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The nature of things

J°rn Utzon: The Architect's Universe At the Louisiana Museum, Humlebµk, Denmark, until 29 August.

Following last summer's hugely popular Arne Jacobsen show, the Louisiana Museum is staging a similarly comprehensive retrospective of the work of J°rn Utzon.

Organised thematically rather than chronologically, it ranges across several galleries and, unlike its predecessor, manages that rare trick of itself feeling thoroughly architectural.

The show begins where Utzon's career effectively ends, with Can Feliz, the second of his houses on Majorca. Between this and a beautifully staged room devoted to the earlier Can Lis, visitors are greeted with a quote that I had not come across before: 'As an architect I believe it is very important to fall in love with the nature of things instead of fighting for form and style.'

It is difficult to think of a more telling way to distinguish Utzon's work from today's designer buildings, and the exhibition's curators have risen to the challenge of presenting the way of working that enabled him to get inside the nature of activities, places and materials. This begins with the study of nature and its interpreters - the photographs of Blossfeldt, the paintings of Karl Kylberg, the morphological ideas of D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson - and with the analogous work of Utzon's naval-architect father who studied fishes to improve his yachts' performance.

From there you move into a memorable gallery devoted to the theme of the platform.

The space itself has been transformed into a mini-evocation of Monte Alban, with visitors silhouetted against a vast video projection illustrating the development of Sydney Opera House. The range of materials deployed - drawings, reports (including the Red and Yellow Books), photographs, material samples, large backlit transparencies, small screens, CAD animations, old and recreated models, fragments of building fabric - is exemplary, and makes for an engrossing time.

On leaving the platforms you are greeted by a glowing, storey-high photograph of the interior of Bagsvµrd Church - the best I have seen of that exquisitely-lit space. From there you descend into a room devoted to Additive Architecture, featuring fine new models (including a DIY set based on the 'Espansiva' system), a 'deconstructed' chair, and an imposing relief model of the Kuwait Assembly building structure.

The 'additive' theme continues with the courtyard housing projects and other designs for furniture, from where you descend again into a stepped gallery, adapted from an auditorium to house Utzon's literal and virtual caves - the former a steel structure for a cave in the Lebanon, the latter the great unbuilt project for Silkeborg Museum.

Here, the show does not quite rise to the occasion of the architecture. The Lebanon project is prosaically mounted, while the 'white model' CAD reconstruction of Silkeborg - one of several by Aalborg University's Utzon Centre, most of which work well and have a refreshing economy of means - is projected too large. Altogether more successful in evoking the project's post-Corbusian form-world is a traditional cut-away plaster model made by students at the Royal Danish Academy.

A striking feature of the show is that Utzon himself seems to be everywhere, describing his work (in Danish, but clearly subtitled) on a succession of small flat screens. These interviews are taken from a single television programme - Skyer ('Clouds'), by the Danish film-maker Pi Michael - but they work beautifully as stand-alone pieces, and provide a telling reminder that architectural ideas of great power and clarity can be discussed in terms accessible to anyone.

I cannot recall seeing a finer architectural exhibition than this, and it comes as no surprise to learn that it notched up more than 50,000 visitors during its first month. The show is accompanied by a special edition of the Louisiana Revy, and for anyone fascinated by 'the nature of things' a visit to the always enchanting world of the Louisiana Museum will be doubly rewarding this summer.

Richard Weston is professor of architecture at Cardiff University

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