Assembling, Folding, Carving: the Unbuilt

Enrique Sobejano 

Considering that Jørn Utzon’s architecture is based on a phenomenological and empirical experience that gravitates essentially around perceptive aspects like light, movement, topography, and materials, it may seem illogical to talk about projects which, due to a variety of circumstances, cannot be visited because they were never carried out. To fully understand his work, it has to be experienced with the senses: contemplate the space bathed by overhead light at Bagsværd, caress the texture of the limestone at Porto Petro, stroll the hills of Helsingør, or take in the scale of the bay of Sydney at Bennelong Point. Nonetheless, some unexecuted projects are just as able to surprise, through absence, our memory, and imagination – spaces that physically do not exist, but that we can interpret through texts, drawings, and spatial models. They reveal a conscious search for timeless principles which Utzon would use in all his works, as he expressed in this early text, published in 1948: “Conditions in the time we are living differ completely from those of the past, but the essence of architecture, the seed, is the same.” This sentence brings us to a primordial time, a return to an origin common to all architecture which he would come across in trips to North Africa, China, Japan, and Mexico. As an architect and traveler, he explored the constructions of those faraway cultures, and in them recognized archetypes loaded with potential; the platform, the cave, the roof, and the precinct would end up shaping his formal universe, and unveil unexpected connections between the architectural space and its material memory. This may be one of the reasons why Utzon often expressed his ideas with his hands: peeling an orange, folding a piece of cardboard, sprinkling salt on a black surface, or putting together small modules of wood. It was in these simple operations that the work’s conceptual support rested. Suffice to say how many of his most significant projects reflect this awareness: the carved platform in Sydney, the suspended vault of Bagsværd, the walled Kingo Houses... [+]

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