Sydney Opera House: Jørn Utzon- 1957.
Ask almost anybody anywhere in the world to suggest something they associated with Sydney and the answer is likely to be the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. Without doubt the two landmarks, in many people's minds, define and epitomize Sydney. It is fair to suggest in fact that the harbour area of Sydney defines what would otherwise be a rather homogenous, dense, European type city. Devoid of the harbour area, what remains of the 4700 or so square miles of the city is a fairly generic and mediocre clutter of high rise building in the centre surrounded by a suburban sprawl as far as the eye can see. "On the ground what strikes the visitor is the dullness of the architecture
bereft of its harbour, Sydney would be no more interesting than Finchley." It is astounding that the only piece of architecture which has managed to live up and respond to its fantastic natural setting is Utzon's Opera House. Flawed though it undoubtedly is, the beautifully tiled vaults and complex monumental base next to the botanical gardens has remained unchallenged in almost half a century of supposed architectural development and advances. What is it about Jørn Utzon's building which has stood the test of time in the fickle world of architecture, securing its place as one of the defining public buildings of the 20th century?
The urban myths surrounding the Sydney Opera House are almost as well known as the finished article itself. Throughout the architectural world the story of Utzon and the beleaguered Opera house is something of architectural legend. A world wide competition was launched in December 1955 by the State Government of New South Wales for a Performing Arts Centre. A tempting brief with a generous timetable, open criteria and the spectacular and historically resonant site of Bennelong Point enticed over 930 architects to register and produced nearly 250 competition entries. The emerging victor was a relatively young Danish Architect Jørn Utzon. Irrespective of the truth in the romantic tale of Utzon's fairly sketchy entry being rescued from a pile of discarded submissions by competition judge Eero Saarinen, arriving a day and a half late, the assessors' final statement was unanimously in favour. Utzon's drawings submitted for this scheme simple to the point of being diagrammatic
we are convinced that they present a concept for the Opera House which is capable of becoming one of the greatest buildings of the world.' Of course Utzon's designs were not unanimously admired by the media or his peers. The brave new forms, loved or hated, were the centre of much attention as newspaper letters pages were full with people fraught with horror or pleasure- ships in full sail', a flock of white gulls', disintegrating circus tent in a gale', a sink with plates stacked in readiness for washing' were some more lucid analogies produced. In the profession Siegfried Giegion marked Utzon as the Leader of the Third Generation of Architects; Frank Lloyd-Wright simply considered it inorganic fantasy which confirmed the folly of competitions and whilst visiting Mies Van de Rohe in Chicago, the Master turned his back and refused to speak to Utzon. This is not to mention the hostility shown by many Australian Architects who resented Utzon, a young foreigner, for getting Australia's plum commission.
Utzon's concept constituted two main parts. A large dense slab jutting out into the harbour on which the lighter shell forms delicately perched. When coming up with the concept for his Opera House submission, Utzon amongst other things, studied Greek amphitheatres in great detail. These ancient Greek theatres were carved into the rock rather than being built from the ground up. Utzon's design called for a run of steps almost a hundred metres wide which were to look as if hewn from stone. The construction of the huge artificial plinth began in earnest before the huge engineering problem presented by...
Bibliography: Drew, P., Architecture in Detail; Sydney Opera House- Jørn Utzon (London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1995).
Weston, R., Utzon (Denmark: Edition Blondal., 2002).
Best, A., Une Histoire Inachevée (Architectural Review., 1998 Feb v.203 n.1212 p.27).
Building (1973, Oct 19, v.225, n.42, p,99-103).
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