Juhani Pallasmaa Interview: On Jørn Utzon

“Invention has to have an echo, and that is what Utzon did beautifully.” Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa, a leading figure in contemporary architecture, here praises the esteemed Danish architect Jørn Utzon for the timelessness of his architecture, and his remarkable capability to absorb and combine influences from various cultures.

“Utzon as a phenomenon, as an architect, was very consequent in his development, but at the same time covered quite a lot of ground formally, from rather historicist work to rather radical work.” Pallasmaa finds Utzon’s flexibility and ability to learn from different cultures – from Central America to Japan, China and Morocco – similar to that of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, with whom Utzon worked for a while. Modernity has conventionally rejected tradition, but Utzon’s architecture is “radical and traditional in an exceptional manner.” In continuation of this, Pallasmaa finds that Utzon’s work “combines a convincing historical narrative with a personal invention.” Many contemporary architects seem to think that invention alone is enough, but this isn’t the case, he continues: “Invention has to have an echo, and that is what Utzon did beautifully.” According to the Finnish architect, a lot of current architecture is “visual one-liners,” whereas buildings from architects such as Utzon, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, have great width and depth, and contain something historical and primordial, making them epic. Moreover, Pallasmaa finds Utzon’s work to be almost like “a natural phenomenon.” An example of this is the Sydney Opera House – a complex construction, which transcends the normal functionalist form making. Clearly a lot of hard work went into his work, Pallasmaa comments, “but there is an effortlessness, which is so comforting and enjoyable.”

Juhani Pallasmaa (b. 1936) is a Finnish architect, critic and former professor of architecture, who is considered a leading international figure in contemporary architecture, design and art culture. Among his buildings are Bank of Finland Museum (2002-2003), Kamppi Centre (2003-2006) and the pedestrian and the Viikki Bridge (2002) in Helsinki and Cranbrook Academy of Art (1994) in Michigan. In 1983 he established his own architect’s office in Helsinki – Arkkitehtitoimisto Juhani Pallasmaa KY. Awards for his architectural work include the 2009 Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Finnish State Architecture Award, the Fritz Schumacher Prize and the Russian Federation of Architecture Award. Moreover, he is an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and an Honorary Member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. In 1991, he was Finland’s architectural representative at the Venice Biennale. Pallasmaa has written several books on architectural theory, among these ‘The Eyes of the Skin – Architecture and the Senses’, which has become a classic of architectural theory and is required reading on courses in many schools of architecture worldwide. Since 2008, he has served on the jury for the Pritzker Prize for Architecture.

Jørn Utzon (b.1918-d.2008) was a Danish Pritzker Prize-winning architect responsible for notable buildings such as the Sydney Opera House (1973) in Australia. When it was declared a World Heritage Site in 2007, Utzon became the second person to have received such recognition for a work during his lifetime. Other noteworthy buildings by Utzon include Bagsværd Church in Denmark (1976) and the National Assembly Building in Kuwait (1982).

Juhani Pallasmaa was interviewed by Rasmus Quistgaard at his offices in Helsinki, Finland in March 2018. The interview is part of a collaboration with the Utzon Center in Aalborg, Denmark in connection with Utzon’s 100th birthday in April 2018.

Camera: Rasmus Quistgaard
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2018

Supported by Dreyers Fond

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