A Portfolio of Interiors by Jorn Utzon

Interior Designs by the Pritzker Prize-Winning Danish Architect

We all know the familiar exteriors of Danish architect Jørn Utzon (1918-2008). His iconic Sydney Opera House is as recognizable as any other LEGO architecture product. But what about the insides? Join us for a short photo tour of Jorn Utzon's interiors, including foyers, sanctuaries, government buildings, and his own get-away home in Mallorca, Spain. Each interior links to an exterior photo.

01
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Glass, wood, steel -- Foyer of the Sydney Opera House
Foyer of the Sydney Opera House. Photo of Foyer by John O'Neill, jjron - Own work. Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons

Sydney, Australia
1957-1973

Utzon's design for the Sydney Opera House 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.

02
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Inside the Church of Bagsværd, Denmark
Inside the Church of Bagsværd, Denmark. Photo by Erik Christensen via wikimedia commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Bagsværd, Denmark
1973-76

Jørn Utzon was inspired by the passage of clouds when he designed this serene church just north of Copenhagen. 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 in Sydney.

03
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Can Lis, Jorn Utzon's Home in Majorca, Spain, stone pillars, open patios overlooking the sea
Can Lis, Jorn Utzon's Home on the island of Majorca, Spain. Photo by Frans Drewniak via wikimedia commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Majorca, Spain
1973

On a platform of rock on the island of Majorca, Can Lis became a retreat for Jørn Utzon and his wife, Lis. Utzon had resigned from the  Sydney Opera House in 1966, after working on the huge, complicated project for eight years. The natural, organic design of Can Lis—inside and out—demonstrates the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright and showcases his own obsessions in residential design:

  • Use of the platform
  • Open courtyards and patios
  • Walls affording privacy and natural views
  • Organic design

After twenty years here, the Utzons built Can Feliz to escape from the tour buses of onlookers and to find a peaceful and happy retirement.

04
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Inside the Kuwait National Assembly, From Jorn Utzon Sketch to Realization
Inside the Kuwait National Assembly, From Jorn Utzon Sketch to Realization. Sketch by Jorn Utzon, photo by Carsten Bo Anderson, courtesy the Pritzker Committee and Hyatt Foundation at pritzkerprize.com

Kuwait City, Kuwait
1972-82

Jørn Utzon was not good at mathematics in school, but his freehand drawing skills were excellent. Here he exactly articulated his vision for an interior space at the Kuwait Assembly building.

Utzon had an affinity for Islamic architecture when he was invited to design the National Assembly building for Kuwait. Like much of his work, Utzon created flowing, concrete drapery in his interiors and exterior designs.

Source: Biography, The Hyatt Foundation / The Pritzker Architecture Prize, 2003 (PDF) [accessed September 2, 2016]

05
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Utzon-Designed Kingo House Interior, open door brings exterior to interior
Utzon-Designed Kingo House Interior. Photo by seier+seier via wikimedia commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) (cropped)

Helsingor, Denmark
1956-58

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."

Source: Jury Citation, The Hyatt Foundation [accessed September 6, 2015]

06
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Low brick wall and simple patio-platform of Utzon's home in Hellebaek, Denmark
Low brick wall and simple patio-platform of Utzon's home in Hellebaek, Denmark. hoto by seier+seier via wikimedia commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) (cropped)

Hellebaek, Denmark
1952

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," claimed the Pritzker Jury citation. Yet, it's not difficult to see similarities in all of the architectural designs of the 2003 Pritzker Laureate.

Source: Jury Citation, The Hyatt Foundation [accessed September 6, 2015]