Pritzker Prize winning architect Jørn Utzon was born in Copenhagen on April 9, 1918, and died in 2008 aged 90. In 1966, nine years after his winning entry was accepted by the Sydney Opera house competition jury, Utzon was driven to resign his position and leave Australia.
Back in Denmark, Utzon embarked on a key architectural project: the Bagsværd Church (Denmark) built between 1968 and 1976. The church has a sculptural purity that makes it a compelling work of architecture, and seem to stand outside the mainstream of 20th-century modernism. It clearly exemplifies what might be Utzon’s feelings at that stage of his life: quiet on the outside and incredibly complex on the inside while communicating and overall peacefulness. It is the perfect example of what became a quiet but profound architectural career.
Bagsværd Church is located on the northern outskirts of Copenhagen in a suburban setting, and stands almost unassuming as a simple, modern structure amidst birch trees, with its back to a local street. The plan has a ruling tight geometry which breaks in the interior of the sanctuary due to it’s vertical proportion and composition. We had the chance to visit it in January 2013, and were truly mesmerized by it.
The sculptural and organic concrete ceiling in the church is sublime and is always changing with a blend of direct and reflected light that filters through curves creating an effect of being under floating clouds. In Utzon’s early sketches you can see that his inspiration, as in his other buildings, came from nature; the sky and moving clouds. The soft curves control the light and act as a visual masterpiece in this small church. The curving white concrete overhead is matched with white concrete walls, and floor tiles, as well as a delicate white screen of triangles behind the altar.
There is a sublime treatment of daylight in the Bagsværd Church, first by bringing it in at the highest point of the curving ceiling, and softening it along the curves, as also filtered in through glass ceilings above corridors and hallways.
Only after experiencing the interior of the space it’s that the exterior becomes intriguing. The exterior of the church is much more austere than the views from within. The exterior walls are clad in white prefabricated concrete panels and white glazed tiles that reflect the light. The aluminum roof gives the church an industrial, almost austere, appearance.
The modest church, against the color of the Nordic sky, stands tall and proud between birch trees. It is without a doubt one small masterpiece of the talent of Utzon, and one of the few of his projects that we can easily experiment and enjoy.
Happy Birthday Jørn, you are greatly missed!
“The real master in the art of living makes little distinction between his art and his leisure, he simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing, Jørn Utzon is always both.”
See more photos from our visit to Bagsvaerd Church by Jørn Utzon near Copenhagen on our LA76 Photography website here.