Esbjerg Performing Arts Center

by | 10. Aug 2012

Cultural | Project

Photo courtesy Jan Utzon

The Esbjerg Performing Arts Center is a close collaboration between Jan Utzon and his father Jørn Utzon.

The new Performing Arts Center in Esbjerg, a harbor city on the rugged west coast of Denmark, is situated in the City Park next to the Art Exhibition building with a wide view over the harbor and the sea.

You approach the building and the Foyer, which connects the Art Museum and the Concert Hall, along a slightly sloping street leading from the City Square.
The light and airy Foyer, with its tall slim columns behind the polygonal window panes, is like an open room in the city.


Photo courtesy Jan Utzon

Our intention was to design a building complex that, together with the city park and harbor area would create a festive frame around the artists and the audience; a building that architecturally would give Esbjerg a new identifiable element in the city.

The Plaza in front of the Foyer, shielded from the strong western wind, is where all outside activities take place. The covered colonnades, with the row of columns on both sides of the Plaza, makes it possible to reach the Foyer from the harbor without getting wet. From the Plaza one glimpses the harbor and the sea through the Foyer.


Photo courtesy Jan Utzon

The slender columns form a striking contrast to the large, massive building mass, which houses the stage tower and concert hall. The Concert Hall facades, clad in white ceramic tiles, reflect the shifting color nuances from the sky and the surrounding trees. During the transition between day and night the large volume almost seem to defy the law of gravity.

The white “Sydney” tile, only 12×12 centimeter in size, has a surface like hammered silver and a slightly transparent glaze which makes it especially suitable to reflect the sky’s fine nuances.

In the 1960’s when Utzon was working on the Sydney Opera House he spent a lot of time finding the right tiles to cover the 60 meter tall shells. During a study trip to China he found a fragment of a ceramic tile that had the qualities he was looking for. From this piece he designed a prototype, the “Sydney” tile, which was produced by Höganäs, Sweden.


Photo courtesy Jan Utzon

Nature has always been the fundamental inspiration in Jørn Utzons work; the simple form language, with the repetition of the elements.


Photo courtesy Jan Utzon

The design of the entrance Plaza and Foyer, inspired by the trees in the surrounding City Park, is formed as a forest of “Mushroom” columns that organically tie the various functions together. The columns are designed as prefabricated concrete elements with the upper parts of steel, wood or plate construction.


Photo courtesy Jan Utzon

The white color of the ceramic tiles give a composure to the Foyer space where Utzon’s characteristic dark blue tiles are used as a decoration on the slightly sloping walls and also to mark the important functions.

The Foyer gives access to the Theater and Concert Hall on one side and the Cafeteria and Art Museum on the other side.


Photo courtesy Jan Utzon

The interior of the Concert Hall, with its muted colors inspired by Autumn, offers a striking contrast to the white foyer.

The auditorium seats 1,100 and is acoustically prepared for symphonic music; large volume, long reverberation. The volume of the auditorium as well as the acoustics can be regulated by moving the curved ceiling elements. When used as a theater, seating 850, the reverberation is reduced by lowering the ceiling and thereby reducing the auditorium volume.

For conferences or other arrangements the rows of chairs are moved to the back of the auditorium leaving the entire floor area open.

The orchestra pit can be adjusted at level with the stage to create a larger stage, or at floor level for a larger floor area in front of the stage.

In addition there is a smaller hall for chamber music and children’s theater and a small auditorium for lectures. An open space in the Foyer can be converted to a stage with mobile pedestals and platforms.

People are always in the center of any decision when the Utzon’s work. At the Esbjerg Performing Arts Center the structure of the building – the architecture – becomes the framework around its activities.


Plan Drawing courtesy Jan Utzon


Section Drawing courtesy Jan Utzon


ARCHITECTUtzon Associates
Jan Utzon
Jørn Utzon