Getting to church is not quite the first thing you should do on a Sunday morning in Copenhagen – that would be a decent slap up brunch with a glass of akvavit at the Jorn Utzon designed showroom and restaurant for furniture company Paustian. It was a bit sparsely populated on this particular Sunday but what it lacked in buzz was compensated by the stunning interior and plates of gravadlax and almond cakes. Then out the door and on to the handy S Train up to Bagsvaerd Station, a distant suburb of Copenhagen, and it’s a short walk to the next work by Utzon, his first after the Sydney Opera House and completed in 1976: Bagsvaerd Church. From the outside it appears at first to be an unprepossessing building, probably more suited to an industrial park with its prefabricated elements placed within a grid framework. But give it some time and its subtleties start to reveal themselves: the surrounding birch trees create a screen for the church facade which is a mix of horizontal matte concrete panels and and vertical glazed tiles, the pattern of which give some indication of the contours to be found within the church. The entrance to the church is through a number of low openings in the facade which lead through a series of top lit corridors to the main church itself. In plan, from above the church is relatively simple, but cut a section through the middle of the church and Utzon has allowed his imagination to soar with swooping and sinuous white painted concrete vaults. The materials are all white, grey and pale pine furniture all designed by Utzon himself. His daughter stepped in to design the rugs and textiles, some of which decorate the altar which stands in front of the beautiful altar wall. The interior is naturally lit either through skylights in the corridors or through high lateral windows in the nave. The overall effect is stunning and very nicely it forms today an important centre for the local community, especially its singing groups. It was after all the first church in the town for nearly 500 years after the last one had been pulled down by the king to repair a Bishop’s palace.
Then it’s back on the train to another suburb and another church. And this one knocks your socks off even from a distance. Built some 50 years earlier by the father and son team of Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint and Kaare Klint, who remains one of Denmark’s most influential furniture designers, this is one of the finest examples of how one simple element can be used so expressively. The approach is along a short avenue flanked by houses built in the same style all overlooked by the 49 metre high front facade and bell tower . Jensen-Klint originally trained as a painter and was a firm believer in the Danish vernacular, with his first commissions being small scale villas for a series of private clients. Without any formal training, he acquired his architectural skills through the study of local churches, barns and small manor houses, and from the craftsmen with whom he worked.
6 million yellow bricks went into the construction of the church, named in the honour of the Danish 19th century philosopher pastor Nicolai Grundtvig, with the first bricks laid down in 1921, 8 years after this extraordinary vertical and jagged gabled design had been chosen in competition. The church was consecrated in 1927 but work continued on the interior and the surrounding buildings, after the death of Jensen – Klint in 1930 right up until 1940. Inside the church, the bricks continue, completely unadorned, to high gothic vaults and pointed arches. The nave is 76metres long and the narrow high clear windows allow the daylight to pour in with an overwhelming effect. Despite the gothic style, this church with its austere simplicity is as modern and exciting as the 50 year younger Utzon church further up the S line.
After all this church stuff, it was a sound proposition to head back into town, and have a beer with the crowds lining Copenhagen’s more obvious attraction at Nyhavn.