The Bagsværd Church by Jørn Utzon was completed in 1976. Though not his most famous work, the church is an example of the architect’s inventive work at a different scale. Utzon designed the church with an unassuming exterior that merely hints at the stirring forms he created inside.
The Bagsværd Church was Utzon’s first work after returning to Denmark from Austrailia and the Sydney Opera House, which he designed. It is located on the northern outskirts of Copenhagen in a suburban setting. The church stands almost unassuming as a simple, modern structure amidst birch trees, with its back to a local street.
It is with knowledge of the interior that the exterior becomes more intriguing. The orthogonal form is clad in white precast concrete panels and glazed white tiles attached to a frame. Utzon positioned the reflective glazed tiles to relate to the celebrated sinuous concrete curves occurring in the interior sanctuary.
Early sketches suggest rolling clouds were the inspiration for the interior of the Bagsværd Church. Utzon designed soft curves to control the light, and act as a visual masterpiece in this small church. White concrete was molded in place to create the interior sanctuary’s ceiling, where the curves rise from their lowest point above the congregation, to their highest point above the altar.
The exterior of the Bagsværd Church is much more austere than the views from within, where white concrete is complimented by pale beach wood. The curving white concrete overhead is matched with white concrete walls, and floor tiles, as well as a delicate white screen of triangles behind the altar. The freestanding pews are constructed out of wood, and another screen isolates the sanctuary from the rest of the building through pale vertical wood pieces.
Utzon carefully considered daylight in the Bagsværd Church. It is brought in at the highest point of the curving ceiling, and softened along the curves. It is also filtered in through glass ceilings above corridors and hallways of the Bagsværd Church. Elsewhere, the church has an aluminum roof.
The Bagsværd community had not had a church since the 16th century prior to Utzon’s timeless design, and his resulting building has certainly left its mark. The plain exterior contrasts an incredible sanctuary space that encourages a calm feeling for parishioners. The building holds extreme merit as a whole, but it is the interior section by Utzon that has been world renowned since its completion.
Architect: Jørn Utzon
Location: Bagsværd, Denmark
Project Year: 1968-1976
References: Push Pull Bar, Revisiting Utzon’s Bagsværd Church, arcspace
Photographs: Flickr, seier + seier, Le Kizz, dvmoc, alanbenzie, Peter Guthrie