Utzon, Jørn Oberg

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Utzon, Jørn Oberg (1918– ). Danish architect. He studied with Fisker and worked briefly with Aalto. During 1949 he spent a week at Taliesin East with F. L. Wright (who, with Le Corbusier, was a major influence on his conception of architecture) prior to visiting Central America, where his encounters with Meso-American temple remains were to leave a lasting impression, notably in his frequent use of the platform or plinth in his own work. This featured in the Utzon House, Hellebaek, Helsingør (1952–3), and, on the grand scale, in the competition-winning design for the Sydney Opera House and Concert Hall, Australia (1956–73), in which the platform contained all the service-spaces and provided a support for, and visual foil to, the huge sail-like shell-vaults that soar above the harbour. Developed in collaboration with the engineers Ove Arup & Partners, the Sydney project proved technically demanding, and in 1966 Utzon withdrew when political arguments made his position impossible.

Utzon's most influential designs were for courtyard-houses, a theme he first explored in the unbuilt competition-winning proposals for Skåna in Sweden (1954) and subsequently realized in the Kingo Houses at Helsingør (1956–60) and in a widely-acclaimed development at Fredensborg (1962–3), both in Denmark. The freely arranged site-plans of these schemes used the additive principle of composition that was also to become the basis of his ideas for more flexible approaches to industrialized building. These designs included the ‘Espansiva’ housing system (1969), developed for the Danish timber-building industry and modelled on traditional Japanese houses; a prototype building for a new college in Herning (1967); the impressive unrealized proposal (using precast concrete components) for a sports complex in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (1968); and the National Assembly Building, Kuwait (1972–85-restored following severe damage in the 1990 Gulf War), built using large-scale components cast on site. Utzon's contract did not however include the interiors, and the only public building realized wholly in accordance with his designs was the Bagsvaerd Church, near Copenhagen (1967–77), where the billowy ‘cloud-vaults’ form a striking contrast to the modest, system-built exterior. In partnership with his two architect-sons, Jan (1944– ) and Kim (1957– ), Utzon realized the Paustian Furniture Store, Nordhavn, Copenhagen (1987), by when he was spending much of his time at ‘Can Lis’, his house on a cliff-top near Porto Petro, Mallorca, Spain (1971–3). More recently another generation of Utzons (Jan's son and daughter) have become active in the firm: they are Jeppe (1970– ) and Kickan (1971– ).


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