandinavian country.

The pedestals were chosen and designed for their strong association with power and influence | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
The pedestals were chosen and designed for their strong association with power and influence Image: Malthe Ivarsson

Led by the contemporary Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, the popular firm is known for their gestural, larger than life buildings such as Copenhill and The Twist, while the much beloved Scandinavian jewellery brand is noted for their minimal and timeless product designs such as the Terra plant accessory series, realised in sleek silverware.

A glimpse of the 50 Queens installation made of 49 white pedestals of varying heights, and a solo one clad in reflective material | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
A glimpse of the 50 Queens installation made of 49 white pedestals of varying heights, and a solo one clad in reflective material Image: Laurent De Carniere

The 50 Queens public installation features 49 white pedestals of varying heights, unadorned and minimal; The 50th pillar dressed in a mirror-like, reflective surface was left anonymous, to include names of those yet to come. Each comprises a legend with the name of the female pioneer they represent and a QR code which when scanned, provides more information about them. These pillars also represent a contrast to the rest of the statues within the city, as in the case of other famous effigies in the world, which often only celebrate male figures in history. Conceived as a "miniature representation" of the 50 Queens installation, the one-off necklace, made from 50 sterling silver blocks, was gifted to the Queen, its minimal design representing the passage of time, in striking contemporary appeal.  

Giulia Frittoli, landscape partner at Bjarke Ingels Group (L) and Ragnar Hjartarson, creative director at Georg Jensen (R) | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
Giulia Frittoli, landscape partner at Bjarke Ingels Group (L) and Ragnar Hjartarson, creative director at Georg Jensen (R) Image: Courtesy of BIG (L); Courtesy of Georg Jensen (R)

STIR reached out to the young Giulia Frittoli, landscape partner at BIG, who led the design of the 50 Queens installation (along with BIG partner David Zahle), and Ragnar Hjartarson, the creative director at Georg Jensen, to comment on, and highlight the intent and nuances of the installation, the necklace as well as the collaboration.  

Jincy Iype: What inspired the 50 Queens installation and the resulting necklace design? Please elaborate on its moniker, its concept, as well as how the location influences it.

Giulia Frittoli: We knew from early on that we wanted to create a space for discussing social equality in the public realm. In our process, we connected with Michael Thouber, Director of Kunsthal Charlottenborg (the official exhibition gallery of the Royal Danish Academy of Art), who recommended an article by journalist Anne Sophia Hermansen from 2020, where it was pointed out that of 2,500 historic monuments in Denmark, only 28 depict women. We immediately thought, "How can our design relate to that? How can we make sure that all the voices that have helped build Denmark are represented and honoured in the public space?"

The 50 Queens installation in Copenhagen, Denmark is a temporary one | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
The 50 Queens installation in Copenhagen, Denmark is a temporary one Image: Giulia Frittoli

The core concept of the 50 Queens installation is a series of 50 pedestals, each representing an influential woman in history – a queen without a crown. The number of pedestals references the 50th jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen Margrethe the II of Denmark, which is being celebrated in connection to this year’s Golden Days Festival.

The installation concept was born over time, serendipitously. The announcement of the Golden Days Festival theme focusing on Queens, as well as the installation’s location, the King’s Square in central Copenhagen, all played into our process and influenced the final concept. The King’s Square is round, which naturally inspired us to have the placement of the pedestals follow the site’s shape. Furthermore, a circle does not have a beginning or an end, so it also became a comment on how we wanted the installation to invite spectators to gaze towards the past and future simultaneously.

50 white, unadorned pedestals make up the public installation | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
50 white, unadorned pedestals make up the public installation Image: Laurent de Carniere

The square derives its name from King Christian the V, who is also depicted in a statue at the centre of the square. As a detail, and for the duration of the festival, the square was renamed temporarily Queen’s Square.

How can we use design to create awareness of gender equity? – Giulia Frittoli, landscape partner at Bjarke Ingels Group

This installation was also born out of great curiosity about our cities’ public spaces – how historic plazas around the world have been defined by monuments, and how these grand structures not only take up space in the public realm but also give space to certain histories and stories, mainly those of men. For the installation, we looked at the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in London and explored ways to work with a series of pedestals and have them be a call for action, encouraging artists and other voices to potentially create all statues and the monuments they find are missing.

Ragnar Hjartarson: The silver blocks can be seen as miniature pedestals, each representing a stepping stone for women in Denmark’s history, while the jewellery design in its entirety symbolises the passing of time.

The necklace design by Georg Jensen is a “miniature representation” of the 50 Queens installation by BIG | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
The necklace design by Georg Jensen is a “miniature representation” of the 50 Queens installation by BIG Image: Courtesy of Georg Jensen

Jincy: Why are the pedestals’ heights varied? Who are some of the represented women of history and what makes their stories germane?

Giulia: During the initial phases of our process, we asked ourselves; if through planting trees and through nature we bring awareness to climate change, how can we use design to create awareness of gender equity? A jury representing the city, thinkers, artists, academics, and cultural foundations in Denmark, selected 49 women, who they found to have influenced Danish history significantly. The last, 50th pedestal does not represent a specific woman but is left without a name tag to encourage reflection on who might be relevant to depict in the future. It was rather difficult to find women mentioned in history, who lived before the 1800s, which also tells you of the countless times women’s contributions to society has been erased callously. The 50th pedestal is also then an invitation into a collective conversation, of those women who are yet to be found.

The 50 Queens installations aims to highlight the importance of gender equity | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
The 50 Queens installations aims to highlight the importance of gender equity Image: Laurent de Carniere

Each pedestal’s height corresponds to how long the respective woman has lived – the tallest pedestals have lived the longest, and the shortest pedestals represent those women, who despite their short lifespan, made an impact in society. Some represented names include Lili Elbe, one of the earliest transgender women to receive gender-confirming surgery, who transitioned in 1930, but unfortunately passed away, only three months after her surgery. Another interesting mention is that of Maria Engelbrecht Stokkenbech, who lived from the 1750s to 1806. She was married to an alcoholic, who left her, forcing her to support herself in a time when women weren’t allowed to work. Maria then moved to Germany, where she got work by dressing up as a man. Upon her return to Denmark, she got caught and was prohibited from working. By fighting for her right to employment, she eventually ended up opening her own tailor shop in Copenhagen.

The temporary installation’s 50 pedestals vary in height   | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
The public installation’s 50 pedestals vary in height Image: Marcus Mørk

Jincy: What is the adopted materiality of the employed pedestals, and how do they contribute to the installation’s intent?

Giulia: We approached this installation as a temporary one, so the pedestals will not live long before they are reused for other purposes. However, as our concept is to create awareness, our hope is that the thoughts and conversations provoked by the installation will live on long after it is dismantled.

We decided to build the pedestals in plywood, which is a natural and easily recyclable material. We finished them in white concrete coats to have them stand out in the square as well as refer to the monumental imagery of a pedestal, as we traditionally experience it.

The unnamed pedestal, which is also the tallest, is coated in reflective foil to create a mirrored effect, where spectators can see their reflections, as well as of others - this is to symbolise openness and inclusiveness in the future selection of people who may be deemed worthy to be represented in the future – through a website, anyone can submit the name of a person they think should be honoured with a statue.

The tallest pedestal is unnamed, and has a reflective skin | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
The tallest pedestal is unnamed, and has a reflective skin Image: Laurent de Carniere

Jincy: Why was this minimal, cuboidal pedestal chosen as the main element that makes up the 50 Queens installation? How did the visitors in the public square interact with the placed pieces?

Giulia: The pedestals were chosen and designed for their strong association with power and influence – it is an object with doubtlessly strong symbolism that goes beyond it being just a statue – it is more about what it represents. It facilitates a starting point, a symbol of what can happen in the future of the statues to come, but also a means to look at the past - who has been celebrated in the past, who are the missing voices, and how we can address that through an intervention of public space and design.

The installation was unveiled to the public on the Queen’s 50th Jubilee, and also coincides with the Golden Days Festival in Denmark | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
The installation was unveiled to the public on the Queen’s 50th Jubilee, and also coincides with the Golden Days Festival in Denmark Image: Malthe Ivarsson

Thinking of recent year's events and movements such as Black Lives Matter, the Me-Too movement, and the coronavirus pandemic, it’s clear there's a radical shift in how we look at our societies and the structures that make them. In our part of the world, colonial monuments in Denmark and Greenland have been vandalised aplenty during demonstrations, during which statues have been removed from their pedestals, and communities representing minorities have stood on top of this pedestal, claiming their voice, claiming to rewrite history and represent voices that have not been heard before.

Each pedestal’s height corresponds to how long the represented woman has lived | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
Each pedestal’s height corresponds to how long the represented woman has lived Image: Laurent De Carniere

As designers, we have held back from creating statues for this installation, as we would love for artists to engage with it and the ideas behind it, hence the distilled cuboidal shape. My hope is that artists, schools, and museums will be inspired and create statues that celebrate these women or other people, they would like to see being celebrated in the public space.

For now, the pedestal symbolises the need for these statues to exist in the first place. The women are represented with a name tag and a QR code, which allows one to dive into the specific woman’s history and their contribution to the world of today.

Each white pedestal contains a metal plaque with the name of the represented female pioneer, with a QR code which when scanned, relays more information | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
Each white pedestal contains a metal plaque with the name of the represented female pioneer, with a QR code which when scanned, relays more information Image: Marcus Mørk

Jincy: In a country that ranks, comparatively, quite high on the gender equality index, how does the installation raise awareness about gender equity?

Giulia: As a native Italian, this project shed new light on Denmark and its rich cultural history for me. However, and more importantly, it recalibrated my belief in the general need for an ongoing, public discussion on gender equality and how this is incremental for the healthy development of our societies. Our world is in constant development, and our public realm makes the perfect setting to explore and display the diversity of people contributing to it.

The 49 white pedestals each represent a woman of historic importance, and a single pillar that was left unnamed, to include those who are yet to be found | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
The 49 white pedestals each represent a woman of historic importance, and a single pillar that was left unnamed, to include those who are yet to be found Image: Malthe Ivarsson

What I find this installation and landscape designs does well, is looking into how we can change the perception of power, the types of powerful individuals we praise, and going even further, what meaning our cities carry, how they mirror our culture, history and contemporary, evolving values. This is an ongoing theme we explore throughout our work in BIG Landscape, through projects like Superkilen in Copenhagen, Denmark and our most recent work, Downtown Brooklyn Parc in New York City, USA. As with Superkilen, Downtown Brooklyn Parc features playful objects and landscaping detail which reduces cars and makes space for nature.

At BIG, we regard making space for nature as intimately linked to creating space for diversity and equity – for us, landscape design is more than moving within the binary of urban space and nature, ultimately, it is about bringing us humans back to nature. – Giulia Frittoli, landscape partner at Bjarke Ingels Group
The pedestals encircle Copenhagen's Kongens Nytorv (King's Square), which has been temporarily renamed Dronningens Nytorv (Queen's Square) | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
The pedestals encircle Copenhagen's Kongens Nytorv (King's Square), which has been temporarily renamed Dronningens Nytorv (Queen's Square) Image: Laurent De Carniere

Jincy: You mentioned that since this is a temporary installation, the pedestals will be reused – how are they planned to be given new life?

Giulia: Yes, after two weeks in Queen’s Square, ten of the 50 pedestals travelled to specific sites that all connect to the person represented to act as catalysts for the cultural program of the Golden Days Festival. For example, Countess Danner’s pedestal travelled to Jægerspris Castle, where she is buried, the musician Else Marie Pade’s to the concert house VEGA, and author Karen Blixen’s to Rungstedlund, where she lived.

My wish is that the installation, despite it being temporary, will live on as an idea, travel the world and cross-pollinate conversations across generations.

The installation also aims to contrast the numerous statues of male historic figures in the city | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
The installation also aims to contrast the numerous statues of male historic figures in the city Image: Marcus Mørk

Jincy: Why was sterling silver used to create the necklace for royalty? How are the blocks connected?

Ragnar: Georg Jensen is renowned for its silver heritage, so using sterling silver for this very unique piece of Scandinavian design came naturally to us. Each block is connected with a wire in sterling silver.

The necklace is handcrafted in 358 gr. sterling silver by our skilled silversmiths. The piece is inspired by the exhibition at Kongens Nytorv, the necklace features 50 elegant blocks of varying sizes, resembling the women’s pedestals displayed at the town square, with the name of the exhibition, 50 Queens engraved on the largest block. The smallest block measures 8 x 8mm and the largest block measures 48 x 8mm. A fun fact about the piece is that the smallest block is actually as long as the biggest block is wide. The necklace came in an exclusive Georg Jensen jewellery box made especially for the occasion.

The sleek necklace is made of sterling silver, and was gifted to the reigning Queen of Denmark to mark her 50th Jubilee | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
The sleek necklace is made of sterling silver, and was gifted to the reigning Queen of Denmark to mark her 50th Jubilee Image: Marcus Mørk

Jincy: What can you tell us about your collaboration, and how the design for the necklace came about?

Giulia: While working on the project, we internally referred to it as “the necklace” – eventually giving BIG Partner David Zahle the idea to work with it in a literal sense and finally, regarding it as an opportunity to collaborate with Georg Jensen, one of Denmark’s most respected jewellery companies. The necklace was handed over to the Queen on the opening day of the 50 Queens installation.

50 Queens necklace diagram | 50 Queens by BIG and Georg Jensen | STIRworld
50 Queens necklace diagram Image: Courtesy of Georg Jensen

Ragnar: Owing to its nickname, an idea was nursed to turn the large-scale installation into a real necklace, as its miniature representation. The initial design idea was derived from sketches made by BIG, which were then brought to life by the Georg Jensen design team. This is not an unusual way of working for us, as design collaborations are a long-lasting tradition at Georg Jensen – we have worked with many designers and architects, and we are proud to have had the opportunity to work so closely with Bjarke Ingels for this special occasion.

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