It’s hard NOT to see the Sydney Opera House if you visit Sydney. It’s a beautiful site. I didn’t take an in-depth tour, but I did learn some interesting things about it.
In 1956, the Australian government decided to to hold a design competition for a new performing arts complex. More than 230 entries from around the world poured in. One entry was from an unknown 38-year-old Danish architect named Jørn Utzon. The irony is that he was first rejected as being “too ambitious”. In the end the decided to name him the winner and gave him a $7 million budget, and thus the building of a world icon began.
The Construction and Drama
The design and construction of the sails took eight years in total, made up of 2,190 pre-cast sections, some weighing up to 15 tons. The total weight of the 10 roof sails is estimated at 27,230 tons.
It predated green technology by 40 years by installing an air-conditioning system that uses Sydney Harbour to cool the building’s interior spaces. The more than one million self-cleaning ceramic tiles that make the sails glisten in the sun were stuck onto plates and hoisted to coat the landmark exterior.
By late 1965, the Opera House was looking good on the outside and Utzon was being a perfectionist and holding up interior work. The government was not impressed and demanded more seats and fast. Things hit a head around February 1966 when the newly appointed minister for public works, Davis Hughes, reportedly had words with Utzon. This caused Utzon to resign and leave the country (wow, dramatic). He has never returned.
A new team of architects worked for another seven years to complete the building and we all know how it turned out. The Opera House opened on October 20, 1973, inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1999, Utzon was reunited with his baby and reappointed as Sydney Opera House architect. He designed many of the recent renovations including the refurbishment of the Reception Hall. This hall has been renamed the Utzon Room in his honor.
Present and Future
Today the Sydney Opera House stages more than 3,000 events for the benefit of two million art and music lovers every year. In terms of engineering, architecture, culture and iconic status, there is nothing like it in the world.
In 2003, famous architect Frank Gehry said the following poignant statement:
“Utzon made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available
technology, and he persevered … to build a building that changed the image of an entire country.”