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The importance of architects

The importance of architects

Human beings experience the surroundings in different degrees. If you have an extreme sensitivity for the impact of the light and shapes, colour and space which are surrounding you, you have the inborne qualities of an architect and an artist.

If you are not just receptive but also have a creative talent and are able to express yourself so that your experience can be under­stood and enjoyed by your fellow men, then you have some of the qualities necessary for be­coming an architect, an artist.

Art is the liberation of the creative forces within you.

Recently i asked the Danish painter, Egil Jakobsen, ‘What is Art?’

He answered that when he was an active member of the COBRA-group consisting of marvellous and spontaneous painters like Asger Jorn and Dubuffet, they had been discussing this very question and their conclusion was, that they considered Art as the result of the release of the inner creative forces in man, in you.

A Swedish poet speaking of Art issued this warning: “Do not allow the intelligence to stand in the way or block your feelings from passing through the exit-door.”

The artist-architect Louis Kahn regarded the university as the place for learning and the place for the creation of new ideas. He defined the university as the threshold between light and darkness. In the light, he placed science and knowledge, everything here fully exposed and to­tally exact, everything here proved and known. In the darkness, he placed ideals, dreams, aspi­rations, feelings, Imagination, intuition – all possibilities are open, you are in the sphere of the unknown. On the threshold Kahn’s university – intuition and knowledge meet and work together so that totally new things are created.

Architecture – in a similar way – is based on science as well as on intuition, and if you want to become an architect, you will have to master technology in order to develop your ideas, in order to prove that your intuition was right, in order to build your dreams.

One of the originators of the Atomic Age, the scientist Niels Bohr – during a discussion of the importance of the science of mathematics expressed the opinion that mathematics were only a tool with which to prove what you had already discovered and established by intuition.

You can study architecture from many angles, from a historic point of view for instance. You can sort out buildings belonging to different periods and – therefore – built in different styles: Baroque, Renaissance, Rococo, etc., but you can also – as the Italian structural engineer, Luigi Nervi – evaluate buildings according to the structure and the building tech­nique applied. Luigi Nervi has reached the conclusion that the buildings considered most outstanding of a certain time and style are almost always constructed with the most exquisite building technique of that special time.

If you look at architecture in again another way: evaluating a building purely from the sen­sation of joy it gives you, you experience the building with your senses only and you become a user of the building in the way the architect has conceived it. Then you are in close contact with what the architect was aiming for.

Some of the finest examples in Scandinavian ar­chitecture which make you sense how much devo­tion the architect has given to your well-being are two buildings by Gunnar Asplund, the Forest -crematorium in Stockholm and his Courthouse in Gothenburg. Asplund was the father of modern, Scandinavian architecture. He went beyond the mere functional approach and created a wonderful feeling of well-being in his buildings. He even added a symbolic content, which gives each of his buildings a unique personality, which very strong­ly radiates the purpose of the building completely covering and expressing the function and the life­style, the form of life going on in the building.

In his Forest-crematorium, a group of small cha­pels situated in a clearing in a typical Stock­holm pine forest, he leads you through an intimate waiting room across a small isolated courtyard and takes the mourners one by one through a small door into the chapel. The chapel itself is rather dark, but after the ceremony the rear wall dis­appears, daylight pours in and the mourners leave the chapel together for a short stop under the big roof of the open hall, which faces a very simple, silent landscape, just a treeless grass covered hill meeting the sky. Here, in the middle of the forest, where the view is normally always limited by trees, this gives a strong feeling of peace and eternity.

The chapels and the forest-edge are married together, white marble buildings among evergreen pine trees.

Gothenburg Courthouse is an extension of an existing town hall.

The main space of the building is a hall through two storeys with balconies,-full of light, flow­ers and plants – with walls of light natural wood, with very comfortable furniture and with a refined detailing.

This is the waiting hall for a number of court­rooms, and the hall gives you a feeling of friendliness, warmth and purity. It stimulates expectations of justice and understanding, not just those of punishment. It has an atmosphere quite contrary to – for instance – that of the main courthouse in Copenhagen which – with a sinister closed elevation with heavy columns and dark spaces – is an awe-inspiring building which seems to equate Law with Punishment.

I have now told you about some of the ingredients which go into the foundation on which I build my own architecture, and here follows three projects:

  • A house of festivals (Sydney Opera House)
  • A house for work and decisions (Kuwait National Assembly Complex)
  • and A house for family—life (a vacation house in Spain)

A house of Festivals: Sydney Opera House

The location on the peninsular in the beautiful harbour makes Sydney Opera House a focal point in Sydney, because big liners, ferryboats and yachts are sailing around the peninsula, and because you look down upon it from the harbour bridge, from the skyscrapers nearby and from the surrounding town built on the hills of Sydney. The house is completely exposed and is therefore one of those buildings where the roof is of major importance – one could not have a flat roof filled with ventilation pipes – in fact, one must have a fifth facade which is just as important as the other four.

This is why instead of covering the various functions of the building under one big square box – I have expressed all the different spaces within the building by covering them by a group of shells, I have made a sculpture of it. The interplay of sun, light and clouds makes a living thing out of this sculpture, and in order to express this liveliness, the shells are cov­ered with glazed, shiny, white tiles.

The organization of the building has grown out of this particular situation in a naturel way. The whole peninsular is covered with a closed, almost rock-like building, the base, housing the artists’ isolated world for their concen­tration and preparation.

On top of this base is a grand, stepped plat­form with two amphitheaters with stage towers and foyers, lying side by side, each of them covered with its own group of great white shells.

Here – on the platform – is the meeting place between the artist and the audience, the stage openings, here the spectator receives the artist’s final product.

The separation between artist and spectator is ideal – the spectator is where he is meant to be, on top of the platform, in close contact with the majestic harbour landscape, so dif­ferent from his dally world, so ideally suited to be the overture to the time of imagination and surprise he has tome for.

A House for Work and Decisions: Kuwait National Assembly Complex

Kuwait-National-Assembly-by utzon

All Departments of the complex (offices, meeting rooms, reception rooms, library, Assembly Hall, etc.) are arranged along a Central Street. The departments consist of modules of various sizes, built around small patios or courtyards, connected to Central Street via side streets. Each department can be extended at any time by adding modules, so that the building can grow sideways, away from Central Street, and its outer boundaries will change as time goes by. These free flexing outer boundaries of the system are very much related to the traditional Islamic bazaar architecture.

The construction of the National Assembly also reflects the purity of Islam construction. The building is a prefabricated concrete struc­ture in which all elements are structurally designed to express the load, they are carrying, the space they are covering – there are diffe­rent elements for different Spaces. They are all meant to be left visible – contrary to the constructions of the ‘cardboard-architecture’ of most modern office- and administration build­ings where hidden structures, suspended ceilings and plasterboard walls give you an impression of being in a cardboard box.

In the National Assembly Complex you see very clearly, what is carrying and what is being carried. You get the secure feeling of some­thing built – not just designed.

The demand for very busy intercommunication between the various departments has led to the decision to arrange the complex as a two-­storey building. This provides an easy orient­ation inside the building in contrast to the abrupt disorientated feeling you may experience in buildings with many floors, were inter­communication depends on elevators.

When you enter the Central Street, you can see all the entrances to the various departments. The orientation is as simple as the orientation you get, when you open a book on the first page with its table of content presenting the Headings of all the chapters.

The Central Street leads toward the ocean into a great open Hall which gives shade to a big open square, where the people can meet their leader. In Arab countries, there is a tradition for a very direct and close contact between the leader and his people.

The dangerously strong sunshine in Kuwait makes it necessary to protect yourself in the sun, the shade is vital for your existence.

This hall, which provides shade for the public meetings, can perhaps be considered symbolic for the protection a leader extends to his people. There is an Arab saying: ‘When a leader dies, his shadow is lost’.

This big open Hall, the Covered Square, between the compact closed building and the sea, has grown out of this very special situation in quite a naturel way – caused by the buildings position directly on the beach.

This big open Hall connects the complex com­pletely to the site and creates a feeling, that the building is an inseparable part of the landscape, a feeling, that it has always been there, The Hall is just as much part of the openness of the ocean as it is part of the compact building and its structure. The hall seems borne by the meeting between the ocean and the building in the same naturel way as the surf is generated by the meeting of the ocean and the beach – an inseparable part of both.

The Kuwait National Assembly project is at the time of writing still under construction. It has reached the stage between the start – when the architect is facing a white sheet of paper – and the finest moment, when the echo of the last stroke of a hammer has died out in his building – and the opening ceremony can take place.

After a period of intense cooperation between architect, structural engineers and contractors, this middle stage is especially delightful for the architect: activities all over the place, expert craftsmen handle equipment with greatest precision dealing with elements weighing up to several hundred tons, space is being encased and brought into existence – for the first time the architect is able to walk within the spaces, which until now he could only house in his imagination.

A House for Family-life Vacation House in Spain

This is a sandstone house at the edge of the cliffs, 20 m. above the Mediterranean, built with stones cut out from a similar sandstone to that of the cliffs it sits on.

It houses only one single room, totally dominated by one big, curved couch, which embraces the whole family.

The deep window-wall softens the glare from the sun and the sea. The window frames are mounted outside on the wall, invisible from inside – so you are alone with sandstone, sky and sea.

A narrow slot in the west wall invites the sun for a visit to the south wall for e few minutes every day, making you aware of the passing of time.


Working Methods:

The working methods of architects differ widely. The human brain is constructed in such a way, that it can – simultaneously – put forward solutions to problems and evaluate these solutions. The creative architectural work is of such a comp­licated nature that in order to develop satis­factory results an enormous amount of drawings and models is necessary.

A greater part of this work may seem wasted – In the process of purifying and intertwining the many different parts and functions of a building you usually work with so many alternatives (in order to find the right one) that as much as 90 % of your work might be thrown away.

Instead of complaining of this waste you can compare it to the wasteful abundance in nature.

Le Corbusier has expressed this in a comforting way: the architect’s work is never lost – the work done with each building has something in it for the next one’.

The architect becomes increasingly professional.

Le Corbusier was a professional and a revolutio­nary. He believed in the possibilities of his own time, he believed that in order to be true to yourself you must be creative with the means of your own time, for your own time.

An example, which reveals his bold attitude, is his remarkable statement, when he had been visiting the Sistine Chapel:

Le Corbusier and the Italian architect Gio Ponti walked on the scaffolding during a period of restoration of the chapel and were for several hours only at arm’s length from the frescoes of Michelangelo. They walked in complete silence, and when they left the chapel together, Gio Ponti was anxious to hear, what le Corbusier would say. Then came this amazing statement: ‘Give a good man, a real artist, a brush and some colours, let him work undisturbed for five years, and we shall have a work just as important!’

Of all persons involved in the building process the architect is the only one whose aim is to create the most ideal conditions for the human beings out of the program and the means given to him. The other participants each has a dif­ferent niche: the engineers seek to achieve the ideal performance from equipment and stab­ility from structure, the contractors get the building up and are responsible for the actual construction, the financiers and the lawyers are in control of the economic aspect and the client provides the program with the basic re­quirements.

I finally want to clarify this special position of the architect, I want to give you an extra angle from which to see it and to throw a sharp spot-light on the issue, to make this all-import­ant architectural aim stand out in clear relief with deep shadows. I shall let Ralph Erskine, an architect of an extraordinary vivid and lively human attitude to architecture, sum it up. He states: In the development of a project the client (i.e. the future user of the building with his special life style) is just as important build­ing materiel as concrete, brick, stone, timber and steel.

– Jorn Utzon

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