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jørn utzon turns 90 today | by seier+seier
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jørn utzon turns 90 today

jørn utzon turns ninety today and the Danish press abounds with misinformation about this elusive master of architecture.


"the utzon center" in aalborg, denmark, opens today. designed by utzon with the help of his sons, claim the newspapers. impressive news considering his failing eyesight, not to mention the fact that utzon closed down his office when the production of construction drawings for kuwait national assembly moved to max walt's office in zürich in the mid 1970's.


the utzon center in aalborg is designed by kim utzon, his youngest son, who is also the architect behind another utzon news story today: "jørn utzon designs 22 single family houses in skagen". no, he doesn't. the son does. inspired by his father, no doubt, but a novel inspired by stendhal is not a novel by stendhal. it really is that simple.


another misunderstanding from today, and I quote: "today the opera is being restored following the original drawings". sadly it isn't. it is being restored to designs by jan utzon. his design abilities can be studied here: Las Pulgas


increasingly, I am reminded of the actions of nietzsche's sister and mother after he fell ill.


but members of his family are not the only ones to fail utzon's legacy. today saw the publication of a 260 page book dealing only with his design for the national assembly in kuwait. I left work early to secure a copy for myself. the parliament building has been published extensively already but the three different designs for a mosque that utzon did in connection with it have received little coverage. sadly, the new book is no different.


seen in connection with the fact that a recent book on the church in bagsværd did not include a particular sectional sketch in which the vaults can be seen as a piece of stylized arabic calligraphy, and the fact that richard weston's huge book on utzon dismisses his great design for farum town centre as being too islamic, I can only see this as a sign of today's islamophobia. utzon himself never displayed such sentiments and indeed his work cannot be understood without the east.


in 1948, utzon wrote: "different types of nature arise from the same seeds under different conditions. the conditions in our times are completely different from those that existed before, but the essence of architecture, the seed, is the same".


this belief, that the fundamentals of architecture are the same regardless of culture and age, meant that utzon could learn equally from ancient iranian masters and from modern engineering. ultimately, it means that cultures can learn from each other, that we are not separate but that we share values and experiences intrinsic to being human. in todays political climate, that amounts to optimism. utzon's architecture, said sverre fehn, is world-architecture. I return to it for the comfort of wisdom in an age where exchange between the cultures seems reduced to insult, trade or bullets.


the photo shows an original utzon design:


middelboe house, holte, denmark.

architect jorn utzon, 1953-1955.

photographer is my good colleague christoffer pilgaard.


more utzon here and here

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Taken on June 3, 2007