Ib Fabiansen

Architect Ib Fabiansen (1928 - 2009) and one of Bang & Olufsen’s first permanent staff designers, died on 24 May 2009 at the age of 81.

He was buried 30 May 2009 in Frederiksberg Castle Church; as an agnostic he had declined organ music at the ceremony. Ib Fabiansen was himself an accomplished, self-taught pianist who would often sit at his grand piano. His urn was placed in Søndermark Cemetery, just across from the villa of Magnoliavej where he lived most of his life and where his design studio was based.

His belief in that there was no afterlife meant he lived his life fully. He was always of a cheery disposition and his enthusiasm to help create something beautiful and practical, both in electronics front and in construction, was contagious.

Fabiansen’s early life

Ib Fabiansen’s employment path first took him on a course of carpentry training in his hometown of Aalborg, followed by a design examination. In 1953 he was admitted to the School of Architecture in Copenhagen. Among his teachers were furniture designers Arne Jacobsen, Palle Suenson, Kay Fisker, Finn Monies and Mogens Koch.

After graduating as an architect, Fabiansen was hired as director of the Copenhagen Illums Bolighus’ interior design department and found that clients often complained that it was difficult to furnish their homes with modern Danish furniture, with Danish design remaining as it had looked over the past quarter of a century.

However, Danish design was at a turning point with several young Danish architects’ furniture designs beginning to make their mark. Among them was Borge Mogensen, Hans Wegner, Finn Juhl and Arne Jacobsen.

Fabian’s customers wanted cabinets for radios and televisions which could match their designed furniture, and it prompted him to devise what came to be called ‘building furniture’, or the Modular System. This was a series of modular boxes in teak, rosewood and pine, including radio, television, gramophone, tape recorder and speakers which could be combined into sections in many ways and put in a bookshelf or stand on low tables in one, two or three sections. There were 2 moHis design included modules in eleven different versions with the possibility of sections and speaker fronts in cheerful colours.

In 1958, and after having put his thoughts on paper Ib Fabiansen made cardboard models of his modules (see image below) telephoning Bang & Olufsen to arrange a meeting for a presentation of the idea. It lasted only five minutes before Bang & Olufsen’s management had bought the idea. The company put it into production with the use of the factory’s existing products, such as Capri television as main components.

A little while later Bang & Olufsen contacted Fabiansen to enquire if it were possible for him to design something more. The result of this was that Fabiansen got to design his second idea for the company: a series of Beolit-transistor radios from 1961 onwards including the Mini Present radio (with two more avant-garde versions, the Mini Modern and Mini Ultra, the latter with a pine and orange front especially for young people’s homes.)

In 1962 he designed the recorder Beocord Belcanto, the Horizont television set, amongst others. Together with a team from the factory in Struer, he was in 1964 to produce the great recorder Beocord Stereo Master, and his final product for Bang & Olufsen was the TV / radio gramophone Beovision 2000RG in 1965.

In his last years he worked with Bang & Olufsen in parallel with the architects Henning Moldenhawer and Jacob Jensen.

Before the days when the word ‘design’ sprang to mind at the very mention of Bang & Olufsen, design protagonists such as Poul Henningsen (1894 - 1967), a very outspoken designer and architect, made it known very loudly that ‘design’ should be top of manufacturers’ lists when creating products:

“Is it fishmongers or potato wholesalers who produce these designs in their spare time?” wrote Poul Henningsen during Denmarks’ Radio Show of 1954, talking about Bang & Olufsen’s large and bulky Grand Prix 509 radiogramophone in particular.

Amongst the exhibits that year were the Grand Prix 509 radiogram and the Standard 509K. The products’ chief architect, WL Vindeløv, who had helped shape the appliances and was very proud of his work, was immediately offended by the harsh and ruthless criticism. But upon reflecting more of Henningsen’s criticism he turned his outrage into a recognition that Poul Henningsen was most probably right.

The incident was useful in that it gave rise to Bang & Olufsen announcing a new design competition in updating its existing Mini radio.

The competition was subsequently won by the Copenhagen architect Helge Frank Morthensen who - although trained as an architect - was extremely interested in design. Morthensen had previously set up his own studio and was then employing six people. He had also spent time designing furniture for the Danish Bondo Gravesen company. The Mini Moderne 514K was the result of Moretensen’s design efforts.

“… there was a time when it was far from a certainty that a radio from Bang and Olufsen was a study in good design… It was horrible, simply horrible” stated Ib Fabiansen at the time.

Morthensen undertook no further design work for Bang & Olufsen as the architect Ib Fabiansen (1928 - 24 May 2009) - Member of Danish Academy of Architects - joined the company from Denmark’s capital some three years later, taken on with the task of designing its range of modular furniture. This was released on to the market about the same time as Helge Frank Morthensen’s radio, in 1959. Fabiansen’s Building Furniture concept combined both audio and television in one modern unit and was subsequently exhibited at the Danish Arts & Crafts Exhibition in Charlottenborg, Copenhagen a year before production commenced, in 1958.

Following Fabiansen’s working commintment with Bang & Olufsen of around ten years, Jacob Jensen took over as chief designer for the company.

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