As passing clouds, the sun or viewer move by, the shells
glow, gleam or flash with light. Stand closer and incline
your head to left or right and waves of tiles scintillate
like diamonds or tiny stars. Move closer still and focus
on a single tile, and miniature constellations appear and
disappear below the undulating surface, suggesting an
inner life like blood beneath skin. Devoid of colour, yet
receptive to the colours of light and the surroundings,
the shells present an ever-changing spectacle.
Walking down the narrow ‘street’ between the halls you
move between blue shade and mountains of glistening ice,
broken by shadows that glow with pools of light reflected
from a sunny neighbour. Seen across the harbour as
the sun sets, the light appears to linger, caressing and
colouring the tiles. Cream and ochre give way to salmon
pink and the palest of violets, and then, after the sun has
sunk deep below the horizon, the voluptuous geometry
is reduced to a ghostly white silhouette – only to be
transfigured, inevitably, by the blaze of floodlights.
Sydney Opera House is frequently cited by Frank Gehry
as the building that ‘opened architecture’ to a new world
of forms. But form-giving for its own sake was never his
aim. Sydney Harbour, one of the world’s finest locations
for a building, demanded something special, not least
because the building was visible from all sides and from
above, courtesy of the Harbour Bridge.
But Bagsvaerd and Can Lis offer, I would argue, a
more potent and widely relevant legacy. Through his
acute sensitivity to the varying qualities of light, Utzon
deployed relatively simple architectural resources to
shape spaces that make vivid our experience of ever-changing daylight and sunlight.
‘The beautiful arts,’ the American writer Paul Goodman
once wrote, ‘are made of cheap stuff, of daylight and
rock available to anyone.’ Utzon’s work, so far from
the frenzied form-making we see so often today, is a
perfect demonstration of what can be achieved with
architecture’s most potent resource: light.
l Richard Weston directs a digital design studio specialising in large, bespoke images for buildings and
public spaces. Formerly Professor of Architecture at Cardiff University, he has written numerous books and
articles, and is the only author to gain access to Jørn Utzon and his archives, for his book Utzon: Inspiration,