Interior Design by Jørn Utzon

Inside the Architecture of the Danish Architect

looking up a swirling concrete stairway to a bright skylight
Concrete Stairwell, Melli Bank, University of Tehran Branch, 1962, Iran.

phillip-arnold/seier+seier via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) cropped

 

Danish architect Jørn Utzon (1918-2008) is well-known for iconic exterior forms, like the Sydney Opera House, but what about the insides? Here we see his interest in light, the mixture of natural materials with natural light, and an "intense interest in Islamic architecture." The 2003 Pritzker Jury wrote that "He has always been ahead of his time," and his swirling concrete forms — reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright's later architecture — upholds that belief. Utzon created modern forms before computers could tell builders how the design could be done. Nonetheless, architecture happened. Join us for a short photo tour of Utzon's interiors, including foyers and  sanctuaries open to the public for all to enjoy.

The Sydney Opera House, 1973

man walking down open purple stairs beneath wooden ribs filled with glass
Inside the Sydney Opera House.

Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

 

Utzon's design for the Sydney Opera House in Australia seemed to defy the rules of architecture, engineering, and aesthetics when it was chosen in a 1957 international competition. Today, this Modern Expressionist building is one of the most famous and most photographed structures of the modern era. Why? It's complicated, inside and out, and within the mathematically intense engineering is a beauty as natural as a seashell. As organic as a sail on Sydney Harbor. Without a doubt, this controversial complex is Jørn Utzon's masterpiece, yet most of the interior space was constructed without his supervision.

Bagsvaerd Church, 1976

facing organ pipes enclosed in wood, light walls and rolling ceiling and altar dominate natural wooden pews
Inside the Church of Bagsværd, Denmark. Erik Christensen via wikimedia commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Jørn Utzon was inspired by the passage of clouds when he designed this serene church just north of Copenhagen, Denmark. The folds in the sanctuary's ceiling roll over the congregation's benches like billowing masses, natural light breaking through the skylights and clerestory-like fenestration. Note that the organ pipes — traditional church detail — can be hidden behind cabinet-like doors, changing the interior space to appear more secular or to modify the acoustics, which continues to be a complaint at the Sydney venue.

Kingo Housing Project, Helsingor, Denmark, 1957

inside looking outside through an open door and on the other side of a wall toward a tiled room
Kingo Houses by Jørn Utzon, 1957.

seier+seier via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) cropped)

Jørn Utzon said that arrangement of the dwellings in this low-income housing project resembled "flowers on the branch of cherry tree, each turning toward the sun." This was the first of two courtyard housing projects, the second being in Fredensborg. Both Utzon projects rise above the mid-century suburban developments found in America at the time. Instead of the commercial marketing of property and home-ownership, Utzon's vision included elements of the organic architecture promoted by Frank Lloyd Wright. Utzon met Wright in 1949 and was clearly influenced by blending of indoors with outdoors. Utzon went further, however, by designing the community, thoughtfully placing each dwelling  within the landscape in what the Pritzker Jury would call "handsome, humane housing."

Utzon's Home, Hellebaek, Denmark, 1952

Low brick wall and simple brick patio-platform
Utzon's Home in Hellebaek, Denmark. seier+seier via wikimedia commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) cropped

In this seemingly simple patio Jørn Utzon designed as a home for his family, we see the architectural elements that first inspired him as an architect — the platform, the privacy wall, the natural building elements, the views of nature. "The range of his projects is vast," claims the Pritzker Jury. Yet, it's not difficult to see similarities in all of the architectural designs of the 2003 Pritzker Laureate.

The Utzon Center, 2008

auditorium with curved ceiling, skylights
The Utzon Center in Aalborg, Denmark, Designed by Jørn Utzon and Inaugurated in May 2008. Bang Clemme Film & Openhouse/utzoncenter.dk

Jørn Utzon's legacy remains where he grew up, Alborg, Denmark, where his father directed the shipyard. Utzon's last project, the Utzon Center finished the year of his death, is a cultural crossroads of learning. Filled with lecture rooms, galleries, and working workshops, it is modern architecture filled with light and ideas.

Sources

  • Biography, The Hyatt Foundation, PDF at https://www.pritzkerprize.com/sites/default/files/inline-files/2003_bio_0.pdf
  • Jury Citation, The Hyatt Foundation, https://www.pritzkerprize.com/jury-citation-jorn-utzon