The October 17 issue of The New Yorker features an extended profile of Jørn Utzon, the Pritzker Award-winning architect who designed the Sydney Opera House. The profile, written by Geraldine Brooks, focuses on how Utzon was dismissed from the Sydney project because of tensions with a minister of public works who was elected midway through the building project.
The profile is not available online, alas. Much of the story is a tragic narrative of an architectural genius who can’t find his niche. One of the sweetest moments occurs here:
Utzon, meanwhile, had found his reception back in Denmark distinctly chilly. The president of the Danish Association of Architects told him that, having abandoned one job, he couldn’t expect to get work from the government there, and he never did. His one really significant Danish commission came in 1969 from a church congregation in a Copenhagen suburb, and for once Utzon had a client willing to trust him on all details. The site is an unprepossessing strip of busy highway, so Utzon has created his own topography within. The building has few external windows but is saturated with light that falls from skylights set in a remarkable surging ceiling that rises like a wave.
After Sydney, Utzon worked on only one commission of a scale similar to that of the Opera House. In 1971, he designed the Kuwait National Assembly, on a site on the Persian Gulf. The design incorporated many ideas from Arab and Islamic tradition: a vast concrete form that swoops upward from the entrance, recalling the old billowing tents of the Bedouin, and providing a majlis, or meeting place, where the emir can receive his subjects. Offices and departments are arranged along an internal “street,” evoking a souk, or bazaar. Along with early drawings, Utzon sent his assistant a picture of the Esfahan mosque, torn from a newspaper, with the words “arches as beautiful as these” scribbled on it.