One morning in Can Lis | José Antonio Sumay Rey

Can-Lis-01 ©-José-Antonio-Sumay-Rey

It is a question of a house, of the stars or of the desert, which constitutes his beauty is invisible.

The little prince

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Last summer accompanied of my family, I could visit Can Lis, the house that Jørn Utzon constructed himself in the surrounding areas of I Carry Petro, Majorca. Khan Lis is one of four houses projected for him and his family and that compose a wonderful series that expresses the sense of to live utzoniano in epochs and different well places: from his first house in Hellebæk (Denmark, 1952) happening for his Bayview’s project (Australia, 1964) up to two there marries of Majorca Can Lis (1972) and Can Feliz (1994).

Placed in a spectacular emplacement at the edge of the sea, Can Lis is the most poetical and radical of all of them and his raison d’être it is necessary to look for her necessarily in very distant lands. Placed in a spectacular emplacement at the edge of the sea, Can Lis is the most poetical and radical of all of them and his raison d’être it is necessary to look for her necessarily in very distant lands. The forms of the Opera were born of his sensibility, imagination and his great constructive intuition; they were a challenge to the convention and to the technology of the moment. Utzon had to develop a geometry and a construction to make real this architecture that was conceive as a great challenge architectonic.1 But a political populist campaign sustained in the critique to the experimental character of this architecture and to the meticulous process of Utzon’s investigation, it forces the bitter resignation of the Danish architect who would leave Australia in the spring of 1966 to never return.

In Sídney, Utzon reinforces the idea of the architecture as a sensitive and human experience arisen from the area of the imagination and the fantasy. For him the mission of the architect must be find the liberation of these creative interior forces; to dominate the technology to construct the dreams. The result is the “architecture aditiva” that tries to give response to the human needs grouping the constructive elements provided by the industry in bosses of organic growth. The idea is to move away from the house as a box of predetermined size and compartimentada conventional, on the contrary there is looked a combination of elements or pieces that answer to the human needs. Stocks on this beginning additive Utzon projects his housing in Bayview, near Sídney, who finally will not manage to be constructed.


To his return of Australia, Utzon and his wife Lis, sculptress, they find a magnificent plot on the cliffs of the east coast of Majorca. Fitted between the edge of the sea and the later way Can Lis is a house that is disintegrated in four volumes articulated by means of walls and courts. The first piece is a great court porticado opened the sea for the life outdoors, the second volume is a space to be concerning the fire and the sights that penetrate for a few glazed loopholes. The volumes third and fourth are the bedrooms that possess a few small porches linked to the stays. These four elements scarcely take as an union the later wall that borders on the way and uses as guide to the corridor outdoors that connects all the pieces. In continuity with the previous projects, the idea of the wall like generating element of the house already had been studied by Utzon in his first house in Hellebæk (Denmark, 1952) whereas the volumetric fragmentation for uses and the constructive modularidad had developed in Bayview’s project (Australia, 1964).

Can Lis is projected by the landscape and the light as essential element. The presence of the sea is so round that Utzon thinks that it is not necessary to add to the house any decoration and, as furniture, only he arranges a few simple banks constructed with stone of marés and redresses in local blue rollers. On having visited the house one is conscious of Utzon’s will to do an architecture that is the just expression of the essential needs of the man, both material and spiritual.

Can Lis belongs to the human scale, his monumentalidad answers more to the purity of his spaces than to his proportions and dimensions. Khan Lis is the response to a sense of to live that he understands the life as a set of small acts: to walk, be standing up, to sit down, to lie down, to enjoy the Sun and the water. On having visited her it appreciates the little that it is necessary to live it, you upset a few books and some personal object.


It is in this resignation to the incidental thing where there resides the timelessness Can Lis; to every step one has the sensation of belonging to a difficultly assimilable space to an epoch. This atemporalidad cannot be defined, according to Norberg Schulz, as an abstract sensation of not belonging to any historical period but as anything eternal that forms a part of the place. He is A Khan Lis a magnificent example of classic architecture, understanding the classicism not as a mere formal question or of style but as a will of permanency, of eternity and that, in this case, does not come from the natural trip for the shores of the Mediterranean, between the east of Greece and the island of Majorca, but it crosses Europe from the Italian renaissance and Palladio’s villas up to the work of his teachers Erik Gunnar Asplund and Alvar Aalto.

Can Lis arises as synthesis between the landscape and the modest but essential sense of to live utzoniano, whose will of sincere simplicity moves to the constructive process. Unlike in Sídney’s Opera and his laborious process of project and execution of work, in Majorca Utzon it shortens the traffic between the idea and his materialization, between the thought and the work. It is constructed by the just thing and the necessary thing developing simultaneously I project and work with a limited number of initial planes and models to royal scale. The architect, with his family, was deciding about the place the disposition and height of the walls, the form of the hollows or the site adapted to sit down; all that was materializing thanks to the narrow collaboration with a local builder to whom Utzon was explaining in a bar, with lumps of sugar, the form of the project.

Since it had seen in his trips for Mexico or Morocco, Utzon recovers in Khan Lis a constructive tradition in harmony with the place and his materials. The walls and columns of the house are of a factory coarsely re-joined of stone of marés; with this sandstone it has been constructed in the island of Majorca from the cathedral of Palm up to the characteristic marges, walls of masonry it dries that the isla are in use in everything so much for delimiting properties as walls of containment and abancalamientos. The pavements and interior walls are of Santanyí’s stone, also a local but harder and dark sandstone. The stone is placed without superficial treatments, as it goes out of the process of court: they can appreciate with clarity in the whole house the brands of sawed in the ashlars. The wrought ones carry out with prefabricated joists on those who support a few ceramic roof spaces. The covers are flat and the Arabic tile is in use as auction of the walls, detail that Utzon had incorporated of the traditional architecture small stone.2 The exterior carpentries they are of north Majorcan pine. In short, the origin of the materials can be traced in a radius of a few kilometres.


Thanks to Can Lis and his traditional construction Utzon it returns from Sídney’s odyssey determined by the polemics and the technical and economic complexities to this Majorcan Ítaca that with the years would turn into his home. From 1973 Can Lis was the house of Jørn Utzon’s vacations and his family and there they continued living when they increased the periods of stay in the island. But in 1983, on having turned into permanent residents into Majorca, they reconsider his initial idea of constructing a house inside the island; it will be his fourth house, Can Lis.

Can Feliz is located in a plot that the Utzon had acquired in Felanitx to his return of Australia. The first offers are of 1972, but legal problems prevent finally his execution and there is at the time when they decide to construct Can Lis. Finished in 1994, this one is a bigger housing with major services and comforts but also with a luminosity and a few more variegated sights. In spite of being 20 years more modern Utzon it uses the same constructive systems that in Can Lis with the exception of the cover in the one that he chooses for a more traditional solution of planes inclined with Arabic tile.

Of the reasons for the Khan’s abandon Lis probably the most spread it is that due to his easy access one saw invaded often for lovers of the architecture preventing hereby the due privacy of the architect and his family. But, as the own Utzon would recognize, the architecture and the landscape were the real reasons of this abandon:

“We leave her for the light. The luminous intensity for the sea was too strong”.3


The presence of the sea and the light is so round in Can Lis that one understands this need to search, with Can Feliz, the smoothness of the interior landscapes of the island and a minor exhibition to the Sun of the Mediterranean.

On the new house having be constructed, Can Lis stays as summer residence for his children and grandsons. At present, the Utzon Foundation is the owner of the housing and manages a program of stays and visits that allow, in the certain days, his opening to the public. The restoration of the house realized in 2011 sought to recover Utzon’s original idea in all the spaces of the housing.

Can Lis, in his modest construction, it remains on the cliffs of the island of Majorca as a singing to an exact and poetical architecture under the intense Sun of the Mediterranean. A visit to Utzon’s work that, in these times of change and excesses, is more indispensable than never.


José Antonio Sumay Rey. PhD Architect
July 2016, A Coruña


1 .“I like to be absolutely modern and to be employed at the limit of the possible thing”. Jorn Utzon’s declarations in the program Bus of the Australian television ABC.

2. Norberg Schulz, Christian. «Jorn Utzon and the primordial». In Utzon Mallorca de Dirckimck-Holmfeld, Kim (ed.). Copenhagen: The danish architectural press, 1996

3 . Interview El País


Fromonot, Françoise. Utzon Jorn, The Sydney Opera House. Milan: Electa, 2000

Ferrer Forés, Jaime J. Jorn utzon. Obras y proyectos. Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2006

Puente, Moisés (ed.). Jorn utzon. Conversaciones y otros escritos. Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2010

Keding, Martin (ed.). Utzon’s own houses. Copenhagen: The danish architectural press, 2004

Dirckimck-Holmfeld, Kim (ed.). Utzon Mallorca. Copenhagen: The danish architectural press, 1996

Norberg Schulz, Christian. «Jorn Utzon and the primordial». En Utzon Mallorca de Dirckimck-Holmfeld, Kim (ed.). Copenhagen: The danish architectural press, 1996

José Antonio Sumay Rey

Arquitecto, profesor y padre que lee más que escribe.

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