Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Jørn Utzon, Danish architect of the Sydney Opera House
Jørn Utzon, the Danish architect whose accomplishments include the Sydney Opera House and a Pritzker Prize amongst many other remarkable architectural feats, was born in Aalborg, Denmark on 9 April 1918 and lived until he was 90 years old. In celebration of his 100th anniversary in 2018, the Utzon Center in Aalborg has curated a programme of exhibitions and events surrounding the vast Utzon archive. Here we join the centenary celebration and take a look at some of Utzon’s projects across the world...
Sydney Opera House
The soaring sails of the Sydney Opera House took 11 years to materialise – the curved precast concrete shells were layered with ceramic tiles of clay and crushed stone imported all the way from Sweden. Utzon was also a seemingly surprising import from Scandinavia, when his design was chosen as the winner of a competition set by the New South Wales Government in 1956 for a new opera house that would become a symbol – and a statement – for Sydney. The Danish architect was just 38 years old at the time of designing the sculptural form for Sydney’s harbour, and at the peak of his idealism and ambition for bringing visions of nature to modernism.
Photography: Hamilton Lund
Built in 1972 in Mallorca, this strong and humble home on the cliff edge facing the sea is built using traditional Mallorcan techniques and materials, yet is also completely avant garde. The outer walls and columns are constructed of Marés sandstone and the flooring and interior walls of Santanyi sandstone, both locally sourced on the island. The house’s plan, partly developed during the building process, was responsive to the Utzon family and their daily routines – it was here where Utzon moved in 1966 after he left Sydney. The house is considered one of the most important houses of the 20th century. Today, the house is a place for artists’ residencies and educational stays after restoration from 2011.
Found in the northern suburbs of Copenhagen, this church was completed in 1976 and Utzon’s first design after returning from Sydney. While geometric on the outside, the interior of the church, designed in collaboration with Lin Utzon, is defined by voluminous curves of concrete and smooth wave shapes inspired by natural forms – more specifically, wind-driven clouds Utzon saw from a beach in Hawaii. White tiled screens behind the altar, benches of light knotless deal and woven tapestries by Lin Utzon bring soft materiality to the space. The plan is based upon a series of connecting courts and halls, buffered by corridors.
This bank in Tehran, Iran was designed by Utzon in collaboration with Hans Munk Hansen for the Iranian National Bank. Completed in 1960, it was inspired by traditional Iranian architecture, yet also followed modernist principles and Utzon reportedly examined the constructions of Aalto’s National Pensions Institute and Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh for the design. The building is set on a platform, and entry brings visitors into a low space, before transitioning into a high bright space where light filters in from horizontal skylights. The concrete structure is defined by wide spanning beams that also define the shape of the plan – following traditional Persian buildings, pathways play with the flow of light and lead indirectly into the heart of the plan. The commission for this project was a result of a man named Jorgen Saxild, who worked at engineering company Kampsax, which was active in the Middle East ,and president of Dansk Samvirke – which would later be involved in Utzon’s commission for the Fredensborg housing.
In Aalborg, Denmark, the Utzon Center was Utzon’s last project, designed in collaboration with his son Kim Utzon. Utzon’s vision was that the centre would be a lively house for education and the discussion of architecture and ideas. Built on Aalborg’s waterfront and designed around a courtyard with a connecting glass corridor that joins all the spaces, the design openly references the Sydney Opera House through its peaked sails while also referencing the local Aalborg shipyard, a return to his original influences of yacht design and his father’s profession in the boating industry. Inaugurated in 2008, the Utzon Center is an active space for visitors, education and students.
Photography: Bang Clemme, Openhouse
Inspired by Danish farmhouses and Chinese courtyard architecture, this housing complex of 63 units in Denmark was designed by Utzon based on his approach of ‘additive architecture’. Completed in 1963, the commission came after his first major housing project, the Kingo houses at Helsingør, Sweden. The housing was designated for Danish people who had worked in services such as diplomacy, foreign policy or engineering abroad and were returning to Denmark. The complex has a central social area for entertainment, dining and also rooms available for guests bringing elements of community into the design in order to encourage time spent with neighbours.
Parliament of Kuwait
The exposed white concrete shape of this building was inspired by Islamic architecture and the pitched roofs of the Bedouin tents. A dramatic collonade of repeated forms drapes over the building which houses offices, an assembly hall and a mosque, with an open plaza in the foreground. Utzon designed the building after winning an international competition in 1971.
Prototype of a School
Built in 1976 in Herning, Denmark, this centre was a multi-school complex for different subjects that could be flexible and develop with new forms of education. Comparing it to the evolving patterns of nature, he saw the plan as having similar properties, where it could flourish and grow through a series of classroom and space typologies with certain architectural properties. The school was designed to be adaptable and attract other schools to the area based on the principle of ‘additive architecture’.