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A mood of calm and peace

Valeria Carullo

Bagsvaerd Church, Copenhagen, 1976

Credit: RIBA collections

This year marks the centenary of the birth of Jørn Utzon, the Danish architect best known – and by some almost exclusively known – for the Sydney Opera House. The church of Bagsvaerd, designed over a number of years and completed in 1976, is one of the very few projects Utzon built in his own country. Situated next to a busy highway intersection in a northern suburb of Copenhagen, the building turns its back on its surroundings, presenting a severe exterior of thick walls in concrete and ceramic with limited fenestration. No visual clues prepare the visitor for the light-filled interior and its splendid vaulted ceiling, which Utzon claimed was inspired by rolling cloud shapes seen on a beach in Hawaii. Unusually, the curved ceiling is structural, and supports the straight aluminium roof. As well as natural forms, the design of the church is influenced by other sources such as oriental architecture and Nordic traditions, all combined to create what architect John Winter described as a memorable place, ‘with a mood of calm and peace’.