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The Silkeborg Museum of Fine Arts

An unfinished project by Jorn Utzon,
2003 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate

The Silkeborg Museum of Fine Arts - An unfinished project by Jorn Utzon
Design by Jorn Utzon

Jorn Utzon Photo Tour

A Danish artist named Asger Jorgensen (who later changed his name to Asger Jorn) approached Utzon in 1961 to build an addition to the Silkeborg Museum where a collection of his art work could be housed. He even volunteered to pay the architect's fees because he could not see anyone other than Utzon designing the addition.

Describing his plans, Utzon wrote:

"The musuem, which lies in an old, well-stocked garden with a wing divided into bays, is designed so that it does not disturb the surroundings, but concentrates 100% on the interior. A building of several storeys above the ground would be like a bull in a china shop, and the respect for the existing calm wing of the museum calls for a solution that will not dominate the surroundings on account of its size.

"It feels natural to bury the museum in the ground to a depth corresponding to the height of a three-storeyed building and only to allow the upper part - the roof lights taking up one storey - to appear above the ground level.

"The design of this buried museum has a character rather like a cave or an oven. Because they are direct continuation of the walls of the museum, the visible one-storey roof lights suggest this cave-like character and clearly demonstrate the reason for their special design.

"In contrast to a square room, a cave has a distinct enclosed effect thanks to its natural shape without right angles. Continuous shapes such as we have in the museum express and emphasise the quadrilateral canvases and objects in the same powerful way that a cyclorama on a stage emphasises the individual characters and the flats.

"The floor, too, has been included in this continuous movement, and these dramatic shapes also correspond well with the idea of digging the museum out underground.

"The inspiration for the design of the museum comes from many different experiences -- including my visit to the caves in Tatung, west of Peking, where hundreds of Buddha sculptures and other figures are carved in caves in the rocks by the bank of the river. These sculptures appear in all shapes in contrast to or in harmony with the surrounding space. The caves are all of varying sizes and shapes and with varying illumination. The old Chinese sculptors haave experimented with all possibilities, and the most fantastic thing is a cave that is almost filled with a Buddha figure with c.7-metre-high face. Three platforms linked by ladders give the visitor the possibility of walking around and coming to close quarters with this gigantic figure.

"Here, in this museum, it is possible to exhibit paintings and sculptures the size of a three-storeyed building so that it is possible to walk around the objects on all levels on the system of ramps, and perhaps the possibility of this kind of exhibition leads to a new line of development in decorative art in place of the ordinary form in public buildings today, which are merely easel paintings on a gigantic scale.

"The various works of art can also be exhibited individually or in groups in every conceivable manner. It will also be possible in one of the large ovens to isolate a single large painting or sculpture that must be viewed on its own.

"The continuous space in the museum provides surprising background effects with varied light for paintings and sculpture - a background effect of the same infinite character as a cyclorama on a stage.

"The chimneys give the museum a clean, but varied roof light. The amount of light can be varied by means of blinds, and if it is so desired the roof light in the chimneys can be replaced with direct spotlight directed on a single object. The mullions supporting the roof lights are provided with suspension points so that they act like rigging loft in a theatre, so there will be the possibility of placing an object anywhere in the room.

"The light mainly falls in along the walls and on the floors without disturbing shadow effects at the corners, and the irritation element from the direct light from above is avoided.

"It will be with a sense of surprise and a desire to penetrate down into the building that the visitor for the first time sees the three-storeyed building open beneath him. Unconcerned - stairs and corridors which normally disturb - the viewer will glide almost effortlessly down into the museum via the ramp, taking him through the space.

"Strict geometry will form the basis for a simple constructional shape. The visible curved external surfaces are to be clad with ceramics in strong colours so that the parts of the building emerge like shining ceramic sculptures, and inside the museum will be kept in white.

"In the work with the curved shapes in the opera house, I have developed a great desire to go further with free architectural shapes, but at the same time to control the free shape with a geometry that makes it possible to construct the building from mass produced components. I am quite aware of the danger in the curved shapes in contrast to the relative safety of quadrilateral shapes. But the world of the curved form can give something that cannot ever be achieved by means of rectanglular architecture. The hulls of ships, caves and sculpture demonstrate this."

More about Jorn Utzon

Life and works of Jorn Utzon

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Jorn Utzon Photo Tour

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