Jørn Utzon and Transcultural Essentialism  book cover
1st Edition

Jørn Utzon and Transcultural Essentialism

ISBN 9780367555870
Published November 5, 2021 by Routledge
268 Pages 61 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

This book introduces and defines the burgeoning concepts of transculturalism and essentialism and how they relate to one another, as articulated with reference to the work of Jørn Utzon. It introduces critical contemporary perspectives of the design thinking and career of this renowned Danish architect, internationally recognised for his competition-winning, iconic design for the Sydney Opera House – an outstanding exemplar of transcultural essentialism in architecture.

Transcultural essentialism is analysed through the lens of critical regionalism and architectural phenomenology, with emphasis on the sense of place and tectonics in Utzon’s architectural works. It provides a new understanding of the Danish architect as an early proponent of a still emergent and increasingly relevant direction in architecture. Going beyond biographical studies, it presents a more comprehensive understanding of the broad range of transcultural influences that formed his thinking.

The volume includes numerous previously unpublished photographs, drawings, and interviews with Utzon’s family members, former students, and colleagues, offering a significant contribution to the existing body of knowledge for any architecture scholar interested in Utzon’s work and design principles. The book also comprises a Foreword by eminent architecture theorist Juhani Pallasmaa in which he provides insights into the wider architectural and cultural context of Utzon’s worldview.

Table of Contents

List of figures




Chapter 1: Introduction

Understanding transcultural essentialism 

Early modernism, the international style and "the other tradition" of modern architecture 

Jørn Utzon: architect of the third generation and beyond

Poetics and phenomenology of architecture

The role of critical regionalism, tectonic culture, and transcultural architecture 

Chapter 2: Craft tradition and embodied knowledge

A desire for experiential understanding 

Craft practice, making, and mastery

Parallels to boatbuilding in form and technique 

Sailing, nature, and the mind of the hunter 

Drawing and the eye of the artist 

Becoming an architect 

The nature of architecture 

Chapter 3: The experience, inspiration of and work within other cultures

Origins in the Nordic realm 

Early formative travels in Europe and Beyond 

Learning from Asia-Pacific

The unfilled dream of Australia

A profound affinity to the Arab world

A Mediterranean homecoming

Chapter 4: Thematic analysis

Learning from global vernacular

A cross-cultural sense of dwelling 

Universal themes of courtyards, podiums, and floating roofs

Poetic transcultural synthesis

Essentialist tectonic integrity and innovation 

Abstraction and the essential 

A return to the cave 

Transcultural poetics of site, materiality, and light 

The essential beauty of nature and the beautiful idea 

An essentially organic architecture 

The transcultural essentialism of Utzon’s visions for an additive architecture 

Poetic metaphor and the arche of architectural design 

Tectonic analogy and the techne of construction 

A return to roots: the final essential transcultural synthesis 

Chapter 5: Transcultural essentialism: an emergent direction in architecture 

The continuing relevance of Utzon’s beautiful ideas 

Influence and continuity amongst contemporary practitioners 

Future directions


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Adrian Carter, Architect MAA (DK), is Professor of Architecture at Bond University, Queensland, Australia, previously at the Aarhus School of Architecture and later Aalborg University, Denmark. Born in Southampton, the UK, he gained his Master of Architecture at Portsmouth School of Architecture, with further studies in Urban Design with Jan Gehl, at The Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen and Phenomenology in Architecture with Dalibor Vesely, at the University of Cambridge. He has worked with Reima Pietilä, Niels Torp, Henning Larsen, Ken Woolley, and Dissing+Weitling. A recognised expert with a PhD (The Utzon Paradigm) on the work of Jørn Utzon, he was the inaugural Director of the Utzon Research Center and responsible for the realisation of the Utzon Center building on the Aalborg harbourfront, designed by Jørn Utzon.

Marja Sarvimäki, Architect SAFA, is Associate Professor at the Bond University in Australia. Previously she taught architectural history-theory and design studios at the University of Hawaii, USA. She was born in Helsinki, Finland, and earned her MArch and PhD at the Helsinki University of Technology (current Aalto University). She also has pursued studies on Japanese architecture at the Tokyo National University of Arts and conducted her post-doctoral research on Korean architecture at the Korea University. In addition to her doctoral dissertation, which comprised extensive fieldwork in East Asia, her work includes numerous later publications on East Asian cultures as well as architectural research methodology. Sarvimäki’s current research focuses on modernism in the Asia-Pacific region.