The Svaneke water tower by Jørn Utzon

Utzons water tower inspired by naval lightvessels is a small hidden gem situated on a remote rock island of Denmark. See pictures of the tower with its remarkable serpent staircase in this post.

From water tower to opera house

Jørn Utzon (1918-2018) is world-renowned for his opera house in Sydney which has been called one of the ten wonders of modern architecture. The water tower in the small city of Svaneke on the danish rock island of Bornholm is a whole other story, but in its own right the water tower is also a small wonder.

Utzon water tower in SvanekeThe water tower is, in fact, close to the first full scale piece of architecture build by Jørn Utzon.

He designed his own house in Hellebæk to the north of Copenhagen (finished in 1952). In the same year he was the architect behind the water tower in Svaneke.

Svaneke, with a population of about 1000 inhabitants, was one of the last city in Denmark who was blessed with a steady water supply thanks to the water tower of Jørn Utzon.

There was prior to that a notion in some part of the population of Svaneke that the city could do without mechanical water supply and instead rely only on wells served by manual labour.

After some wheeling and dealing the mayor of Svaneke came through with a proposition of building a water tower in the high parts of the city. He apparently also trumped through that the water tower ought to be designed with som panache and therefore – by an architect.

Jørn Utzon was chosen as the architect because the contractor knew him after having worked with him on some small projects.

The listed water tower

Today the water tower is listed and it has been so since 1990. It only served its original purpose for a fairly small span of years (till 1988), as it hadn’t sufficient capacity to supply the whole city with water.

It was only designed as a tower in case of emergency if the mechanical water station failed. If this occurred the water could trickle down to the users without the use of electricity because of high location of the water tank.

The water container in the tower has a volume of 120 m3 which is 120.000 liters of water.

That maybe sounds like a lot, but in fact it’s only a drop in the water for a population of 1000 souls and in most pools it would be lethal to take a head dive in such shallow waters. In fact, when you go visit the water tower you start wondering if the water part of the tower is a mere joke, because the actual water container seems sooo small.

8 facts about Utzons water tower

  1. In the original drawings of Utzon the tower had three additionel slanting concrete columns.
  2. The additional columns was left out due to financial reasons: in 1952 the steel for the reinforced concrete was rationed in the aftermath of World War II.
  3. The concrete staircase meandering up the central column was added by Utzon after the three slanting columns was abandoned in the plans.
  4. In the original plan the top part of the water tower was supposed to be covered in plates of asbestos. This was deemed too expensive, so Jørn Utzon instead proposed a wooden solution, which is what you see today.
  5. Utzon was inspired by naval lighting vessels that was still in use at the time of  construction.
  6. Jørn Utzon also designed a small pump station in the adjacent small village of Listed. This pump station is also listed today.
  7. The water tower was designed by Utzon in 1951. The construction of the water tower was finished in 1952.
  8. Today all water supply of Svaneke is supplied by a well in inland Bornholm.

The Opera House in Sydney and other works

Utzon worked on The Opera House in Sydney between 1956 and 1966. This massive building was left unfinished by Jørn Utzon and finished by other architects.

Utzon has build a few other large scale projects outside Denmark as for instance the parliament of Kuwait.

For some odd reason the master builder left only a few buildings realized in his homeland of Denmark.

I’ve visited a few of these in Denmark and I would like to share a few more pictures of these on this website, so stay put for more works by Jørn Utzon. I will most likely post them first on my Instagram account. Please, follow me there, or alternatively on my Pinterest account. On my Instagram you’ll find two more projects by Jørn Utzon in addition to a story on the water tower in Svaneke.