Jørn Utzon’s use of daylight in architecture

Inaugurated in 1972 after a building period of 16 years, the Sydney Opera is one of the world’s most original and spectacular buildings. The Opera is also a landmark for Sydney and an icon for the whole twentieth century. 


Utzon paid extraordinary attention to the roof shells and their potential to capture and hold light on their surfaces. Throughout his career. BY rICHArD WESTon AnD MArTIn SCHWArTz Through studies of the most important projects created by Jørn Utzon. interiors to be illuminated by daylight. sky. snow. repetition. his passion for the natural world has led him to seek more from daylight than adequate illumination or sensual delight. as well as principles from the natural world. He has translated natural phenomena. enclosure. His works are frequently founded in insights that initially appear quite small. the opera house offered limited opportunities (the lobbies) for Photo: David Messent/Edition Bløndal ©  . light in particular. secondly. to help generate space and form. Many of these insights arise from observations taken from nature. In response. As it is difficult to meet normal acoustic and theatrical demands of the theater or music hall with openings to the outside world. order and disorder.” as nicholson Baker has writ- ten. Like many true innovators. throughout his career. change and stability. biomorphic shapes of much so-called “organic” architecture.” Baker might well have had Jørn Utzon in mind when he wrote this. light has been the enduring thread that binds his interest in nature to his interest in architecture and to his world view. Several of the most interesting examples of this process can be found in Utzon’s use of light and in his increasing reliance on light. Photo: Ole Haupt© Light and form: Sydney Opera House one cannot help but notice that by rotating the early PH lamps 90 degrees. “Large thoughts. Natural processes were models for numerous aspects of his work and they have inspired him to take that which is essential to daylight. Instead the projects derive from principles discovered in trees and leaves. but unlike the flowing. light. Utzon has sought to make buildings that have the kind of balance and order found in biology and physics as much as in architectural classicism. The weather in Sydney is by no means as consistently sunny as the city’s tourist promotions would have us believe.J ø r n U t z o n ’s u s e o f d a y l i g h t i n a r c h i t e c t u r e I n ha biti n g L ig ht For Jørn Utzon. the realization that light-receiving devices could be made into inhabitable spaces. and of course. Throughout his career. into ideas about structure. sensitivity to the sun’s daily and annual paths through the sky with reference to particular places. Utzon decided to cover the shells with ceramic tiles. and the Harbor itself – as Eero Saarinen (the most distinguished member of the original competition jury) pointed out to Utzon – could be surprisingly dark at times. His use of light centers on three observations that. because it is essential to human existence. the understanding that reflected or diffused light is usually preferable to a direct view of a light source. fish. sand. developing a combination of glazed (highly reflective) and unglazed (matte finish) tiles Jørn Utzon. so that the central axis through the lamp is horizontal. the resulting forms do not resemble nature in any obvious way. and use it to generate architecture. but turn out to be so profound that they drive his architecture to a level of mastery with what seems like inevitable force. Professor Richard Weston and architect Martin Schwartz analyse how one of the most original architects conceives of architecture as a function of daylight. nevertheless. and he linked them in his mind and works in order to establish his own basis for the composition of architectural form and space. Jørn Utzon is an observer with unusual acuity. the translation of a formal idea into architecture is not so simple. have great power as generative principles: firstly. “depend more heavily on small thoughts than you might think. However. and thirdly. the profile resembles the silhouette of the nested shells of the Sydney opera House (97-7). although small in themselves.


Photo: David Messent/Edition Bløndal© The Opera is placed on a projected piece of land in Sydney Bay. towering on the background of the sky. lifted above a terraced bastion. white shells of various sizes. real and abstract clouds and a Chinese roof. associated by Utzon with the Sydney Opera. Sketches: Jørn Utzon  . Sketches of plateaus and hovering forms. The building looks like an almost hovering. the sea and the horizon. moving formation of gigantic.

intended to produce a shimmer rather than a mirror effect. They are formed by a gigantic. newly fallen snow and the glisten of frozen snow. In his description of the surface Utzon used a natural analogy to the glow of snow-covered mountain landscapes and the contrast between soft.Photo: Richard Weston/Edition Bløndal© All the shells of the Sydney Opera are different sections of the same. 4 Photo: David Messent/Edition Bløndal© Utzon decided to cover the Opera with ceramic tiles in a combined pattern of glazed and unglazed tiles. mounted in symmetrical pairs on their terraced base. large sphere. ribbed concrete structure. .


by his admiration for the tiled domes and minarets of traditional Islamic cities. caressing and coloring the tiles: cream and ochre. Walking down the narrow ’street’ between the performance halls one moves between soft blue shade and glistening ice. He knew how the sun’s path varies by latitude and the effects of local climate. So it is noteworthy that he never again saw the need to make extraordinary form. the constant -inch-square tiles and resulting grid of joints. and in the contrast between soft.inspired. newly fallen snow and the glisten and irregular surface of its frozen form. Stand closer and the tiles scintillate. With his preference for diffused light. and tiny constellations appear and disappear below the bubbly surface of each tile. suggesting fire in the depth of the cave. The auditorium should be surrounded by a skeletal steel structure. and the subtle variation between matte and glazed tile surfaces also lend proportion and scale to the roof shells. The character of light he sought for the shell surfaces was a shimmer that is not quite specular – or as Utzon described it. in the light-reflecting qualities of snow that give rise to the phenomenon of Alpengluhen (the coloured glow of snow-covered mountain landscapes). The building. Utzon was clearly aware of the changing but predictable path of the sun as it appears to travel through the sky. Utzon must have realized that instead of a producing a complicated object. the joints between tiles. Form became a function of performance. Utzon proposed a building that resembled an artificial cave system. it would be sufficient to configure and locate an immobile structure correctly in the pre- dictable but ever-changing path of the sun. he realized that to provide the most comfortable light to a space and to animate a structure visually. then salmon pink and the palest of violets. And as the sun sets. create an illusion in which the architecture appears to change and even move in response to its environment. until the voluptuous geometry is reduced to a ghostly silhouette. Here we find the emergence of Utzon’s second insight in regard to daylight. the sun or you the viewer move by. The seams between tile-surfaced concrete “lids”. a “surface which…would show the texture through the glaze”4 – and characteristically he offered natural analogies. In his subsequent projects. Unfortunately. making the construction process explicit. These several qualities lend meaning to the overall form of the roof shells. the two tile finishes and lid arrangements. lit with flickering yellow. with a pair of bottle-shaped galleries accessed by a roller-coaster network of ramps. The resulting surfaces are among the most expressive in modern architecture. the light lingers. Closer still. Jørn Utzon established himself as one of the great form-givers of twentieth century architecture. and the curves themselves. The cave is almost completely devoid of natural light. he quite literally suppressed extraordinary external forms in the first of two projects for the unbuilt Silkeborg Museum of Fine Arts (96-964). Designed to house the works of the leading Danish artist Asger Jorn. orange and red lights. as if studded with stars. he could plan simple buildings and let the sun and sky do the hard work of generating a feeling of mutability. He understood the geometrical relationship between the sun and a particular place on the earth and saw its architectural significance. As passing clouds. Utzon intended that the large chamber be bathed in light reflected off the northern sky from a completely glazed In 1970 Jørn Utzon was commissioned to design a theatre in a large. is quite obviously stable. tying the architecture to its place in the world. and so Utzon decided to use artificial light as the primary means of creating space. The play of light on the surface of the Sydney opera House is evidence of the tension between stability and change that characterizes Utzon’s architecture and all of nature. the shells variously glow. Sketch: Jørn Utzon 6 Photo: Jan Utzon . underground cave at Jeita in Lebanon. and certainly not for its own sake. By building underground. with all of its shells curved in correspondence with the same diameter. and directed toward the creation of the character of interior space. all of which are contained in a three-storey-tall underground chamber in which paintings were intended to be hung free in space. In the shadows mysterious pools of glowing light are reflected from the neighboring hall. After the tribulations of Sydney. Inhabited caves: Silkeborg Museum of Fine Arts and Jeita Theatre With the Sydney opera House. But the ever-changing play of daylight on the varied shell sizes. gleam or flash with light. form was devised to capture light. in part. the finite number of tile lid sizes. daily and annually. the project was never realized.

They were accessed by a roller-coaster network of ramps. was intimidatingly vast and almost completely devoid of natural light. plan roof. north facade Silkeborg Museum. This proces- sion from bright exterior to dim innermost chamber would have eased the adaptation of our eyes to lower light levels as visitors entered galleries designed to exhibit the most delicate artworks. To enclose the seating and support the stagelighting rigs. Before and 7 . The cave. section Utzon submitted two proposals for the Silkeborg Museum of Fine Arts – which was never built – designed to house the works of the Danish artist Asger Jorn. orange and red lights. he proposed a skeletal steel structure. Lebanon. so that the composition is likely to have been one of illuminated spaces within illuminated spaces. section Silkeborg Museum.Silkeborg Museum. a celebrated tourist attraction. and so Utzon determined to use artificial light as the primary means of creating space. Utzon was presented with the challenge of creating a theatre in an actual cave at Jeita grotto. the steel structure was to be lit with flickering yellow. Six years after projecting the cavelike system of spaces at Silkeborg. Every wall surface would have been bathed in reflected light. glarefree illumination for the display of artworks and for circulation in the museum – some sun would have entered the museum. north of Beirut. Silkeborg Museum. As visitors entered the cave. all of which contained in a three-storey tall underground gallery. in a progression of gradually dimmer rooms. but only during very early and late hours during the long nordic summer days. while also reflecting Asger Jorn’s wish that the encounter with his sculptures should be as much tactile as visual. suggesting the welcoming warmth of a fire burning deep in the cave. One of the proposals was a building that resembled artificial caves with a pair of bottle-shaped galleries. and the galleries project above ground with glazed openings. The result would have provided even.

secondly. receiving it on their ground and wall surfaces. entirely skylit. And it is in section. as a result. This idea. and is a technical as well as a psychological achievement. the understanding that reflected or diffused light is usually preferable to a direct view of a light source. working. making these elongated spaces happy places in which to walk. following a moment of total darkness. where it is reflected through screens of wood and glass and into offices and meeting rooms. The corridors are saturated with illumination and. or direct sun reflected from building surfaces before it reaches our eyes. The sanctuary uses the nordic sky as the source of light and also as a working model for the illumination of the room. Light and space: Bagsværd Church Bagsværd Church (96-76) north of Copenhagen fully orchestrates the interplay of all three of Utzon’s daylighting themes. and thirdly. The forms of the vault are not only inspired by clouds. The corridors receive skylight and sun on tall. the courtyards also take light. and brightened by. at the corridors. and with an armature of corridors. The sun travels low in the Scandinavian sky. one is astonished by the interior spaces suffused with illumination. constituted by squares6 of varying sizes. The approach is so fluent that it is fair to say that the church is organized in light. just outside the building. often grazing the horizon and frequently presenting the problem of glare. two light sources: corridor and courtyard.  . The plan depicts a clear structural grid capable of supporting ambitious sectional qualities. Almost every room in the church is situated between. Here. (Firstly. however. but then. The plans are orthogonal. this is the top of the sky. the best reading. that structure movement. completely glazed. Unfortunately the project was never realised. “provides almost the same feel as the light experienced in the mountains during a sunny day in winter.” Jørn Utzon wrote. the ceilings are generated by cir- cles7 of varying diameters or. Utzon realized that the geometry of that sun-earth relationship contained a solution to the problem. sensitivity to the sun’s daily and annual paths through the sky with reference to particular places.during the performance. As invigorating as sunlight sometimes can be. But upon entering. the first-time visitor may be confounded by this claim. the ceilings are a combination of circles of varying diameter. visitors would be aware only of the skeletal enclosure and the stage. generated floor plans and sections with distinct qualities. but also work much like clouds as a sheltering canopy and a reflector The plan of Bagsværd Church is a clear structural grid. upward. matte white walls. even after many visits. The light in Bagsværd Church is either skylight (containing little or no direct sun) from the top of the sky. the realization that light-receiving devices could be made into inhabitable spaces. high enough to reflect and re-reflect light. and living light should be light reflected from the portion of the sky without the sun. Bagsværd Church’s almost distinct zones of direct and reflected light result from Utzon’s orientation of building openings primarily in one direction – in this case. “The light in the corridors.” Like the corridors. In Scandinavia. The sanctuary of Bagsværd Church is one of the most extraordinary ecclesiastical spaces in twentieth-century architecture. the vertical dimension. the separation of sky and sun. confronted by the opaque. noticeably brighter than the streetscape of darker houses and vegetation. receive direct light and delineate residual space for rooms and courtyards. In section. consisting of squares of various sizes connected by corridors receiving only daylight.) The church was conceived from its inception as a spatial response to daylight and the path of the sun in this part of the world. the ‘house lights’ – powerful floodlights directed at the natural vault above – were to be turned on to reveal for the first time the vastness of the cave. that a building is enabled to gather light. virtually windowless enclosing walls.

The limited area of the site dictated the narrow volume of the building. The facades are faced with light concrete elements and ceramic tiles of the same colour. but surrounded on all sides by green lawns. Photo: Arne Magnussen & Vibeke Maj Magnussen/Edition Bløndal© 9 .Bagsværd Church is designed as a combination of insitu cast concrete and concrete components. Photo: Bent Ryberg/Edition Bløndal© The church is situated in an institutional area.

 to 0 centimeters spanning 7 meters (almost 6 feet). The ceiling – which is. in fact.of light.”0 while the almost calligraphic.9 but the idea was latent in his earlier work. The idea of the roof as a cloud-like form floating above a platform was posited in sketches associated with Sydney opera House and ex- plored in Utzon’s most important published article. “Platforms and Plateaus: Ideas of a Danish Architect. “wandering” line quality of Bagsværd’s ceiling can be traced back to an early theoretical design for a printing factory made in Morocco in 947. Utzon is said to have realized the potential of this strategy while observing cloud formations on the beach in Hawaii. also the primary roof structure – is a curved complex of sprayed reinforced concrete vaults. Everchanging daylight and the fluid forms of the vault transform concrete into a nearly weightless hovering canopy designed 0 . The vaults are thin.

The vaults – a reinforced concrete structure – are not only inspired by clouds. showing the transformation of a group of people on a beach into a congregation in a church. The clerestory windows high on the west side of the sanctuary vault allow skylight and warm afternoon and evening sun to break through and play on the vault. framed by an abstract landscape of trunk-like columns and cloud vaults. The only shadow on the vaults is the fine tracery of the wood formwork. Daylight enters the sanc-  . until the brightness of the vault is gradually reduced to a darker underside where. Photo: Bent Ryberg/Edition Bløndal© In Bagsværd Church there is one of the most unusual architectural naves in 20th century architecture. it shades itself. The vaults are painted white so as to take a small amount of northern skylight (a very small amount in winter months). but also work like clouds as a sheltering canopy and a reflector of light. There is no shad- ow to suggest that there is a boundary between the real sky and the cloud vault of the worship space. and occasional direct sun. to diffuse light and distribute sound in the space.Sketches: Jørn Utzon Utzon conceived the concept of Bagsværd Church in two sketches. The light is reflected and re-reflected so that it is further softened. and distribute it generously throughout the room. which reveals the true nature of the material. like a cloud. The sanctuary uses the Nordic sky as the source of light.

with each house forming a courtyard. like clouds or puffs of smoke. Utzon enlarged his understanding of light when he translated his nordic perceptions to a Mediterranean setting. to other spaces. a courtyard remained open to light and views and for private outdoor living. 97). Utzon’s Espansiva residential building system of the late 960s is similarly depicted as a community of communities. Bagsværd Church. light. At the same time that Utzon was making open spaces on a civic. Utzon oriented spaces around light. the first of two Both the Kingo Houses (left) and the Fredensborg Houses (right) are situated according to the slope of the land and offset from each other in plan for advantageous views and to enhance privacy. and certainly not as if made from a heavy material. In these influential and articulate schemes. with its open courtyards and sanctuary. A site plan diagram shows nine houses. and sneaks in from the sacristy behind the altar. each comprised of varying layouts of five modules. Both developments offer open space and light at two scales: private and public. 9) to the Paustian Furniture Showroom (Copenhagen. with Ib Møgelvang in 9. with the former dedicated to the family and the latter defined by the aggregated community of walled courtyards. At each scale. At Can Lis (970-97). and to individualize each unit. The vaults appear to levitate. Utzon’s mature works illustrate his success in bringing the character of the courtyard. Utzon knew the traditional Danish farm courtyard arrangement and became familiar with its Chinese and Islamic versions from his travels and books. enclosed yet day-lit. courtyard. to enhance privacy. from the earlier private houses such as the Villa Banck with its two courts (Helsingborg. sited with reference to the slope of the land. even geographical scale at Sydney. a room in daylight. with no means of support. he was exploring the courtyard on residential and community scales. and to guarantee each house’s access to daylight. where parishioners worship in the landscape just as Utzon depicted in his evocative early sketches. Almost every one of Utzon’s built works originates with a the “roman Houses. Two versions of this house type were built as the Kingo Houses (also called Light in courtyards Utzon’s architecture is grounded in his empathy with sun. Photo: Keld Helmer-Petersen Photo: David Messent  . Utzon developed a house type consisting of a masonrywalled precinct of 0 metres on each side with two adjacent walls made available to support an L-shaped. It is filtered through a double layer of glazed screens on the west entry side. For the Skåne housing competition. Sweden. pours down through the skylighted corridor and balcony system north and south. the private outside spaces – the courtyards – are oriented southwest or southeast for midday and (a choice of) afternoon or morning sun. sky. The sanctuary is effectively a courtyard. suggesting its use for a variety of living and working activities. and offset from each other in plan for advantageous views. created from daylight. and light toward people. The units are attached.tuary from spaces on its four edges. and inhabitation. but also a successful public plaza. In fact. The resulting housing developments offer open space and light at two scales: private and public. shedroofed dwelling.” begun 97). and Fredensborg Houses (completed 96). In this proposal. Even Sydney’s platform is such a space: the opera House is not just an isolated sculpture. is just one of several essays on outside rooms. his career could be explored through his use of this venerable architectural element. The collection of houses makes a larger open space. and he always begins a project with the creation of open space.

primarily elderly people without small children. The project was not realized. The house type from the proposal for the Skåne competition was used in the Kingo Houses in Elsinore from 1957.  . shedroofed dwelling. The houses clearly divide traffic areas and the landscape. consisting of a masonry-walled precinct forming an L-shaped.Photo: Arne Magnussen & Vibeke Maj Magnussen/Edition Bløndal© The Fredensborg Houses were built in 1963 for returning expatriate Danes. Today – about 50 years after they were finished – these dwellings are still among the finest in Danish house design. but marked the beginning of Utzon’s work with walled courtyard dwellings. Jørn Utzon developed a house type for a housing competition in Skåne (in the south of Sweden). In 1954. together with Ib Møgelvang.

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Photo: Jørn Utzon The fantastic views from the living rooms are enhanced by the fact that the windows are installed so that from within the frames are out of sight.  . for a very short time. connected by courts and walls. he had a house built – Can Lis – on the background of the local stone architecture. the sun sends its rays through the opening. A small. the small patio. narrow. Photo: Bent Ryberg/Edition Bløndal© Photo: Bent Ryberg/Edition Bløndal© When the doors of the house are open towards the road. turned towards the African coast. the colonnade and the living room form an entire room opening dramatically towards the horizon. glazed opening in the south-east corner of the living room marks the passing of the day. Once a day. On bedrock. Behind the shielding wall of the house there are five offset pavilions. oriented at various angles to the broad view.Photo: Flemming Bo Andersen In 1972 Jørn Utzon created his own sanctuary on Mallorca.

reflected daylight is gathered from the part of the sky farthest from the path of the sun. this is the kind of theatre that he always wanted to make. and the wooden window frames are applied to the outside face of the building in the manner of Swedish architect Sigurd Lewerentz. Located in a distinctly different solar environment. The one exception to this rule is the single. At the zurich Theatre (an unbuilt competition-winning project of 96). skylight is gathered from the northern sky. With the frames out of sight. Like the Hall. At the same time. offices. for circulation. By means of this courtyard. the bays are fully open to a view of the sea and they have no seats – the floor continues into the bays. Can Lis recalls many built and unbuilt projects by Utzon. the opera House would also have had ceilings generated by circles and in sympathy with acoustic principles. Bagsværd. vaulted. at Can Lis.homes he built on the Spanish island of Mallorca. glazed opening high on the southwest wall that invites a blade of light to swing across the southeast wall in the late afternoon to animate the space and mark the passing of the day. To minimize glare. had Sydney been completed to Utzon’s vision. The manifestation of these observations is clearly observed in the most important room in the house. The orientation of this pavilion maximizes the exposure of the living room pavilion to the arc of the sun throughout the day and across the seasons. the living room projects episodically toward the sea with five glazed window bays. it looks as though you could walk right out into the horizon. The introduction of sun high in a tall room and softened light entering below recalls the Hall of the Abencerrajes and its relationship to the Court of Lions at the Alhambra. and direct sun from the top of the sky. There are no openings in the roof plane to admit hot sunlight. to cite three examples. its arc of built-in seating aimed south. the living room. which. they resemble the deep-set. In the Can Lis living room as at Bagsværd. Both Can Lis and Bagsværd have vaulted ceilings. because the sun path is so much higher throughout the year. And again. the living room at Can Lis is a kind of theatre. Utzon designed the room to receive and reflect indirect light. But at Can Lis. the deeper is its shadow. early in the day and during the cooler winter season. light is the performer. Utzon revisited the three themes we have explored with a neat twist essential to the way the house fits in its site and climate. Their sandstone surfaces absorb radiation and lend their warm yellow-pink colour to the sunlight. and it is reasonable to conjecture that for the architect. not even a sliver of shadow obstructs the inward rush of light. in which the room is both part of the house but incomplete without the sky and. 6 Photo: Bent Ryberg . In form. Like Bagsværd’s sanctuary. But as the altitude of the sun increases. The central hall of the National Assembly Building. In its sectional development. When the sun is low in the sky. the bays reach out to the horizon for skylight and to control sunlight. There is no impediment to the competing attractions of the sea and sky. As the openings appear to be unframed and unglazed. the depth of its reach is restricted to the bays where it is held and diffused. Structuring light: Kuwait National Assembly The Kuwait national Assembly building (970-9) is a direct response to the aridity of the region and the need to control sunlight that brings extreme heat. “The dangerously strong sunshine in Kuwait. but inverted. makes it necessary to protect yourself in the shade – the shade is vital for your existence…”4 It might be said that the location of the sun in the sky prompted the design of shade. at this latitude. In the Mediterranean. As in those public projects. while the bays control the reception of daylight. small rooms linked to a great room. They are like side chapels in a church. and large gatherings. rather than the design of light. each of the three module types. the locations of sun and diffused skylight are reversed from those of Scandinavia: skylight is available from near the horizon. small. but are more inviting because they can be lived in. and furnishings appear to be sculpted from the ground. The bays resemble the window seats that we used to find in the thick-walled buildings of previous centuries. Utzon’s light-receiving strategy at Can Lis is actually the same as at Bagsværd. this living room has a reciprocal relationship with the sky and site. Each of the bays is fully glazed without intermediate divisions. Instead of reaching upward for light. canted openings in Le Corbusier’s chapel at ronchamp. seven if you count the living room. And again like the Hall. each about the size of a person and aimed at a different angle around the horizon. The bay surfaces catch skylight from the horizon and diffuse sunlight. is spanned by a series of precast concrete vaults. The character of the stone emerges: its texture and the circular marks of the saw are revealed in shadows and highlights. works to control light in a slightly different way and each draws from the architectural traditions of the host culture. is the quadrant of the sky with the least direct sun. it penetrates deeper into the room. and Sydney. which Utzon called the central street. white-painted ceiling tiles in place of the Alhambra’s polychromed muquarnas. All year round. The Can Lis complex of five pavilions is associated with six courtyards in varying configurations. the primary public room rises above a fabric of smaller supporting facilities.” Utzon wrote. The institutional occupancy and the public scale of the building task gave Utzon the opportunity to identify architectural modules that were both spatial and structural. Utzon found the solution embedded in the problem: the stronger the sun is. but with the exterior walls blown out to reveal the horizon resulting in a dual allegiance. while at the same time framing stunning views of the Mediterranean. sun and skylight are reflected from the floor of an adjacent courtyard (north of the living room) and are admitted through a colonnade that creates a layer of cooling shade. It is oriented on a diagonal with the northsouth axis. Here again. the view. the living area at Can Lis has a ceiling capable of diffusing light down into the room: a series of shallow. Sunlight is introduced conditionally to the living room. The curved elements of the structure allude to the folded fabric of tents and the full-length tunics worn by many who work in the building.

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Plan of the Assembly Building.  .Utzon was inspired by Isfahan’s Islamic urban pattern when he designed the Assembly Building. The function of the building as an institution and the public magnitude of the project gave Utzon an opportunity to focus on both spatial and structural architectural forms.

and linearity of the space contribute to this. however. the use of daylight to engage architecture and place. sky and light. and direction. both roofed by sweeping vaults of precast concrete. the recognition of the path of the sun and the quality of its light. its freedom within constraints symbolized and enabled by its access to daylight. the legislative assembly hall and a covered outdoor space. The outdoor space is open on three sides. before it enters the space. As Utzon’s work matured. We can Projects from Jørn Utzon’s hand are derived from principles found in natural phenomena such as snow. scale. Photo: Richard Weston 9 . establishing spatial character while helping us to orient ourselves in the world.. the illumination in the concourse is a greatly softened version of the harsh exterior climate. it reminds us of the outside world. The concourse bisects the orthogonal grid of office modules and provides access to the two large gathering spaces.6 The shadow that the canopy casts on the ground is a function of the intensity of the sun. spanned by a series of precast concrete vaults that overhang the clerestory glazing by half the width of the concourse. is a two-storey-high space. precast. The curved elements allude without mimicry to the folded fabric of tents and even to the traditional full-length white tunics worn by many who work in the building. Utzon called the space a “great open hall” and a “big open square … symbolic of the protection a ruler extends to his people.A concourse. supporting elements.”7 The work spaces. have received scant critical attention. Utzon envisioned the space as one “where the people can meet their ruler” somewhat in the manner of western democratic society. time of day.” It is an optimistic gesture toward making a public piazza. and in Kuwait the office courtyard elements become the very fabric of this significant public structure. The light also models the surfaces of the allée of cylindrical. but so does the shifting light. one of them facing the waters of the Arabian gulf. we first spread a parasol to throw a shadow on the earth. Perhaps the difficulty is that little good documentation has been available. once from the roof surface and again from the underside of the vaults. With this strategy. Perhaps they have been devalued as they are simply places to work and not as important as the honorific spaces. again recalling the tent architecture associated with Bedouin life in this region. Utzon also called our attention to the fact that the concourse is an orientation device. Utzon counters the disorienting tendencies of a large building with similar spaces and symmetries. actually office courtyard modules. This produces an effect of grace and subtlety that plays against the rigour of the construction system. running through the building from its entry on the southeast to its shaded square on the northwest.. it was compounded by his frequent rethinking of the courtyard. This configuration requires sunlight to bounce at least twice. which Utzon has referred to as a central street. and it is as much this pool of darkness as the architecture that defines the space. The size. that “in making for ourselves a place to live. the primary corridor. The courtyards and roof monitors support this approach. This space recalls Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s observation in reference to his native Japanese architecture. Even as daylight changes over the course of the day and as the light is diffused by the architecture.

Precast concrete blades. the office courtyard modules are units that allow for groups of work spaces to be flexibly arranged around two-storey-high courtyards of various rectangular configurations. there is a vocabulary of parts and a syntax for their combination such that new spaces will always have a means for receiving daylight. The fabric of the national Assembly is an institutional version of the courtyard houses. conceptual sketches. The result is a chequerboard of solids and voids. The office modules were originally intended to aggregate beyond the initial boundary of the building as needed for future expansion. and models. a variation on the wood grilles that fill wall openings in Islamic architecture. occupied offices and spaces for the reception of light. as Utzon’s building and planning elements so often are. That is. in two directions. cast changing shadow patterns. the possibility of which was 0 . and permit air to move through. shade the courts. In the early floor plans. These louvers break solar radiation.Photo: Hans Munk Hansen make some reasonable conjectures about this compelling composition and the further ideas it suggests based on Utzon’s previous courtyard schemes and on the available Kuwait plan drawings. at least conceptually. span the courtyards at the roof. The offices borrow light captured by the courts. the building is quite easy to expand. Since the modules are square.

A view of Isfahan from 7 depicts a city composed of the same three spatial/daylighting modules that we find at the national Assembly: a long. deployed as a reception pavilion facing an open public square. A sketch of the central covered street opening onto the Arabian Gulf. the Ali Kapu (a talar or columned porch). The courtyard appears in many cultures and climates. but it assumes a critical role in the architecture of hot climates because of its effectiveness in taming heat. and even a roofed loggia. Utzon understood the National Assembly and its additive potential as a version of the Islamic bazaar. hinted at by the ordered plan of Bag sværd Church. an urban fabric knit from an orthogonal alternation of courts (lighted spaces) and houses (shaded enclosures). broad street called the Chahar Bagh ( not covered. capable of growth. Sketchers: Jørn Utzon A sketch of the covered square which. but enhanced by trees for shade and a thin waterway down the center0). and enlivened by  . and transforming arid landscapes into habitable settlements. much like Utzon’s covered square.A section of the original competitive proposal. It comes as no surprise that in Islamic culture. The conference hall was left out of the realised project. moderating sunlight. the ordered courtyard garden is closely associated with the image of paradise9 and that improvisations on these themes recur in Islamic architecture. The National Assembly Building from 1970 is formed as a direct response to the aridity of the region and the need to subdue the sunlight that brings extreme heat. as Utzon formulated it. containing a mosque and a conference hall. an urban pattern with spatial complexities. was born in the meeting of shore and sea. creating shade.

October 1997. Volume II. the sun reaches just over 57. reprinted in Weston. daylighting or shading tasks were assigned to nearly every inhabitable space and surface. 1977) page 17. and perform on and inside architecture. the building’s first inhabitant. In Copenhagen. 18. there are people.Utzon’s simple diagram of Can Lis catches the essence of this unique house on the east coast of Mallorca. Jørn Utzon. A brief sliver of sun may be enjoyed or easily avoided. 8. 9. “Bagsværd Kirke. Jørn Utzon’s Bagsværd Church. 1996) p. 1984) p. 10. On December 21. December 1965.  . and then only early in the day when its energy is most easily diffused and the heat of day is lowest. 3.” Casabella. the architect fixed lights of insulating glass to the exterior faces of the masonry walls with metal clips and filled the gaps with sealant. 210. 12. be distributed. At Bagsværd Church the courtyards realign themselves into a linear sequence to correspond with the hierarchy of organized religion. Edition Bløndal. a representative for people at the moment of composition and. 16. Utzon. 1962. the sun may be seen in more than 260 degrees of the 360-degree horizon. the fabric of the Kuwait national Assembly is a reordering of the square courts into a civic grid. p. “Sydney Opera House: The Roof Tiles” in Architecture in Australia. pp. Ibid. the community. Francoise Fromonot. and use it to generate architecture. the sun rises to almost 24 degrees (more than twice that of Copenhagen) at noon. p. Sunlight is not entirely eliminated. “Light Organizing. 7. The Sydney Opera House (Milan/Corte Madera. On December 21. roof mounted light monitors catch light from the relatively benign northeast quadrant of the sky and are located to bring skylight and reflected sunlight into the corridor stairwells and into the basement. pp. Finally. the building’s diagonal orientation to the north-south / east-west axes offers advantages. it is low and well within an individual’s cone of vision. Francoise Fromonot. 331.” in Denys Lasdun Architecture in an Age of Skepticism. 14. This is again evidence of Utzon’s awareness of the path of the sun. pp. and lighted space. Jørn Utzon. but these spaces are meant for movement and the occasional conversation. Martin Schwartz. 10. no. but a compelling pattern emerges from an overview of his work as if it were an essay. At Can Lis. 6. (London and New York: Oxford University Press. a proposition about the individual. Utzon’s ideas have not been founded in intricate calculations. as at Can Lis. each one is a space and meant to be inhabited. 1998) page 210. the sun is in the northeast sky but so low as to be intercepted by the hood of the monitor and reflected down into the corridors. pp. 149. Bagsværd Church. many. 112-140. Here. 14. In this spirit. Nicholson Baker. 2005). Ibid. Jørn Utzon. If on that day the sky is clear. the sun barely reaches 11 degrees at noon. and his passion for the natural world has led him to seek more from daylight than adequate illumination or sensual delight. how we differentiate our public lives from our private selves. meaning that light is a stand-in. “The Size of Thoughts. 15. Richard Weston. “Un riccordo della Hawaii. Conceiving daylight as a function of architecture. Fromonot. This is not to say that there are no other influences on his work – there are Notes 1.” Jørn Utzon Logbook. “Platforms and Plateaus: Ideas of a Danish Architect. 4. no light-receiving or intercepting element is simply a mechanism attached to the architecture. (649). 2. how we organize ourselves in a landscape.” in The Size of Thoughts. It may enter the corridors briefly. June 21: this is the highest point that the sun reaches all year long. Weston. 17. “The Importance of Architects. Where there is light. Utzon’s work with light might be described as metonymical. But it is to say that light was never simply a forecast of future lux levels or merely a means of decoration. 5. Conclusions For Jørn Utzon.” unknown source. Peter’s Church in Klippan (1962-1966). 23-25. p. surprising incursions of light alternating with shade and shadow.5 degrees above the horizon at noon on midsummer day. CT: Leete’s Island Books. midwinter day. Jørn Utzon. nor have they been constrained by his technical fluency. At those times. Early and late in the day. 22-23. In Praise of Shadows (New Haven. which acts both as a symbol of equality under the law and suggests the potential for future growth. 2002) p.” Zodiac. Essays and other Lumber. Because he imagined whole buildings as intrinsic light-gathering and construction systems. Inspiration Vision Architecture (Hellerup: Edition Bløndal. The square Kingo and Fredensborg courtyard houses adjust themselves vertically and horizontally on their sites to differentiate themselves one from another and such that the residence of each family is lent individuality. At Lewerentz’s St. the sun reaches an altitude of about 74 degrees (almost 20 degrees higher than Copenhagen) on June 21. he addressed the constituent features of daily life: how we find our way in the world. light has been the enduring thread tying his interest in nature to architecture and to his world view. so to speak. 222. because it is essential to human existence. Jun’ichiro Tanizaki. Utzon could not possibly have planned the arc of his career. 152-153. Weston. and the ways in which we support a roof above our heads. (New York: Random House. The sun only threatens to breach the monitors and break into the interiors during the summer season. 24-37. natural processes were models for numerous aspects of his work and they have inspired him to take that which is essential to daylight. light also activates the circulation spaces between office courtyard modules. 13. This approach has allowed Utzon to make decisions about how we might live in buildings by imagining how light would enter. 11. Jørn Utzon. CA: Electa/Gingko. how we distinguish inside from outside.

004. Islamic Architecture (New York: Harry N. Bagsvaerd Church. He contributed an essay. 1977) p.. BA (st Hons. the only monograph written with full access to Jørn Utzon and his archive. 22. 346. MA: The MIT Press. Abrams. University of oregon. 9. Mitchell. Charles W. editor of the refereed journal Architectural research Quarterly. John D. 1988) pp. Jørn Utzon Logbook. William J. Inc. The illustrations in the article “Inhabiting Light. Hoag. MLA (Penn).. In 994 he was the Frederick Charles Baker Distinguished Professor in Lighting at the Department of Architecture. and ”Utzon Inspiration Vision Architecture”. 20. while Modernism received the International Book Award of the American Institute of Archtects. Volume II. Utzon. teacher. Sections and Elevations. The deep window bays in the Can Lis living room form a stone frame of the sea with great beauty.« to the recently published book. and writer.). Abrams. His recent books include ”Plans. Lawrence Technological University. Islamic Architecture (New York: Harry N. »Light organizing Architecture: Jørn Utzon’s Bagsvaerd Church. His monograph from 99 on Alvar Aaalto won the Sir Banister Fletcher Prize. William Turnbull. Architecture in an Age of Skepticism.. have been used by courtesy of Edition Bløndal and come from the book: ”Utzon Inspiration Vision Architecture”. and the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Co-editor of Jørn Utzon Logbook Vol I-VI. Hoag. The Poetics of Gardens (Cambridge. Most recently he has taught at the University of Michigan. Martin Schwartz is an architect. (Edition Bløndal. 00). p. Materials. Richard Weston is Professor of Architecture at Cardiff University. 148-149. and director of richard Weston Studio Ltd. Edition Bløndal 00.19. 1977) p. Photo: Bent Ryberg  . 222. Jr. Form and Architecture”. Jørn Utzon’s use of light in architecture”. Key Buildings of the Twentieth Century. BArch. 21. Moore. John D. Inc. rIBA.

Volume II. Hoag. Lawrence Technological University. Describe how nature can be an essential tool in the creative process. True b. 1977) p. Utzon..). False For NYT CEU comments or questions. Discuss the use of daylight in the design of buildings. • Fill out and submit the AIA/CES education reporting form (back cover). Inc. Trees and leaves d. Light Monitor c. Jørn Utzon relied on three observations to help generate space and form with daylight. Rainbow b. INSTRUCTIONS • Read the article “Inhabiting Light – Jørn Utzon’s use of light in architecture” using the learning objectives provided • Complete the questions below. Moore. His recent books include ”Plans. Glare b. (Edition Bløndal. Sections and Elevations. Clouds 7. Two of Utzon’s projects specifically evoke the spatial and lighting character of what geological formations? a. William J. 1977) p. Bay window 10. and ”Utzon Inspiration Vision Architecture”. After reading this article. The sources for his insights include which of the following items? a. Sky and light c. b. the only monograph written with full access to Jørn Utzon and his archive. Mitchell. Skylight d. have been used by courtesy of Edition Bløndal and come from the book: ”Utzon Inspiration Vision Architecture”.« to the recently published book. »Light Organizing Architecture: Jørn Utzon’s Bagsvaerd Church. Charles W. QUESTIONS 1. editor of the refereed journal Architectural Research Quarterly. Jørn Utzon’s architectural insights frequently have been inspired by his observations of natural phenomena. 9. AIA CES/NYT CO N T I N U I N G E D U C AT I O N LEARNING OBJECTIVES 1. then fill in your answers (back cover). Jørn Utzon Logbook. Islamic Architecture (New York: Harry N. Most recently he has taught at the University of Michigan. please contact us at nyt@louispoulsen. 21. False 8. Jørn Utzon’s buildings are conceived as intrinsic light-gathering and construction systems. Identify the one item below that is not one of these principles. Edition Bløndal 2002. Martin Schwartz is an architect. an unglazed matte finish and a glazed reflective finish. Materials. 2004. The sun c. 20. Lakes c.com . Inc. 148-149. Shade c. BArch. the sun travels relatively low in the sky making the top of the sky a good source of diffused light. University of Oregon. False 6. Discuss Jørn Utzon’s architectural career in terms of recurring themes. requiring the design of: a. c. Abrams. the learner should be able to: a. True b. such as Scandinavia. Form and Architecture”. False 4. In 1994 he was the Frederick Charles Baker Distinguished Professor in Lighting at the Department of Architecture. Direct sun 3.. Hoag. The advantages of reflected and diffused daylight b. The finishes of the ceramic tiles that make up the exterior surfaces of the Sydney Opera House shells are of two types. Bagsvaerd Church. MLA (Penn). Abrams. a. True b. Islamic Architecture (New York: Harry N. a. a.. Jr. a. Jørn Utzon’s career could be analysed in terms of what recurring architectural and daylight-gathering device? a. and director of Richard Weston Studio Ltd. Sand and snow b. John D. Richard Weston is Professor of Architecture at Cardiff University. Co-editor of Jørn Utzon Logbook Vol I-VI. True b. Reflection d.19. Deserts 5. and writer. diffused light from the top of the sky) to Spain with no changes of any kind. RIBA. BA (1st Hons. Mountains d. MA: The MIT Press. a. Jørn Utzon’s use of light in architecture”. Utzon translated his Scandinavian daylighting strategy (low sun. In northern latitudes. while Modernism received the International Book Award of the American Institute of Archtects. John D. 1988) pp. Brises soleils 9. All of the above 2. teacher. 22. 346. He contributed an essay. p. Courtyard b. The illustrations in the article “Inhabiting Light. and the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Architecture in an Age of Skepticism. William Turnbull. Key Buildings of the Twentieth Century. His monograph from 1995 on Alvar Aaalto won the Sir Banister Fletcher Prize. Making inhabitable spaces into receivers of daylight d. The Kuwait National Assembly presented a critical daylighting challenge to Jørn Utzon. The Poetics of Gardens (Cambridge. 2005). Caves b. The sun’s daily and annual paths through the sky c. Blue sky d. The sanctuary vault at Bagsværd Church adopts what feature of the sky to help develop a working model of Nordic sky illumination? a. 222.

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