Jørn Utzon Logbook - Vol II: Bagsværd Church Edition Bløndal, 2005.168pp. £35
The Bilbao Effect should rightly be called the Sydney Effect. Jørn Utzon was the true progenitor of the contemporary icon; of architecture as billboard and urban marker. With the Sydney Opera House he presaged not only Gehry's turning of a big port project into a regional and national symbol, but also the sculptural language, curvaceous segments and sail-like fins.
The Opera House's extraordinary success and adoption as a symbol of postcolonial Australia has led to Utzon becoming almost solely identified with a single building, and one ultimately constructed under notoriously acrimonious conditions. Perhaps only Colin St John Wilson and his brutally protracted British Library are a parallel in terms of a single building having such a dominant and unwelcome effect on a long career.
For Utzon should be equally famous for a far smaller work - the extraordinary church at Bagsværd, Copenhagen. From outside it looks like something assembled from the leftovers of a none-too interesting factory;
until a closer view, when the detailing comes into its own.
Someone, you realise, has really thought about this.
But it is only on entering, that Utzon's genius becomes clear. Using luminosity to create numinosity, the interior is bathed in the brilliant northern light. The church's extraordinary tsunami section is well known - inspired partly by Aalto's organic glass vase and partly by clouds, and carefully generated using complex geometries of interlocking circles aimed at maximising the celebrant's voice.
Symbolically the programme is simple but sophisticated: the voice of man rises up to the heavens, the light from the heavens is spread over the congregation. It works in a way which few contemporary churches do; embracing the congregation but allowing the spirit to soar while never distracting from a powerful focus on the altar. There is something slightly dated about the building, in a peculiarly Danish way of being retro chic, but at base a powerfully timeless seriousness. This is one of the highpoints of humane Scandinavian Modernism.
This book, relatively light on text but heavy on wonderful photography, describes the church well. Seemingly every detail is featured, from light fi xtures to roof construction and there is generous coverage of the furniture, fittings and even vestments, all designed by the architect as a post-Arts and Crafts Gesamtkunstwerk.
The church as a type can be a condensed repository of architectural ideas, the catalyst for designers to burst free and purely create. Certainly Bagsværd is as fertile and perhaps more intriguing than Sydney's icon, and it is well covered here in a book that's hard to fault; it's particularly good to read Utzon's own articulate and heartfelt words.
It should sit well with Richard Weston's monumental and very orange monograph, its clear, white design just toning down that sagging shelf a touch.