Utzon’s China: the reinterpretation of traditional Chinese art and architecture in the work of Jørn Utzon (1918-2008)
AffiliationArchitecture, Building and Planning
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsChiu, C. (2011). Utzon’s China: the reinterpretation of traditional Chinese art and architecture in the work of Jørn Utzon (1918-2008). PhD thesis, Architecture, Building and Planning, The University of Melbourne.
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© 2011 Dr. Chen-Yu Chiu
Over the past two decades the significance of Danish architect Jørn Utzon (1918-2008) has become increasingly evident, not only because both before and after the realization of the Sydney Opera House (1957-73) he had proposed and realized a wide range of equally seminal works, but also because his work was deeply influenced by so-called ‘exotic’ cultures, in particular the influence from Chinese culture. However, as a field in the historical study of Utzon’s work, the importance of ideas associated with ancient China have virtually been ignored. This is despite a firm body of evidence suggesting several direct linkages and analogies from Utzon’s frequent acknowledgements of such a formal debt. Accordingly, this thesis aims to explore the reinterpretation of Chinese ideas in Utzon’s work. The identification of Utzon’s perception and application of China, and the author’s “reinterpretation” of Utzon’s intuition and the purpose of his China, form the basis of this research. This thesis demonstrates a substantially different picture to that painted elsewhere by researchers of Utzon and his work. It argues that China gave Utzon multiple ideas over his lifelong work and provides a unique channel through which to scrutinize his belief and creativity. It reveals both the connection and tension between the East and the West, as well as between the individual and the group. The thesis first examines Utzon’s social and cultural background, as his way of receiving China. It questions and answers the reasons for the existence of China in Utzon’s life. It reviews different strengths of the China, which Utzon received. Secondly, the thesis surveys Utzon’s lifetime perception and application of China in his architectural career to reveal his way of constructing people’s understanding both of him and his China through publication. It conceptualizes various motivations and purposes underlying Utzon’s reinterpretation of China. Thirdly, the thesis examines two themes of Chinese writer Lin Yutang’s China as evidenced across Utzon’s lifetime. The assumed Chinese “Artistic Life” and “Aestheticism,” as their analogies found both in Utzon’s life and work, suggests China had been part of the architect’s philosophical belief and psychological inclination. Fourthly, this thesis analyzes the role of China in Utzon’s 1962 “Platforms and Plateaus” manifesto and related architectural themes mainly during the 1960s. It demonstrates diverse Chinese references across Utzon’s travel experiences, readings, writings, sketches and proposed built forms, as well as their representative format and publication. Fifthly and finally, this thesis studies the way in which historical and monumental Chinese buildings appear in Utzon’s realized and unrealized proposals for the Sydney Opera House (1957-1966). It identifies varied Chinese references being intimately associated with Utzon’s design process at different stages. The ideas of China confirmed both the achievement and contradiction in Utzon’s unfinished masterpiece.
KeywordsJørn Utzon; reinterpretation; traditional Chinese art and architecture
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