After having to abandon the construction of the Sidney Opera House in 1966, the Danish architect Jørn Utzon on his way home, made an intermediate stop at Mallorca. The island fascinated him to such a degree that he decided to build a summer house there. It was located facing the Mediterranean, on a cliff near a small fishing village and he gave it the name of his wife, Lis. In 1994, he felt obliged to move from his house, which had turned into a place of pilgrimage for architects. Utzon built another house, Can Feliz, also in Mallorca, but this time its location is kept a total secret.
Jørn Utzon had been affected, at the beginning of his career, when he learnt that the celebrated Swedish architect, Gunnar Asplund, had died of stress. On his death bed, Asplund asked his son whether all this effort had really been worth while. These words came back to Utzon years later when, after he had been nine years working on the design and building his winning project of the Sidney Opera House, he decided to resign from this job because he had not been shown professional respect by the Ministry of Public Works. Since then, Utzon has never returned to Australia to see his building finished.
Looking, in Porto Pietro, for an ideal refuge during his holidays, Utzon built Can Lis in 1972, set among myrtle and pine trees, with an extraordinary view to the sea. Integrating with the colours in the landscape, the main building material is a hard local limestone, called marés stone, which varies from gold to pink in colour. The original concept for the house was the same as for the one that Utzon had intended to build in Sidney; a sequence of pavilions linked by a wall, and arranged so as to respond to the various functions within the dwelling. He explained it with a story by Karen Blixen about African farmers where she said: "It was impossible for them to build their houses in a uniform row because they followed an order that was based on the position of the sun, the places of the trees and the natural mutual relationships of the buildings." The orientation of the pavilions in Can Lis selects distinctive views of the Mediterranean, and consequently, the furniture became fixed, built on site and finished with shiny ceramic tiles. Additionally, as the window frames were mounted on the outside surface of the walls, they were made invisible from the interior, which again, stimulates the effect of light, blurring the limits between the dark interior of the house and the blistering Mediterranean sun. For all these reasons, family life follows a route as the day passes which seems to pursue the passage of the sun.
Utzon developed a new typology for housing in Can Lis, the house of the sun, from which we all have a lot to learn. In fact, the architect told us, with a smile, about the numerous visits of buses full of tourists arriving to this house.
Twenty-two years had passed from the construction of Can Lis when Jørn Utzon and his wife decided to spend the majority of the year in Mallorca. Due to the high humidity in winters, they handed Can Lis to their children and moved to a new house that they named Can Feliz. It is in the mountains, far away from the humid sea breezes, with big windows overlooking the green pine grove that reaches down to the sea.
Although both houses use the same materials, the second is a house in the mountains that belongs more to the traditional houses of the island, even reaching the point of being passed by unnoticed. Can Feliz is built round a terrace, following the pattern of orthogonal axis and is built under one tiled roof.
However much Utzon has insisted on his joy at receiving visitors, the fact that the house is so difficult to locate has contributed to the creation of the myth of the badly treated architect who has retreated into his refuge. Can Feliz has appeared in publication as it were a magical place and, includes, of course, the indispensable requirement of any utopia, apart from it marvellous qualities, be an insuperable gap from the rest of the world. In the same way as any novel on magic lands starts - with the loss of memory of the shipwrecked person who does not know how he arrived on the island, or the predicable cough made by the servant right in the moment when the narrator reveals the secret coordinates - the published articles on Can Feliz are reports by visitors who affirm that they are not able to remember the way that leads to the house.
Photos: Søren Kuhn
Captions for illustrations
a. Jørn Utzon (b. 1918) architect, at Can Feliz.
b. Looking for an ideal refuge, Utzon built the peaceful Can Lis, set among myrtle and pine trees, with an extraordinary view to the sea.
c. Can Lis. 1. court, 2. dining area, 3. kitchen, 4. work room, 5. entry, 6. covered terrace, 7. living room, 8. bedroom.
d. The semi-circular sofa in the living room of Can Lis follows the sun on the horizon while at sunset one ends up looking into the fire in fireplace.
e. Can Feliz. 1. entrance, 2. entry, 3. court, 4. work room, 5. living room, 6. kitchen, 7. dining room, 8. covered terrace, 9. bedroom, 10. terrace, 11. swimming pool.
f. Shiny ceramic tiles in the kitchen at Can Feliz refer to traditional building methods on the island.