Rest in Peace Jørn Utzon

    Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect, died on November 29, aged 90.
    He designed the Sydney Opera House
    but left the project and never saw it completed.

    From the Sydney Morning Herald:

    With a friend, Tobias Faber, Utzon wrote a controversial article espousing two central architectural principles; learning from vernacular architecture and intelligent response to function.

    If these were the seeds of the Sydney Opera House design, travel was the nutrient. In the late 1940s, the Utzons went to America, where Joern had warm meetings with the renowned Finnish architect Eero Saarinen in Michigan, Frank Lloyd Wright in Wisconsin and Charles Eames in California, as well as a bizarre encounter in Chicago with the cigar-sucking Mies van der Rohe, where communication, in English, was through a secretary. Mies allowed the Utzons to visit his newly finished Farnsworth House at Plano, Illinois.

    Utzon was struck by the way Miesian spaces were at once disciplined and voluptuous, by Wright's richly textural use of material and by the sheer panache with which Eames combined off-the-shelf componentry; lessons which he combined to good effect in his own house in Hammermill Wood, Hellebaek, 1952. Next stop Mexico, where Utzon had his first experience of the Mayan temples that, in creating massive stone platforms at the height of the jungle canopy, enabled the Mayans to break through into the sunlight and re-create lost horizons; much as Utzon would later do in Sydney.

    (From the New York Times) - As a young architect Mr. Utzon worked for Gunnar Asplund in Sweden and Alvar Aalto in Finland before establishing his own practice in Copenhagen in 1950. In 1956 he read about the Sydney Opera House competition in a Swedish architecture magazine. He spent six months designing a building with sail-like roofs, their geometry, he said, derived from the sections of an orange.


    (Back to the Sydney Morning Herald) ... by the time he won the Sydney Opera House competition, Utzon was a 39-year-old architect brimming with ideas and design skill but with relatively little experience in the tribulations of getting things built....

    The apocryphal story is that (Opera House competition judge) Saarinen arrived two days late and, plucking Utzon's scheme from the bin, declared it the winner. "So many opera houses look like boots," he told the press at the time. "Utzon has solved the problem." ... the winner was agreed.... Ten-year-old Lin Utzon, Joern's eldest child (who herself would later create a number of artworks for Sydney buildings) carried the news to her father, pedalling furiously through the frozen landscape on her bike. "Now," she said, "can I have my horse?"


    Even as Utzon basked in his win, the furor began. His winning scheme was displayed at New York's Museum of Modern Art beside Saarinen's TWA Terminal. Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe hated Utzon's design; Saarinen and Richard Neutra loved it.

    Read the whole story here.


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    A professor of mine, Rafael Moneo, worked on the building, under Utzon. He helped develop some of the geometries of the curved shells. Moneo spoke in superlatives of his former employer. And he said that working on that project influenced his design for the


    Kursaal Auditorium and Congress Center in San Sebastián, Spain (1999). Particularly in the use of two volumes to separate functions.

    Warning to those who like straight lines - I don't think his Kursaal - by all accounts wonderful - identifies San Sebastián as famously as Utzon's design identifies Sydney.

    But the Kursaal halls are said to have marvelous acoustics, whereas the acoustics in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House are said to be poor and artists complain about the lack of performance and backstage space.
    ---

    Lynn Becker has a smart post on Jørn Utzon.


    Utzon portrait AFP/Getty
    Sunset shot Greg Wood/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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