Jørn Utzon described himself as the ‘second dumbest kid in his class, only outscored by pure madness’. This was the same man who years later, in 2003, received The Pritzker Architecture Prize, the highest honor an architect can achieve. 

Jørn Utzon, born in Copenhagen, grew up around ships and a possible naval career. His ideas and inspiration stemmed from his father’s shipyard at Aalborg, where he observed how people and tools could bend even the most powerful of steel and iron, making him a firm believer of nothing is impossible. These ideas were further developed by studies, trips around the world, and meeting great architects, artists, and painters. \

Most of all, Jørn Utzon kept an open mind, and had a large sense of compassion, enabling him to develop a strong and distinctive linguistic.

Hammershøj Care Centre, Denmark by Jørn Utzon: Home for the Elderly - Sheet1
Jørn Utzon ©www.archinomy.com/case-studies/jorn-utzon-and-his-works/

Design Philosophy

Jørn Utzon related everything around him to himself- he believed that our surroundings affect us by their size, light, shadow, color, etc. How we feel depends on what kind of space we are in. Our reactions to these conditions are usually unconscious unless we experience pleasure in the form of detailing and perfection or feelings of displeasure. However, these unconscious reactions turn into conscious ones over time. 

Capturing these differences and understanding their influence on us is important and can be achieved by being in conscious contact with our surroundings. Jørn Utzon stresses possessing and developing this ability. 

He was also a firm believer in the conception of architecture and architectural expression being closely related to the structure of the society. The growth of society is essential to architecture and the growth of the architectural process helps in the evolution of society.

The essence of architecture, as Jørn Utzon emphasizes, remains constant, even though our environment changes. The time we live in is totally different from any other. The study of existing architecture is letting one be directly influenced by it; it is imperative to become aware of how the solutions and details are time-dependent and how they are created.

Experimentation is key- experiment with massing, with rhythmic forms made up of masses grouped together, combinations of color, light and shadow, etc. Using senses to their full ability enables the creation of new forms and helps to master one’s means of expression.

Intimate knowledge of materials is required—to use them in harmony with each other as well as their environment. An architect should understand the characteristics of wood, or the heaviness, hardness, and robustness of stone, the character of glass, etc. This knowledge of the nature of materials makes their use more real and gives the architect the chance to explore the full potential of the material.

Hammershøj Care Centre, Denmark by Jørn Utzon: Home for the Elderly - Sheet2
Nature of materials ©structurae.net/en/media/336987-sydney-opera-house

Jørn Utzon believes in a healthy approach to life- feeling good, enjoying the sun. An urge for comfort should be the basis for architecture—to achieve harmony between the spaces created and the activities that will take place in them. This is further required to cater to the demands as well as requirements of the project, to make it a unified whole.

Inspiration can be found in plenty in man’s numerous forms of expression. But to understand this source of inspiration, Jørn Utzon iterates that we need to break out from the statistical norms and rules formed on the principle of averages. We need to study our hands, our eyes, our feet, our stomach, and our movement and work based on them, if we want architecture to remain humane and constantly evolving. 

Jørn Utzon encourages architects to keep up with the demands of the project, along with time and the environment. Doing this will help them see the inspiration provided by the project itself. Understanding the project demands from different points of view will help formulate an architectural language of their own. But at the same time, the architect should not restrict his thinking, he should let his imagination free.

Jørn Utzon coined the term ‘Additive Architecture’ in a manifesto he wrote in 1970, describing his approach to designing buildings as akin to that of growth patterns in nature, where repeated elements can be added to satisfy the needs of the project.

Hammershøj Care Centre

Location: Elsinore, Denmark
Year: 1962
Type: care center

The Hammershøj Care Centre was completed by Birger Schmidt in 1966 after Utzon moved to Sydney.

Hammershøj Care Centre, Denmark by Jørn Utzon: Home for the Elderly - Sheet3
Hammershøj care centre ©www.utzonphotos.com/guide-to-utzon/projects/plejehjem/

The Hammershøj Care Centre highlights the design philosophy that Jørn Utzon believes in. It is a tower housing elderly people, with shared dining room services and infirmary. The facetted shaft, erected above the cornice height of the adjoining block, is integrated into the Helsingør (Elsinore) skyline and accommodates a viewing gallery on the top floor.

Hammershøj Care Centre, Denmark by Jørn Utzon: Home for the Elderly - Sheet4
Hammershøj care centre ©www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/know-your-architects/a360-15-iconic-projects-by-jorn-utzon-architect-of-sydney-opera-house/2/

The scheme was finally constructed by a Utzon Collaborator, Birger Schmidt, in 1966, set up on a 17.16 m x 13.43 m rectangle.

Despite having a rectilinear plan, the form of this tower housing elderly people has been carefully designed keeping in mind the project requirements, the environment around, the tradition of the location, and nature being the primary source of inspiration. 

It also highlights Jørn Utzon’s additive principle, where elements are repeated to match the requirements of the project. The addition of the viewing gallery on the top floor gives an opportunity for the elderly to refresh themselves, enjoy the views around, and feel sunlight falling on their faces.

Hammershøj Care Centre, Denmark by Jørn Utzon: Home for the Elderly - Sheet5
Jørn Utzon’s Drawings ©www.utzonphotos.com/guide-to-utzon/projects/plejehjem/
Hammershøj Care Centre, Denmark by Jørn Utzon: Home for the Elderly - Sheet6
Jørn Utzon’s Drawings ©www.utzonphotos.com/guide-to-utzon/projects/plejehjem/


Hammershøj Care Centre, Denmark by Jørn Utzon: Home for the Elderly - Sheet7
Details ©www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/know-your-architects/a360-15-iconic-projects-by-jorn-utzon-architect-of-sydney-opera-house/2/
Hammershøj Care Centre, Denmark by Jørn Utzon: Home for the Elderly - Sheet8
Details  ©www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/know-your-architects/a360-15-iconic-projects-by-jorn-utzon-architect-of-sydney-opera-house/2/


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  • Utzonphotos.com. 2021. The essence of architecture » Utzonphotos.com. [online] Available at: <http://www.utzonphotos.com/philosophy/the-essence-of-architecture/> [Accessed 25 March 2021].

Meghna Patnaik is a third year B.Arch student who has begun to explore her writing potential in architectural journalism. She looks forward to writing, not only to enhance her understanding of architecture, but also because she is passionate about it. She is also an ardent baker.