In 1952 Jorn Utzon completed his first building in Helsingør in Denmark’s northern Zealand. Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, this one-story home was built for Utzon and his family. With no windows in the bedrooms (only skylights), it was designed with the harsh Danish weather in mind and was where Utzon began studies for the Sydney Opera House.
Utzon’s House Technical Information
- Architects: Jørn Utzon
- Location: Hellebæk, Denmark
- Topics: Blurring Boundaries, Brick
- Type: Private House
- Project Year: 1952
- Area: 130 m2
- Photographs: © seier + seier
The simple, primitive life in the country; trips into mountains with skis or guns, sailing trips, a few weeks together with Arabs in the mountains and the desert, a visit to North America and Mexico, the lifestyle of the Indians – all this has formed the basis for the way of life my wife and I have wanted to lead, and thus for the design of the house.
– Jørn Utzon
Utzon’s House Photographs
When Utzon returned from America, he built his first home in Hellebæk, a small seaside Danish town across Sweden’s channel. The house was built five years before Utzon won the Sydney Opera House competition in 1957.
Apart from a water tower in Svaneke on Bornholm, this was Utzon’s first completed work, although he had already won many competitions. During the Second World War, Utzon went to Stockholm to study the work of Gunnar Asplund. In the winter of 1943–44, there was an exhibition of modern American architecture where Utzon was particularly taken by Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses, which led him to study Wright’s work in more detail. Wright’s concern with nature and each building site’s characteristics and the need for attention to internal and external space convinced him that each project required its unique approach.
When Utzon started building the house on the edge of Hellebæk Forest just outside the small town of Hellebæk, it was rumored that an innovative approach to one-family homes was in the making. Architects of considerable repute visited the site to monitor progress. Utzon himself directed the building work without any technical plans. As the building developed, he would often change its shape, rather like building a sandcastle. He had learned this approach in Finland in 1946 when he had spent a few months with Alvar Aalto, who had used the same method for his Villa Mairea. Aalto maintained it was the most economical solution for his client
We started with a couple of full-scale models made of canvas and board, which gave us an impression of our 130 square meters (the maximum for one-family houses in Denmark) and the possibilities there were for contact with the natural spaces around us: sun, view, shelter and so on.
The result of the experiment with the models was that we adopted the principle of a completely closed north side and a completely open glass wall to the south-southwest.
– Jørn Utzon
The house was built with 1.2 m x 1.2 m modules, which could be subdivided into 12 cm subunits, which were the bricks’ length. He never cut them or used any particular pieces, reminding us of the artisan principles at the School of Fine Arts.
A long, narrow, one-story building with a flat roof rises slightly above the gently sloping site on a brick platform. The southern facade consists solely of windows, allowing lots of light into the open-plan living room with a freestanding fireplace. The bedrooms have no windows apart from skylights.
After experimenting with a few models, Utzon tells us he first built a full-size wooden version of the house on understanding how a home with 130 square meters of living space would look in practice.
Careful consideration was given to the surroundings: sun, view, and shelter from the wind. The result was that he decided to have a wholly closed wall along the northern side and an open glass wall for the southern facade.
The builders agreed to work under Utzon’s direction without plans. The north wall was first completed to establish the underlying geometry. The kitchen and bathroom were then added, and the remaining rooms were arranged with movable pinewood partitions and doors to facilitate any subsequent alterations. The materials used inside and outside are the same: yellow-white bricks, Oregon pine, and aluminum. Yellow tiling is used both at the top of the walls — with hard-baked tiles — and in the kitchen, grill niche, and shower, as well as for the fireplace. The absence of windows in the children’s rooms along the north wall has been mentioned as a possible disadvantage, but skylights lit them.
Utzon’s summed up his ideas about the house when he commented: “What is important for me is that the architectonic approach or system behind a house should not limit the house’s function and thereby hamper life inside.” 2
Utzon’s House Plans
Utzon’s House Image Gallery
About Jørn Utzon
Danish architect Jørn Utzon was born in 1918. An admirer of the ideas of Gunnar Asplund and Frank Lloyd Wright while still in school, Utzon acknowledges that Aalto, Asplund, and Wright were all significant influences in his work. Most of Utzon’s projects have been completed in his native Denmark, but he is best known for the Sydney Opera House, an iconic building of curving roof forms. Construction began in 1959 and was not complete until 1973, and Utzon left the project in 1966 after bitter arguments with Australian officials regarding cost and schedule issues.
Other works from Jørn Utzon
- Utzon, Jørn. “Own house in Hellebæk” in Byggekunst, 5. 1981.
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