Copenhagen day 3: Tears and switching gears

On our final day in Copenhagen we visited the Bagsværd Church by Jørn Utzon (1976) and Studio David Thulstrup.

From the moment we entered the Church with Jan Utzon, who worked on the project with his father, we sensed we were about to experience something special. Our minds forgot the photos and drawings we had studied over the years and we felt the warm embrace of the interior.

As we walked through the church, Jan described the opportunity he was given by his father to run the project. Jan shared the stories we all know of the project: the thinness of the concrete shells ceiling, the 10 percent cost-saving by reducing all the drawings by 10 percent in a photocopier, and the project’s commission for Utzon senior after returning from Australia. However, Jan also shared his personal experience of working on the project.

Bagsværd Church by Jørn Utzon.

In describing how the various concrete treatments come together in unison, Jan reflected on an analogy from his father – “If we look at the hand, we see the skin is different to the nails but they are all part of the same family”.  

As we continued to tour the smaller rooms, I touched every surface – taken by the clarity, rawness, details, and moments of compression and expansion. Every space is supported by an ever-present play of light and shadow.

Details in the Bagsværd by Jørn Utzon.

As the tour with Jan began to come to a natural close, Jørgen Ellegård Frederiksen, the Church organist arrived and Jan asked him to play for us. Jørgen first filled the church with the loose sounds of the organ, before revealing a piano which had sat covered in the corner during our tour.  

Jørgen told the group the piano was Jørn Utzon’s final work for the church, and his final work in life. A project, like the Sydney Opera House, that he would never see completed. With a maple structure and whitewash pine veneer, the piano was constructed by Steingraeber and Söhne after Jan and Jørgen delivered a physical model to their German studio.

Bagsværd Church organist showing the group the piano Utzon designed for the church.

The crisp and deep sound of the piano filled the hall – we were experiencing a sense of how a ceremony might feel at the church. The immersive architectural experience became too much, and we all began to cry.

Hearing Jan’s personal connection to the project, the timing of the piano, and the inspiring work of a talented architect made this morning an experience I will never forget.

Jan Utzon

After a quick pitstop for a Danish hotdog, where I was informed by the store holder that the tastes of  a Danish hotdog includes umami – the fifth taste alongside sweet, sour, bitter, and salt, we headed to Studio David Thulstrup… but first another hotdog.

David’s tour was another highlight from a city with so many highlights. He was open, honest, engaging, and informative.

As a group, we felt honoured as David described recent changes to his practice that have helped him and the team introduce structure that provides more time and energy for design thinking. As David discussed changes, which were a result of the practice’s growth and evolution, it was clear he was reflecting and resolving them in his own mind as we spoke.

Discussing the day at our Copenhagen airport debrief, I was thinking how we would go on to  use the experience of the day, and the Dulux Study Tour in our own practice.

– Ben Peake