Jørn Utzons, Casa Utzon, Hellebæk, Denmark,1952
Jørn Utzons, Casa Utzon, Hellebæk, Denmark,1952
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“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 lifestile 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.
The position of the site in the forest four kilometers north of Elsinore made me dependent on the local, skilled craftsmen, and my finances were tight – like those of most builders.
The house is handcrafted in very detail, but many of the solutions point towards industrial production, and I have worked towards the industrial objective and thus the cheap production of elements which together give the same rich potential for variation as craftsmen who are flexible enough to cover every need: builder, sites etc.
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 experiments 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.
The craftsmen agreed to work on account and without plans, and we started by building the long northern wall, thereby determining the module for the house, as – with the combination with which we were working, in which the smallest stone size, brick+joint = 12 cm – the horizontal measurement for the bond scheme came out as 12 cm.
After this, we turned to our kitchen and bathroom, which of course had to be fixed. The remaining rooms were divided up by loose partition walls consisting of elements with a 12 cm module: doors, cupboard etc. 48, 60, 72, 84 cm. Walls and doors consist of frames with Oregon pine boards screwed on, giving them all the same appearance; we thus avoid taking into account the importunate dimensions which a door in fact represents in a room. The walls extend from ceiling to floor with black-painted wooden strips so the walls can be moved, the rooms re-arranged according to need later on.
Under-floor heating was the only possibility for uniform heating in the varying room sizes. The need to have the possibility of electric heating everywhere resulted in a terminal strip beneath the ceiling and running along the window wall, after which cables can be dragged up anywhere in the ceiling surfaces in the house, as the boards there – as everywhere – are fixed with visible screws.
There are the same materials outside as inside: whitish yellow bricks, Oregon pine, shiny or matt aluminium, bearer elements and skirting boards and ceiling strips in black aniline paint.
The tiles are treated in various ways: the covering brick-on-edge courses at the top edges of the walls are hard-fired, water-proof, yellow brick: perpendicular wall surfaces are less hard-fired, light, yellow brick, and in kitchen and grill niche, in the shower and bathroom the same bricks are in the same bond, white glazed like ordinary porcelain tiles. The floors in the entrance hall, the kitchen floor and round the fireplace are made of pressed yellow-brown oblong floor tiles of clay. This varying treatment of the clay produces a fine homogeneous effect.
All wood joints and all constructions are visible and work as the only ornamentation in the house. There were so many possibilities for different solutions to corners and joints that the work of simplifying them has been very important.
I believe in this method rather than viewing architecture as abstract sculpture or painting for the sake of shape, since in that way the object can easily become determined by fashion and appear formalistic, whereas the purely constructive and functional basis combined with sensitivity to light, shade, colour and space opens up infinite possibilities.
In traditional Chinese architecture, the constructions are all visible; the elements have been divided up into male, bearing, and female, borne, and this system is also carried through in the treatment of colour.
Mies van der Rohe once said in a conversation that when a construction had finally been determined and agreed, he made every effort to emphasise it when adding the secondary architectonic elements such as doors, window, non-bearing walls etc.
We find the same sense of logic in construction and dimensions everywhere in primitive architecture, where this simplicity seems quite relaxed and natural, while we have to make enormous efforts to achieve a clear and simple result.
During his visit here, Richard Neutra showed how difficult it would be for him to convince his colleagues in the USA that two photographs he had taken of different places in the same building really were from the same house.
Gunnar Asplund had the ability to liberate his imagination and mingle a large number of contrasts without spoiling the overall effect.
What is most important to me is that the architectonic stance or the system in a house should not limit the functions of that house and thereby the life lived in it.”
The year was 1952. Utzon bought a lorry-load of used advertisement boards measuring 5 by 2.5 meters from the bicycling arena in Forum. He had them transported to the building site on a lorry and used them to build a scale model of the house, extending from the northern wall.
When the entire model house had been built with the advertisement boards, he summoned his parents in law and his own parents. He intended to infuse enthusiasm in them, motivating them to finance the forthcoming construction work. But a violent storm blew everything over in a corner of the site, and Utzon had to begin anew erecting the board walls.
Utzon had been made aware of the concept of a full-scale model when he learned that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe had had a house model made with canvas in full size.
During the construction, the famous architect Arne Jacobsen once paid a visit and looked around. Jørn Utzon’s father, the naval engineer Åge Utzon, who was managing the shipyard in Elsinore, was also present at the building site. Arne Jacobsen said: “He is certainly superior to me.”
”The wall, as protection and architectural elements is something I have studied throughout the world, in China, Algeria, and in the Andes mountains. One can place small, delicate living things in front of it.”
Martin Keiding, Kim Dirckinck-Holmfeld, “Utzon’s own houses”, Copenhagen 2004
Anna Bęza and Dominika Puchalska, November 2016