Religion is very personal to every individual, each has their own distinctive ways of approaching the higher power, with this the question of designing a religious sanctuary becomes more difficult for any architect, but Jørn Utzon was very successful in encompassing a sense of spirituality that satisfied the entire community.
It was in 1976 when Jørn Utzon returned to Denmark after designing the renowned building; Sydney Opera House, he was appointed to design a church for the Bagsvaerd community. It was a small community in the northern outskirts of Copenhagen, the church was very important and special for the community since it was the first church built in the community after the 16th century.
The architect, Jørn Utzon, respected the need for a religious sanctuary. He was well aware that what did the space or the atmosphere of the space demand; thus, his inspiration was also driven by the needs of a church. His inspiration was driven by the amalgamation of prayers and experiences. He wanted the church to showcase the prayers of his mother in law:
“THANK YOU FOR LIGHT
THANK YOU FOR LIFE
THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU HAVE GIVEN”
Secondly, he was inspired by the sandy beaches of Hawaii and how the light sliced out from between the clouds announcing the presence of the higher power, this was something that Jørn Utzon aimed to grasp within the project.
Almost inviting nature within the space announcing the presence of God. This inspiration and the sketches of the beach were further translated into the structure of the interior ceiling design and was used as a device to control light and sound within the space.
The space stands as the epitome of spirituality through creating a perfect balance of acoustics, light, texture and color that itself creates a peaceful and soothing atmosphere with the church. But one is not able to grasp the complexity of interior from outside. What leaves the visitor awestruck is the contrast of the interior and the exterior, the orthogonal form of the exterior gives no hint of the curves that are dominating the interior structure.
The simplicity of the form and the material in the exterior resonates with the context, the stepped orthogonal form was used in order to create the play of scale in the interior. The precast concrete walls were cladded with white ceramic tile and the corrugated aluminum sheets were used for the roof.
The hard structure of the exterior juxtaposed with the soft and delicate forms of the interior. The palette of the interior was carefully curated with the combination of white textures surfaces and beach wood that itself bring warmth to the space.
The curves of the roof resemble the folding clouds, but if one looks at it in section he can find some inspiration driven from the Islamic calligraphy. These curving forms were used to flood the space with diffused light and to maintain a consistency in acoustics. These curved roof folds and rise towards the altar giving the space visual hierarchy as well as amplifying the acoustics towards the altar.
The white surfaces used in the interior and the exterior is a very cautious decision in order to create a sense of openness within the church. Making it a space that invites the visitor in as well as it was used to celebrate the impact of nature in a space because nothing exaggerates the lights the way a white surface does. Thus, as the visitor enters the church the white walls and floor washed by natural light gives the first glimpse of God’s blessing
Jørn Utzon believed that the church is a part of a larger complex that included the church offices, chapel parish room, and many more, and a church cannot be designed in an isolation. He believed that it should be designed as a part of the larger complex but with that said it should maintain its hierarchy.
With this idea of the church being a part of a complex, the corridors that connected the church to the courtyards or other functions became a very significant node; a space to connect and disconnect. The wooden screens with polished surfaces that exaggerated the texture of the wood were used as visual connectors yet physical disconnectors for the church.
The entrance is lined up by wooden pews creating a delicate pathway for the visitor towards the seating. The inspiration for this space was also driven from nature, it resembles a pathway one takes in a landscape lined up by trees creating a shadowed peaceful walk. Above this entrance pathway are the niches in which special organs are placed that are also designed by Jørn Utzon.
Thus, the attention paid to each small detail adds up in creating an overall aura of peace and calmness that in turn helps the worshipper in connecting to the higher power.