Last Thursday night I went to see Adrian Carter give a lecture about Jørn Utzon. It was a warm and poignant lecture given by a friend and colleague and I can’t think of a better tribute to Utzon that he could have given. It provided a timely reminder that Architecture is the power to stir emotion and create relationships between people and places, and that Utzon had that ability above most, so not much more need be said.
Some things I didn’t know also came up of course, that Utzon went to work for Aalto but after only six short weeks found out his wife was pregnant with their child and had to go back to Denmark. I did know already that it was Eero Saarinen who arriving late for the jury on the Sydney Opera House competition picked Utzon’s entry from the rejected pile and said it was the winner. I didn’t know however that so possessed he was with the project that he went back to his hotel that night and drew the perspective view of the building from the harbour that Utzon himself had neglected to submit, in an effort to persuade his colleagues that it was the winning project.
Utzon doubtless pursued a kind of purity of design that had it’s kindred spirit in nature and tried to engineer his projects in the way nature evolves form. Its clear to me many of his spaces and places he made are analogous to natural spaces, of clouds passing overhead, of the roof as tent or enclosure with a kind of bottom up philosophy of served and servant spaces that provided an order that was natural rather than preconceived. That he wasn’t designing buildings in the same way as say Gehry does is clear, and it’s part of what makes his Architecture timeless and so hard to emulate today.
The drawings Utzon’s studio made of the structural solution that was found after two years of fruitless calculations are beautiful and by Rafael Moneo (photo) a then newly qualified Spanish Architect, it makes me wonder what is the Architectural Equivalent of the Bacon number? In the Modernist movement you could use Aalto quite easily to map the connections between Architects the world over. Here the connection is tangible both in a personal and professional form.
The issues of the Opera house budget came up and the tensions between Utzon and Arup the structural engineers, first over the authorship of the structural solution something that Cecil Balmond would know something about and then on their continuing role in the project once Utzon had resigned. Although the Opera House made his name it also broke it in terms of his ability to get further work, there was some, but it could have been so much more.
Adrian Carter instigated and now runs the Utzon Centre which tries to promote the ideas of Jørn Utzon.
The photo above is of the sketch made by Saarinen that helped Utzon win the competition and can be found online at Yale’s Saarinen database here.