In the third of a new series looking at influential housing plans, John Pardey chooses an early competition-winning design by Jørn Utzon
This beautiful, wobbly pencil-line drawing by Jørn Utzon was for a Swedish low-cost housing competition (which he won in 1954) entitled Private Life. I came across it in the library of the South Bank Poly when I was in my second year and it immediately resonated and started my own obsession with courtyard forms. I knew then that airports, shopping centres and office blocks were not for me, rather to understand about dwelling and place.
It was so simple, a 20metre square bounded by a 3m high wall, within which a 4.5m strip of living spaces cling. This was in fact one of many plans that showed how the house could grow around the wall as the family’s needs changed. Utzon had been inspired by courtyard houses of China and north Africa as well as the traditional Danish farmhouse. The drawing shows the organic life and change of a home, and all the things that make a house a home, from a garden swing to a half built boat in the courtyard. I loved the idea that inside and outside spaces could be seen as one thing – man living with contained, abstracted, nature.
All of this was possible within a walled enclosure that could be jostled next to its neighbours yet retain privacy and the odd view out into the wider world.
Utzon went on to develop this with sixty-three Kingo Houses on the outskirts of Helsingør in 1957 (see below) with its use of brick and tile that looked as if was made ‘in one casting’, with enclosing walls stepped and pierced to breath, and canted chimneys that recalled Islamic wind-catchers.
His subsequent Fredensborg housing completed in 1965 developed this theme to sublime levels creating ‘ordinary’ buildings that achieve an ideal balance between community and privacy and for me, remains the most beautiful of all 20th century housing schemes.
John Pardey is founder of John Pardey Architects