Sydney Opera House
“The sun did not know how beautiful its light was until it was reflected off this building.” Louis Kahn
In 1956 Danish architect Jorn Utzon sent his drawings along with 221 other architects to the Sydney Opera House Design Competition. At number 218, it was one of the last entries before the competition closed on Dec 3 1956.
It is said that the design had been rejected. One of the judges, Finnish American architect Eero Saarinan, was late and started looking through the discarded designs. He pulled it out and had them take a second look.
On Jan 29, 1957, thirty-eight-year-old Jorn Utzon was awarded first prize and became the design architect to bring the Sydney Opera House to reality. The expected cost was seven million dollars.
The design was derided and revered. It was called sculpitecture. The shells were freeform. Nothing about building them would be easy.
The opera house construction story, from beginning to end, is a story of pioneering technology. It was about finding creative new solutions to the many design, technical and construction problems that the building’s unprecedented shape generated.
Many of the innovations introduced in the building of the Opera House have since passed into accepted engineering practice.
The million tiles covering the shell were to have gloss not glare –like clouds or sails on the water. Utzon found the texture in certain Japanese bowls and a tile company in Sweden reproduced the effect.
In 1965 Robin Askin was elected to office with a promise “to get some sense into the opera house” with a business like approach. The new projected amount to finish was now 49 million. Askin appointed Davis Hughes as Minister of Public Works. Hughes began questioning Utzon’s ability, his designs, schedules and cost estimates and eventually refusing to pay running costs. Utzon was forced to quit the project and vowed never to return to Australia. He said, “It is not I , but the Sydney Opera House that has created all the enormous difficulties.”
A team of architects was hired to finish the project. On October 20, 1973 , Queen Elizabeth II placed the inaugural plaque on the Opera House at the Opening ceremonies. Utzon was invited but did not attend. His name was not mentioned in any of the official speeches. The final cost was 102 million dollars.
The lobby of the main theatre has purple carpeting. When Pavarotti sang here he would not walk on the purple carpeting before a performance. He said purple was the color of death. It is used to line the coffins in Italy. So they had to cover the carpeting for him to walk on it in another color. (photo Sean Dirks)
Thanks to Lego, we can all build our own opera houses now.
In 1999 Jorn Utzon accepted the invitation to develop a statement of design principles that would be used for long term management, conservation and any redevelopment of the Opera House. The first of these projects was the Utzon room designed by Utzon, his son Jan and Australian architect Richard Johnson. (Utzon reception room -tapestry designed by Jorn Utzon as well) (photo Sean Dirks)
On June 28, 2007 the Sydney Opera House became a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is the youngest cultural site every to be added to the list and the only one added with the architect still alive at the time. (photo Sean Dirks)
On Nov 29, 2008, Jorn Utzon died in his sleep. He had designed a building that was technologically far ahead of its time and changed the face of Sydney. It could be one of the most important buildings ever designed and he had never returned to see it completed. .