Page N1.2 . 16 April 2003                     
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    Jørn Utzon Pritzker Prize

    continued

    Finally, in 1966, the architect left Sydney, never to return. According to Utzon, speaking frankly in a 1992 interview, he did not quit but was forced out of the project by political infighting and the cancellation of his contract. Uncompleted interior design work was turned over to others.

    Reflections on History

    The long saga of mishaps, redesigns, underestimates, and other disasters, written by John G. Lowe, of Glasgow Caledonian University, comes to an interesting conclusion.

    Quoting Arup, Lowe writes that if the magnitude of the design and construction task had been fully appreciated from the outset, "...the Opera House would never have been built. And the fact was that it wasn't known, and the client and public were misled by the first so-called estimate, was one of the unusual circumstances that made the miracle possible."

    Architect Frank Gehry, a Pritzker juror who has seen his own share of public controversy, says: "I believe that the choice of Jørn Utzon is important because [he] made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology, and he persevered through extraordinary, malicious publicity and negative criticism to build a building that changed the image of an entire country."

    Gehry goes on to say: "It is the first time in our lifetime that an epic piece of architecture gained such universal presence. The trials and tribulations suffered by Utzon did not, however, prevent him from continuing to work and to produce superior, relevant, beautiful buildings."

    Recently Utzon — with his son Jan and their firm Utzon Architects — has begun again to work with the Sydney Opera House Trust, this time on renovations.

    In considering why Utzon did not receive the Pritzker Prize years before, juror Jorge Silvetti says Utzon's selection may actually be timely and exemplary.

    Silvetti states: "In the current frenzy of unbound personal expressionism and blind subordination to attention-grabbing production techniques, his explorations remind us that both 'expression and technique' are servants and secondary to more profound and foundational architectural ideas. His work shows us that the marvelous and seemingly 'impossible' in architecture depend still on genial minds and able hands."

    Church in Bagsværd

    Returning to Denmark after his bittersweet experience in Sydney, Utzon's next major design triumph was a Church in Bagsværd, just north of Copenhagen. It is characterized by a contrasting rectilinear exterior and sensuously curving sanctuary ceiling.

    Utzon recalls that his idea for the interior forms was inspired by clouds. His sketches evolved from nature images to billowing overhead vaults. The power and clarity of this building echoes the expressionism and humanism of Aalto. The exterior/ interior dialog at Bagsværd is similar to that at Aalto's Mount Angel Library.

    In both buildings, a direct, unpretentious, utilitarian, and contextual exterior composed of planes and masses, contains a curvaceous, sensuous, and lyrical interior composed of light, space, and quietude.

    In his book, Modern Architecture: A Critical History, Kenneth Frampton discusses the symbolism of Utzon's use of materials in the church. "Precast concrete infill elements of standardized dimensions are combined, in a particularly articulate way, with in-situ reinforced concrete shell vaults which span the principal public volumes."

    Frampton believes this combination of assemblies is more than an appropriate integration of available concrete construction techniques. "At one level, we may claim that prefabricated modular assembly not only accords with the values of universal civilization but also "represents" its capacity for normative application, whereas an in-situ shell vault is a 'one-off' structural invention built into a unique site. It may be argued that where the one affirms the norms of universal civilization, the other proclaims the values of idiosyncratic culture."

    Courtyard-Style Housing

    Preceding the Sydney Opera House were two housing developments in Denmark. The Kingo Houses in Helsingør, completed in 1958, were Utzon's demonstration that well designed housing could be as affordable as the poorly designed developments that were then being built.

    At Kingo, 63 houses were built in rows following the undulations of the site, providing views for each house, and access to sunlight and shelter from the wind. The individual houses are L-shaped with a living room and study in one section, and the kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom in the other. Walls of varying heights closed the remaining open sides of the ell.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    Curving sanctuary ceiling of the Church in Bagsværd by Jørn Utzon.
    Photo: Bent Ryberg /Planet Foto

    ArchWeek Image

    Aerial view of the Church in Bagsværd.
    Photo: Arne Magnussen & Vibeke Maj Magnussen

    ArchWeek Image

    The modest, straight-laced exterior of the Church in Bagsværd.
    Photo: Bent Ryberg /Planet Foto

    ArchWeek Image

    Entrance to the Church in Bagsværd.
    Photo: Utzon Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    Hallway in the Church in Bagsværd.
    Photo: Bent Ryberg /Planet Foto

    ArchWeek Image

    Evolution of sketches of the Church in Bagsværd.
    Image: Jørn Utzon

    ArchWeek Image

    Exterior view of the Church in Bagsværd.
    Photo: Keld Helmer-Petersen Photo

    ArchWeek Image

    Section and plan of the Church in Bagsværd
    Image: Jørn Utzon

    ArchWeek Image

    Villa Banck in Helsingborg, Sweden.
    Photo: Bent Ryberg /Planet Foto

    ArchWeek Image

    Villa Banck in Helsingborg, Sweden.
    Photo: Jörgen Michelsen

     

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