Transcultural Tectonic Connections: The Utzon Paradigm

Adrian Carter

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/conference proceedingArticle in proceedingResearchpeer-review


This paper presents an understanding of Jørn Utzon, as one of the most profound exponents of a transcultural and tectonic approach to modern architecture in the late twentieth century. The paper will examine the sources of inspiration, intersections and connections in Utzon’s architecture; which have been informed by his understanding of boat-building, reference to nature, extensive travels and broad transcultural influences. The paper will also consider to what extent Utzon’s work can be seen to have been a precursor and direct influence upon subsequent developments within architecture, together with his continuing contemporary relevance. With particular consideration of the ways in which Utzon’s approach to architectural design and form provide a pedagogic model for the creative development of students of architecture and source of inspiration to current practitioners.

Jørn Utzon’s architecture ranges from the modest to the monumental; from the Kingo courtyard houses, the finest Scandinavian example of humane housing, to the sculptural abstraction and technical innovation of the Sydney Opera House; an iconic work of modern architecture that has come to symbolise not only a city, but also a multi-cultural nation, due to its highly original and innovative synthesis of many diverse and non-Western cultural influences, in specific relation to its context.

The Sydney Opera House podium has its origins in the ancient architectural idea of the raised platforms that Utzon experienced at Mayan ruins in Mexico. The Sydney Opera House’s signature sail-like roof shells derive from knowledge of boat building in his youth and ancient Chinese and Japanese temple roofs floating above a stone base. With the choice of ceramic tiles to accentuate the sculptural character of the shells, owing its inspiration to one of Utzon’s favourite buildings, the Great Mosque in Isfahan, Iran.

While Utzon’s most significant building in his native Denmark, the Bagsværd Church with its poetic cloud-like undulating ceiling evoking a sense of procession under a Danish sky, was actually inspired by Utzon’s experience of cloud formations over a Hawaiian beach, when Utzon was teaching at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. It is this ability to make connections and translate ideas from one context to another with poetic architectural vision and tectonic integrity, that is at the heart of Utzon’s architecture

Together with such original unrealised projects as the subterranean Silkeborg Art Museum, Utzon’s work embodies a visionary approach to architecture that is site specific and poetic, tectonic and humane; informed by a profound appreciation of nature and diversity of human cultures, as sources of inspiration and analogy, combined with an intuitive sense of architecture as art and a pragmatic, yet innovative approach to the use of technology pushed, according to Utzon to the “edge of the possible,” that is ever more relevant today.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBeyond Architecture: New Intersections and Connections : Proceedings of the ARCC/EAAE 2014 International Conference on Architectural Research
EditorsDavid Rockwood, Marja Sarvimäki
Number of pages9
PublisherUniversity of Hawaii Press
Publication date2014
ISBN (Print)9780-578-1357-5
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventARCC/EAAE International Conference on Architectural Research - University of Hawai'i at Mänoa, Honolulu, United States
Duration: 12 Feb 201415 Feb 2014


ConferenceARCC/EAAE International Conference on Architectural Research
LocationUniversity of Hawai'i at Mänoa
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


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