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utzon died today at ninety | by seier+seier
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utzon died today at ninety

death is a scandal, said elias canetti. I wonder if it feels that way at ninety.


time is a scandal.


to utzon's admirers, the real scandal may well be that the great man ended his career so early in life.


after the sydney debacle and within only a few years, utzon produced a line of brilliant and still neglected projects that sought to apply the lessons learnt from his australian experiments in prefabrication and complex geometry. in them, he demonstrated that the site-specific, human, even ecstatic approach of aalto and frank lloyd wright could be realized with the rational tools of industrial production proposed by the bauhaus - the two opposite traditions of modernist architecture reconciled in a single man's work.


all contradictions can be temporarily reconciled with the application of infinite energy - and utzon's energy and invention seemed infinite in these projects.


alas, precious little was built.


the zürich theatre was cancelled only after they had started clearing the ground and picasso and arp had sketched out the art work that was to be integrated with the structure; the school in herning never went beyond the prototype you can still visit; the stage in lebanon shown here fell victim to the civil war; even a museum to his old friend asger jorn was given to another architect after utzon had produced two profoundly original projects, the second one even cheap to build.


I remember coming across an interview with one of the people responsible for the asger jorn museum. he had overheard utzon commenting on one of jorn's wild paintings that he dreamt of working with the same freedom. there was no way we could have given the commission to such an irresponsible man, said the dignitary, they had to give the project to an architect who could deliver in time and on budget.


they couldn't have been more wrong. no one remembers a project for being on time.


when the national assembly in kuwait was cancelled in the late seventies, utzon called it quits and closed down his office. according to people near him, he quoted asplund who had said (and this is possibly apocryphal) that architecture isn't worth dying for when he had worn himself out at only 55.


and when the kuwaitis returned, utzon's oldest son was left in charge with the architect himself acting merely as an advisor. that was the part he played for the rest of his life, an advisor to his two architect sons. helping to give them the successful career he had never had and lending his name to projects that to my mind were not worthy of it.


utzon, the architect's architect, finally placed his family above personal ambition. what is there not to admire about this man.



the photo shows one of utzon's unbuilt post-sydney works,


subterranean theatre, jeita grotto, lebanon 1968.

architect: jørn utzon, 1918-2008.


this steel structure was intended as an underground stage, inserted into the jeita caves in lebanon. the civil war put an end to it. some of you may recognize the interior of calatrava's recent auditorio de tenerife, reminding us that in a strange way utzon's time is now - even if his many unbuilt ideas will be realized by other architects.


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more utzon here and here

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Taken on November 29, 2008