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Anders Frederiksen 7.sem. 2008 minor project


Portrait of Utzon


In this minor project the Kuwait National Assembly building (KNA) by Jørn Utzon will be examined in terms of tectonic design, and the building will be related to other works done by Utzon, and themes that occupied Utzon throughout his career. Finally I will discuss Utzons view on tectonic design in comparison with other definitions of tectonic design. These analyses will end up in my own design of a tectonic building system. First we will just initially characterize Utzon approach to architecture. Utzons approach to architecture Utzon is one of the few architects of the 20th century who throughout his career has exploited and celebrated the construction and structures of buildings. This orientation aligns him with the tradition of an architect as a “building master”, who is primarily concerned about the buildings construction, the quality of the materials, and the functionality of the building. Utzons architecture is in opposition to architecture styles that dictates certain formal expressions, and use of very complex design methods/tools or refers to history in a specific way - this tradition is often called “building art”. Utzons approach to design is to find the nature of things, without any regulation from certain formal or stylistic limitations, which only seems to exist in the architect’s own mind. Chapter based on: Norberg-Schult, K, Keiding, M, Dircknick-Holmfeld, K (2004): Utzon og den nye tradition, Arkitektens forlag The Film: Skyer, by Pi Michael (2004)

Connecting Utzon and KNA If we continue using KNA as a representation of Utzons work, we recognize Utzons obsession with construction and building structures that are visible all over the complex of KNA. Every beam, column, and joint is visible and thereby the logic of how the building is standing becomes perceptible. Each of these visible building components and the building as a whole not only reflects the tectonic design as I will return to, but they reflect the site in regard to colour, sun, wind, culture, building tradition, etc. By combining all these elements in his design Utzon succeeds in “finding the nature” of a building put on the shores of Kuwait.

Chapter based on: (2005): Jørn Utzon logbook vol. 4, edt. Bløndal Lecture: Richard Weston

The Canopy of KNA referring to the tent entrance of the nomads or the waves rolling.

A typical entrance for the nomad leader of a tribe


Relating KNA to main themes of Utzon Much of the knowledge of finding the nature of things relies on Utzons great understanding of ancient architecture explored on 3 important study trips to Maya temples in Mexico, Morocco, and China. In the KNA building the most dominant inspiration is of course acquired from Utzons stay in Morocco, which provided him with thorough knowledge of Middle Eastern architecture and culture. Middle Eastern way of living infiltrates all parts of KNA. Utzon is aware of the importance of shadow in the region when creating a large canopy in front of the building complex, but the lifted canopy also takes advantage of the breeze coming in from the sea to cool the building down. The canopy also relates to the traditional way the nomad leader in a Middle Eastern tribe has a small canopy in front of his tent where he talks to his people or meets guests. Utzon gives this tent-reference by creating the undulating clothe-like canopy in front of the KNA building, which eventually becomes a dominant element, even though it is not mentioned in the competition program for KNA. Actually the competition program wished for a building with great similarity to the UN building in New York, but Utzon succeeds in creating a building that is relating to the site of Kuwait and the Middle Eastern tradition in stead.

Chapter based on: (2005): Jørn Utzon logbook vol. 4, edt. Bløndal Norberg-Schult, K, Keiding, M, Dircknick-Holmfeld, K (2004):Utzon og den nye tradition, Arkitektens forlag

Courtyard Apart from the relation to the site and the surrounding culture, another dominant theme in Utzons architecture is the courtyard idea that Utzon explores in different variations around the world - especially in Morocco and China. Utzon is also familiar with the Danish courtyard as seen in the traditional Danish farmhouse, which inspires Utzon in his various courtyard houses, like Fredensborg terrasserne and the Kingo houses. In KNA the courtyards provide sun and air to the many offices, but they also function as outdoor resting areas arranged with shading plants. Chapter based on: (2005): Jørn Utzon logbook vol. 4, edt. Bløndal Norberg-Schult, K, Keiding, M, Dircknick-Holmfeld, K (2004):Utzon og den nye tradition, Arkitektens forlag


Utzon’s competition scheme for KNA

Utzon’s plan for Fredensborg terrasserne


Plateau and “additive architecture” The often seen plateau in Utzon projects especially the Sydney opera is also present at KNA although playing a far more secondary role in relation to some of the other objects forming KNA. Additive architecture or open ended architecture is one of Utzon great inventions, but neither this is significantly present at KNA since it is enclosed by a perimeter wall. The wall does not seem to allow the full play addition shown in e.g. Fredensborg terrasserne or as Utzon shows it in his proposal for the Jeddah Stadium in Saudi Arabia. Although one could imagine as Utzon suggests that the free space inside the perimeter wall could be occupied by new courtyard office additions, but KNA has its limitations.

Chapter based on: (2005): Jørn Utzon logbook vol. 4, edt. Bløndal Norberg-Schult, K, Keiding, M, Dircknick-Holmfeld, K (2004):Utzon og den nye tradition, Arkitektens forlag


In the process transformning Sydney opera house from free sketch to buildable geometry Utzon specialized in making precast elements. This knowledge he develops further in KNA which perhaps is Utzons most pronounced statement in what is possible with few limited elements. The furniture house Paustian in Copenhagen also by Utzon reflects the same clearness seen in KNA just using more ordinary precast elements. Utzon’s Espansiva building system also deals with precast/ premade elements but this system also allows building elements to be added in order to create organic variations which essentially are Utzon goal by introducing the term “Additive architecture”. Utzon wanted the opportunity to create endless variations from a limited amount of premade elements rather than creating a linear repetition of elements.

Chapter based on: (2005): Jørn Utzon logbook vol. 4, edt. Bløndal


Illustration showing the torsion in the beam located over the central street at KNA

Illustration showing how Utzon transforms an optimal but complicated section of a beam into a more simple and still optimal beam according to the stress diagram shown above

Final beam

8 Analysing KNA structural In the analysis of the KNA building we have now shown how important the contextual and the socio-cultural aspects are in Utzon’s architecture, now we will turn to the structural aspect of KNA and analyze two of the primary building components. The beam The beam located over the central street is one of the primary elements at KNA. The concrete beam follows the idea of the folded-beam, which originates from Utzon’s Zürich Theatre competition proposal, but Utzon copied the idea from the engineer Ove Arup. What Utzon accomplish with this relatively large beam element is that it functions as beam and shading device over the central street. The form of the beam follows the same almost clothe like nature that also characterizes the other primary elements in KNA: the street column, the public square column, and the canopy beam situated over the public square. This is the aesthetic character of the beam, but the form of the beam is also an interpretation of the load that the beam resists, and how Utzon and his staff optimizes the beam according to the vertical and horizontal forces in the beam. What can be seen from Oktay Neumans(one of Utzons staff members) sketches shown in Utzons logbook vol. 4 page 118, is that he reflects on the strongest beam position. The strongest beam position is when a large surface of the semi circle is distributing the force, in order to reinforce the small surface area in the ends of the semi circle profile and thereby enabling it to resist the tension created by the load and compression on the top of the semicircular beam. But a linear concrete beam element going from a semicircle shape turned downwards in the ends and then transformed at the middle turning upwards, would be rather twisted and difficult to produce. Therefore Utzon had to develop a simpler beam element that had the same structural qualities. The solution was to cut an area in the middle of the semicircular beam and turn it up-side down. If we now make a section through the middle of the beam we see that it looks as if there are two semicircular profiles that have been offset the half diameter of the semicircular diameter, eventually creating a beam with the same strength as if the beam had been twisted as mentioned above. So the beam Utzon creates continues to have a large surface area in the mid- and top-point of the beam, where the need for material is needed due to compression, and at the mid-bottom the beam is narrow and the tension can be resisted by a focused amount of steel reinforcement. Chapter based on: (2005): Jørn Utzon logbook vol. 4, edt. Bløndal


Column from the canopy hall in front of KNA


Picture from the canopy hall in front of KNA

The Column The columns holding the canopy in front of KNA is also a significant interpretation of a column. Like the beam the column is not just a column but it also functions as solar shading and continues the aesthetic idea of the building. When looking at the column from a structural perspective it can be divided in to two elements: the straight column and the other semicircular part that is rapped around this column. The structural logic of the complete element is quite simple divided into the straight column that takes the load from the canopy and the semicircular part that stabilizes the straight column and prevents it from deforming out of its plan. A column tends to deform at the mid-height, during high loads, therefore Utzon continues the shape of the semicircular tube just over the mid height of the column. After the mid-point of the straight column the surface of the semicircular tube diminishes according to the decreasing demand for stabilizing the straight column, preventing it from deforming, thereby Utzon optimizes the amount of material to stabilize the column element.

Chapter based on: (2005): Jørn Utzon logbook vol. 4, edt. Bløndal


Illustration from Gottfried Sempers Caribbean Hut, Trinidad

Concepts of Tectonic The word “Tekton” describes a building master from classic Greek culture, whereas the concept of tectonic has only been used for a couple of centuries. The concept of tectonic has a dual meaning; either it describes the theory of the inner structure of an art piece, or the formation and joining of shaped elements into a unity. The to definitions does not exclude one another – in stead the concept of tectonic is a combination of the abstract idea that lies behind a work of art and the more concrete realisation of this abstract structure into joints and material that in combination creates the final result. Actually Palladio (a renaissance architect) summarise the concept of tectonic or “techne” (Greek word for the art of making) as he calls it in the same way by simply stating that reason and art must be combined. This has also been implied by Vitruvius (an earlier classical architect) who characterized a work of high quality architecture to contain Firmitas (construction, material) Utilitas (functionality regarding the use of a building) Venustas (concerns the abstract and concrete aesthetic of the building as a whole). Through the last centuries theorists like Karl Bötticher, Gottfried Semper, Eduard Sekler and Kenneth Frampton as well as many others have been interested in elaborating the idea of tectonic buildings. Each of them tries to define what is important when designing a tectonic building. They all seem to define how the balance between reason and art must be applied to a building.


For Bötticher tectonic is a unifying concept that ties the structure and the symbol together. This seems to align with Palladios definition of tectonic. Semper’s interpretation of the tectonic can be seen in the traditional Caribbean hut that Semper uses to exemplify the ground meaning of tectonic. In the Caribbean hut the structural and symbolical elements are separated, the structural parts of the Caribbean hut counts the timber beams and columns holding the roof and the earthwork, which the structure is placed upon. In between this structure the more representational and symbolic screen walls are placed. So when Semper defines tectonic design he makes a distinction and separation between reason and art. Thereby he emphasizes the different roles the two aspects plays in a building. Sekler has a whole different view on tectonic: For Sekler tectonic is like a dramatic way of expressing the buildings components, their composition and materiality. It is a tool for the architect to make the construction of the building seem more expressive. When Frampton mentions the theme tectonic his primary goal is for the construction of building to be honest, and express the logic of the building. Tectonic for Frampton is when the load transfers throughout the building and the design of joints in order to clarify the transport of load through the construction. Therefore tectonic is for Frampton almost a pure “reason” issue, though he focuses on the issue of “art” he does not link it to his definition of techtonic. Chapter based on lecture and rapport by Ida Wraber


My concept of Tectonic Before I developed my own building system I sought for my own definition based on knowledge obtained during my time on this study and the definition from the 4 theorists mentioned above. And actually I try to see the definition “tectonics” quite simple as a matter of combining reason and art, like Bötticher and Palladio defines it. Reason I would define as necessary for design that has an order within it - hidden or obvious. It could be a structural order in the design and thereby a certain order in the way the elements are organized and put together. Or it could be reason in the building orientation according to wind and sun, and how it shades or uses the potential of the climate. Reason would also include the use of appropriated materials for different tasks structurally as well as functionally etc. The incorporation of art Palladio and Bötticher probably saw more as the need for applying decoration, patterns and the proportion in a building. For me art is when I am getting the felling of enrichment. When something as simple as a building system suddenly enriches me by being more than rational beams and columns put together. Enrichment could be when I get the felling that the architect, designer or artist has thought on me while designing, it could be that architect has created the felling of a warm welcoming home to my apartment even though it is a cold and rainy winter night. Enrichment is when a structure reminds me of the beautiful structures of a seashell, but enrichment covers many moods even in the dark and sad there can be enrichment. Still I agree with Palladio and Bötticher that the mastering of patterns proportion and even decoration for that matters is and important part in succeeding for art, but one should not forget that it is important that the work of reason or art should not work alone then the design loses its purpose. That’s why the concept of tectonic is so important because it is an expression for the will to create functional and beautiful buildings with meaning.



Entangle a additive tectonic building system

For this minor project I have wanted to create an additive building system. Additive in the sense that the system is never complete nor does it seem incomplete at any state of construction, that’s the nature of growth on this planet, which probably inspired Utzon to develop his additive building ideas. The system I have made consist of only two basic elements a quart of a circle and a quart of a circle with the double diameter. These two simple elements can create the most abstract and complicate figures, it almost looks as if someone has drawn by freehand these shapes, but they can be reduced to two simple elements. In order to show the potential of the system I have tried to make a stacking of layers consisting of the two elements. As shown on page 20 there is two rules 1: 4 core elements has been placed symmetrically around a middle axis and the building system must go through these cores in order to preserve stability in the system. Rule 2: the individual layers must grow smaller for each new level to keep the balance of the system. The inspiration for the system counts primarily the experience of stems in a forest I visited during the project. What struck me in the forest was that a tree appears to have these undulating forms especially around the lower part of the stem. Images of a hornet’s nest also contribute to the inspiration as well as the ever-beautiful Aalvar Alto Savoy vase. So the final big question is if this is a tectonic system? And the answer according to my definition of tectonic is partly no. Although the system combines both the reason of a building system and how this system melt into the artistic vision of a very light and organic composition that plays with light and shadow and spatial felling of opening and enclosure. Still two important aspects in creating a tectonic system isn’t present, the context and the function, without these two key aspects the building system only appears to be partly tectonic or perhaps not even tectonic enough to define the structure as tectonic. At the moment it fulfils no other purpose other than holding itself, which must be considered as the lowest purpose for a structure.


Element 2

Element 1


Plan of the 4 core elements placed symmetrically so that the individually elements can be rotated around the central axis.

First level is the biggest in order to create logic of a tree where the lower part is larger so it can carry the weight of the other elements.

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

All levels put together including level 5


Perspective showing the 4 cores

1 level is added

2 level is added

2level is rotated 90 degrees

All levels a put together notice how the cores a continuing up the structure.

Elevation of the system, showing the differing highest of the different level, which provides a dynamic in the vertical axis as well.


Model lit from outside


Model lit from inside


Is it possible to create order in chaos?? looking at this structure, the answer is yes!! The structure that looks totally random generated a...

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