Jørn Utzon

The Danish architect Jørn Utzon was born in 1918 and grew up in Northern Jutland as the son of a ship designer, who worked for Aalborg shipyard. The family friends included the Swedish painter Carl Kylberg and his uncle, the sculpturer Einar Utzon­ Frank, who both had a considerable influence on the early artistic development of the young Utzon. ln 1937 Utzon was accepted as a student into the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, where he was tutored by Kay Fisker and Steen Eiler Rasmussen amongst others. When he graduated in 1942, he moved to Sweden, where he worked for two architects, who had written about and worked for Erik Gunnar Asplund, - one of the great idols of Utzon. After the War Utzon travelled to Finland and worked for a brief period for another architect, who became a great inspiration for him, Alvar Aalto, before he returned to Denmark.


ln the following years Utzon undertook a series of travels abroad, which had a strong influence on his development as an architect. During a trip to Morocco in 1947-48 he gained insight into traditional Arabic architecture. 1949 he travelled to North America together with the Norwegian architect Arne Korsmo and in the USA visited with Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe as well as Ray and Charles Eames. On this trip he also experienced the impressive pre-Columbian temples in Mexico, which had such an indelible impression on him that he wrote a book about "Platforms and Plateaux: Reflections by a Danish architect" in 1962.

ln 1950 he also visited Iran, India, China, Japan and Australia. On these travels he studied the building culture of the great civilizations. These valuable lessons heavily influenced his future basic experiences and the unique working method, which he developed. This is especially shown in the development of the two central themes of his work as an architect, namely the additive principle and the relationship between platform and roof.

He returned from these travels with many books describing the building cultures he had visited. The books became important reference works and inspirations in his drawing office and were used as examples to describe his ideas to his colleagues and clients. One of the books was the Chinese building manual Yingzao Fashi from the 12th century, which with its many construction solutions and graphical expressions played a special role in his work.


Another important source of inspiration for Utzon is Nature. He finds constructive, spatial and organizational principles in nature, which he further pursues in his work The nature is for him a laboratory, where the rhythm of the trees, the proportions of the trunks and the structure of the leaves are studied in order to optimize constructions and the design of rooms. His fascination with nature is expressed in the way his buildings are constructed and relate to the place. Utzon’s interest in sailing yachts also influences his buildings. The knowledge he gained, partly from his father and partly from his own interest in sailing, about the construction and functioning of boats, can be found in many ways in his architecture, and it also expresses itself in his design of the yacht Tri-Tail.

His own home

Many of the above-mentioned sources of inspiration and ideas are expressed in the design of the Sydney Opera House. Six years after he won the architect competition for the Opera House, Utzon moved to Sydney, Australia with his family, in 1963. He lived there until 1966, when he left the construction of the Opera House following severe disagreements with the new government of New South Wales.

The following years Utzon lived alternatively in Denmark and in Spain. At the beginning of the 1970's he built the house "Can Lis" on Mallorca, where he partly retired. ln the architectural expression of this building he unveiled ideas from his meetings with different cultures as well as his own earlier works. With the unique use of local materials, he marked a completely new departure with a modern architectural idiom and "Can Lis" is one of the most significant one family houses of the 20th century. Twenty years later Utzon built another house on Mallorca, where he not only further developed and reformulated his ideas from the first house on the island but also with inspiration from other previous residential developments, not the least from the Fredensborg Houses.

World class architecture

Utzon is an international architect in more senses than one. Not only did he in the Sydney Opera House create one of the most famous buildings in the world but he has also lived in and created significant structures on several Continents, whilst gathering inspiration and ideas from all corners of the globe.

Utzon has drawn more than one hundred projects, out of which only a few have been realized. Besides the Sydney Opera House (1968 - 73) his most significant public buildings have been Bagsværd Church (1968 - 76) and the Parliament of Kuwait (1972 - 82). Common for these three projects is the visionary character and the original architectural idiom he uses. A central element in all his works is a refined use of materials and construction elements, as well as a special understanding of the unique character and local building culture.

Against the background of the social, cultural and economic conditions, associated with each of the projects, Utzon creates unique and location specific structures with magnificent architectural expressions.

The buildings are therefore not to be seen as the expression of a particular architectural style but rather as a work method, which permits the unique aspects of each project to unfold and develop its own character. Referring to this point, Utzon says: "As an architect, I believe it is more important to identify oneself with the nature of things, rather than fight far form and style".

Cluster houses

ln 1953 Utzon, together with lb Møgelvang, won first prize in the competition, “House Types in Skaane (Sweden)" with an entry called "Private Life". The project is designed around a courtyard house, externally enclosed by a wall on all four sides. The living quarters are placed along the wall with an open courtyard in the middle. The house can be developed or extended according to the needs of the family, without spoiling the overall impression of the combined housing development. A couple of years after the competition, these ideas were realised in the Kingo-houses just outside Helsingør. Here the courtyard houses are arranged as cluster houses around a lake and a valley, so that they follow the contours of the characteristic Danish moraine landscape. The roof has a one-sided slope from the surrounding wall towards the courtyard and is constructed in clay tiles, similar to the wall and ground cover. Through the common use of tiles and bricks the buildings present a continuous monolithic character, also known from the Arabic clay brick villages, which Utzon has studied, another couple of years later the Fredensborg Houses were commenced. Utzon explained the layout of the cluster houses with two hands, one with closed fingers, the other with open fingers. The closed fingers refer to the layout of traditional Arabic and Middle Eastern villages, where the houses are close to the street, while the open fingers show how the landscape can be drawn into and between the buildings in the development used here.

The layout of the houses in the Kingo-houses and in Fredensborg also has reference to the well-known analogy of cherry trees used by Alvar Aalto, where the same flowers in different positions, create a multitude in the expression. The terraced houses with studios are placed next to the adjoining single-family houses, whereas the cluster houses face towards the nature and the recreational areas. The cluster houses forma continuous, sweeping form, with the central building housing the communal facilities farming an integral part of the whole development.

Between the houses

The Fredensborg Houses are located at the edge of the town, not far from Fredensborg Castle. The houses are placed on a slope, facing South towards the open landscape, with the forest as the backdrop.

You arrive at Fredensborg Houses along minor roads surrounded by low hedges to the North, whereas there is a communal lawn to the South with a few large boulders. The angle shaped buildings are located so that they all have a South Westerly or South Easterly courtyard facing towards the lawn. This orientation ensures that all houses receive some direct sunshine into the rooms during the day. The courtyard functions as a private open-air room for the individual home and it acts as a transition between the interior, intimate rooms and the large dimensions of the landscape outside.

Landscape architect Jørn Palle Schmidt designed plans for the courtyards, some of which were carried out. The walls surrounding the courtyards vary in height, depending on the conditions and contours of the individual location of the house. With the variable height of the walls, the ability to look into the homes and to look out from the house is regulated in such a manner that a great degree of privacy is ensured, while still providing the ability to enjoy the lovely view of the natural surroundings. The variating heights of the parapet walls differentiate the individual rooms further, alternating between the individual courtyard houses in the plan layout and the varying heights of the walls provide an exciting experience and a variety of impressions throughout the whole development.

The homes and the community

There are five different types of houses: four types of courtyard houses and one type of terrace house. The common feature is that they are all built in yellow brick with yellow roof tiles. The wood fittings are all untreated or painted in the same red colour. The 30 terrace houses are in two stories with a living room in the full height of the building and access to a small private garden. The four types of courtyard houses, a total of 47 units, are basically of the same design, but with a variation in the number of rooms and the overall dimension. The two wings of the courtyard house adjoin the surrounding wall with a couple of small windows and the entrance door. The walls of the houses are staggered, which creates acoustics insulation and a visual difference. One wing in the house contains the large common room, while the other wing has a few smaller rooms. The common room has a fireplace at one end and at the other end, where it meets the wing with the small rooms, it contains a small kitchen. The glazed wall in the full width of the building opens the house to the light and a view of the courtyard and it creates a close unison between the outside and the inside.

The meeting place for the residents of the Fredensborg Houses is the community building, where you are standing now. The large room in the middle with the adjoining kitchen is used as a restaurant for the residents, for get-togethers and for private parties. The community building has been an important part of the development from the very beginning as the social centre, where the residents can meet and get together formally and informally.

The collective idea, expressed in this community hall, is based on the desire to establish a fellowship between the Danes who have returned from many years abroad. The community hall is furnished with furniture mostly designed by Utzon himself, while the walls are decorated with exotic presents from members of Danes Worldwide in faraway countries. The large terrace outside the community hall, leading to the lawn is raised as a platform, affording a great vista across the surroundings.

Danes Worldwide

This society, originally called "Dansk Samvirke", was founded on the 30th of April 1919 for the purpose of improving connections between Danes at home and abroad, and to make Denmark better recognised outside its national borders. This objective has always been central in the work of the society, which has enjoyed the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Margrethe ever since 1972. The society has since its foundation offered a range of services and activities for Danes abroad. The year after the society was founded the monthly magazine "Danmarksposten" was published, keeping Danes abroad informed of developments and trends in the Danish society. Other activities include an advisory service, educational programmes in the Danish language and an annual meeting of the members at Kronborg Castle. The society was renamed Danes Worldwide in 1998 and at the same time changes its logo to the globe of Denmark designed by Piet Hein.

Fredensborg Houses

The independent institution " Fredensborghusene” was established by the society in order to create a residential development for Danes who returned home after years abroad. Following the initiative of Albert Kamp, the first administrative manager of the society, the concept of the building complex was developed together with the president of the society, Jørgen Saxild, and Supreme Court barrister Valdemar Hvidt. The idea was published for comments by members in 1957. Utzon was retained as architect and he developed a layout plan, where the individual buildings in the early sketches were indicated by an angular rubber stamp. The finance necessary for construction was raised from friends of the society, not the least from Saxild, and the buildings were completed in 1963. Since its creation this residential development has been known by different names, e.g. "Bakkedraget" and "The Terraces", as used on the postal stamp from 2002, but today it is usually referred to as "Fredensborghusene". ln addition to the individual homes and the communal centre, the development contains several guestrooms, which are let out to members of the society for short periods. As one of the most significant residential developments of its period, the Fredensborg Houses were protected as "listed building" in 1987.

The involvement of Saxild

lt was initially difficult to let the Fredensborg Houses and history has it that Jergen Saxild one day called his whole family together and asked for, and received, their support to risk the assets of the family foundation. "The board of Directors requested Hvidt in future to let the houses against a down payment from the renters. According to summary of 1-1-1965 (App. 285) the down payments for 19 houses of kr. 363.000 have been paid by "Mrs Gudrun Saxild, nee Hassel, Memorial Fund" and in addltlon kr. 23.000 for house no. 66, let for a period of half a year for 1-3-1965 to A/S Kodak without down payment. The payments from the Memorial Fund thus correspond to more than 25% of the tatai down payments".

Minutes from the Board meeting in the independent institution "Fredensborghusene", held 26 January 1965 at the office of civil engineer Jørgen Saxild. Present were the five board members: Civil engineer Jørgen Saxild, Chief Engineer Per Klitgaard, director Kann Rasmussen, editor A. Kamp, barrister Valdemar Hvidt and attorney Adam Hvidt.


ln the adjoining letter Utzon writes: "We all know that it is impossible to get at lion without a fight". This play of words (Danish kamp = English fight) refers to a proposal

for at wall decoration ln the communal building, which was removed shortly after the opening. But the lion skin, which was to be part of this decoration, still hangs on the wall in the communal hall. The lion was shot by the Dane Johan Dobi Nepker, who lived for many years in Africa, and it is supposed to be the largest lion ever killed in Africa.