Welcome back to #ModernistMondays! At TTC, we are constantly inspired by modernist architects and artists from past and present. To showcase some of our favorites, we launched #ModernistMondays, where we highlight one modernist each month to explore with quick, interesting facts. In 2023, we are also weaving in #ModernistMonday features on specific architectural masterpieces along with profiles of celebrated designers. This month’s feature is Jørn Utzon, the Danish mastermind behind the Sydney Opera House.
(banner image of exterior of Sydney Opera House via Flickr, Bernard Spragg. NZ)
Jørn Utzon was born in 1918 and raised in Denmark, where, as the son of a naval architect, he became fascinated with marine life and seafaring. As he grew, he became more interested in the arts and attended the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, studying architecture.
A portrait of Utzon
After a brief stint as an architect in Sweden during WWII, Utzon returned to Denmark. Throughout the 1940s and 50s, Utzon traveled the world, gaining architectural knowledge and respect, meeting with esteemed designers, including Alvar Aalto and Charles and Ray Eames. Inspired by the architects’ way of life, he designed his own open-concept home in Denmark, which led to the genesis of his own Copenhagen-based firm.
Utzon’s home in Denmark
In 1957, a relatively unknown Utzon submitted a design for the then-forthcoming Sydney Opera House. To his surprise, competition judge Eero Saarinen found the work to be “genius,” and selected Utzon above many of the leading architects at the time. This selection propelled Utzon into international recognition.
A plan for the Opera House
The Sydney Opera house’s unique roof, composed of shell-like “waves,” proved a monumental task to fabricate, but the local government believed in Utzon’s vision. However, when the local government leader passed away, his replacement was less supportive causing Utzon and his team great frustration as necessary resources weren’t forthcoming. Utzon was so offended by the experience that he left Australia as the roof was being finished.
Detail of Sydney Opera House roof
The final structure, featuring Utzon’s “orange-peel” inspired roof, was completed in 1973. Utzon was not invited to the opening, or mentioned in opening night remarks. In 2004, he received recognition from the institution with a space renamed “The Utzon Room.” Utzon never saw the completed building in-person.
Exterior of Sydney Opera House
Utzon found success in Denmark as well, and completed housing projects such as the Kingo Houses and the Fredensborg Houses. His concrete Bagsværd Church in Copenhagen is perhaps his most popular work aside from the opera house.
A Kingo House courtyard
Fredensborg Houses exterior
Bagsværd Church exterior and interior
In 2005, after a decades-long career, Utzon and his son created the Utzon Center, a space for exploration and dedication of architecture for the young. It was Utzon’s final project, completed before his death in 2008.
Utzon Center exterior
After moving to Mallorca, Spain with his wife, Utzon passed away at age 90. His two sons and daughter have all followed his path of design and architecture and continue his legacy today. Of course, the Sydney Opera House remains one of the world’s most lauded structures in history.
“Spotlight: Jørn Utzon,” Archdaily; “Jørn Utzon,” Brittanica; “The Architect: Jørn Utzon,” Sydneyoperahouse.com; “Jørn Utzon,” Wikipedia