Utzon: Travel thinking making travel studies as a site for creative-critical formation in architecture
Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis
This thesis offers a historical and critical analysis of how the travel praxis (c. 1947-1959) of Danish architect Jørn Utzon (1918-2008) influenced the intellectual trajectory of his approach to architecture. Hence, this thesis examines his travels in North Africa, Europe, North America, Central America, the Far East, and Middle East, as he sought to recast anew an understanding of the levels beneath the superficial stylistic tropes of different civilizations, redeeming, as it were, transcultural architectural principles of how people respond to place, lying beyond the periodicity of history. In the existing literature, it is already well established that Utzon’s travel studies were not only critical to his own work, but historically significant for the course of the Modern Movement during the post-war period. Yet, his travel praxis has only been superficially reviewed, largely because of a previous lack of primary source evidence. In 2012, new research possibilities emerged, as Utzon’s family made significant parts of Utzon’s personal archive collection, from his life and work as an architect, available for research. Using inductive grounded theory as a methodological framework, this thesis offers the first extensive analysis of such material. Key findings are: Utzon’s travels were not just tied to personal, artistic agendas, but were a critical form of study that evolved gradually over the course of his formative period and underpinned his approach to architecture. Namely, it is argued that his travel praxis may be characterised as a process of integrating existential perceptions in an experiential manner. Both trajectories are grounded in a belief that architecture does not lend itself well to overly academic studies or distant observation and emphasise the study of architecture by means of a detour that accentuates the human forces and conditions – land, people, and time – that brought it into being. At the same time, this juxtaposition of an experiential approach with existentialism indicates an almost ontological stance, which places ‘profoundly being’ at the heart of the discipline. Finally, these findings are used, not only to deepen our understanding of Utzon’s oeuvre, but as an opportunity to engage with a wider perspective on the relativity between critical travel praxis and intellectual and creative identity formation, asserting the continued relevance of transcultural studies in contemporary architecture.