‘Understanding the inspiration that lies in humanity’s countless forms of expression; working based on our hands, eyes, feet, stomach, and our movements, and not on statistical norms and rules created according to the most-cases principle – that is the way to a varied and humane architecture,’ wrote Jørn Utzon (1918–2008). Architecture to him was neither an exact science nor free art, noting that it is ‘based on science as well as intuition’.
The visionary Danish architect rose to fame relatively early in life, when he won an international competition to design the Sydney Opera House in Australia in 1957 at the age of 38. He had never visited the city, acquiring an understanding of the place solely through representations. After years of work on the opera house, a feud with the Minister for Public Works forced Utzon to resign from the project, never to return to Australia to see the final structure.
The Sydney Opera House, with its two performance halls topped by billowing concrete shells clad in ceramic tile, has become one of the most recognisable buildings of the last century. Utzon went on to complete a large body of work and highly diverse projects around the world. Most notable are the Melli Bank in Tehran, National Assembly in Kuwait, Bagsværd Church and numerous houses in Denmark.
Jørn Utzon: Drawings and Buildings is the only book in the English language on the architect. It is a fascinating journey into the life and crucially the mind of this maverick architect. ‘It is neither the story of his life nor a chronological review of his collected works,’ explains author Michael Asgaard Andersen. ‘Going beyond these traditional forms of representation, this monograph focuses on how his projects came into being and how they function through six main themes: place, method, building culture, construction, materiality, and ways of life.’
They relate to significant aspects of Utzon’s architecture as well as nodding to key issues facing architecture today. Humanity was precisely at the core of Utzon’s work. He believed a building is made for living in and, crucially, around it – thus contributing to a complex set of shifting relationships. Utzon felt it was essential to keep this in mind throughout the creative process. His is an architecture that is ‘varied and humane’.
The building process was never too rigid, nor was it linear. The building’s function dictated creation, and completion only meant and on-going evolution of the bricks and concrete that form the building. Utzon believed that modernism need not sacrifice local character to be forward thinking. His words and work resonate more than ever at a time when some of the leading world architects seem to design more for their own ego than the environment and its people.
Jørn Utzon: Drawings and Buildings is published by Princeton Architectural Press, December 2013.
Nargess Shahmanesh Banks
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