Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Sydney Opera House

World Heritage Sites



As I continue to pour over my World Heritage Sites Guide, I was thrilled to see the Sydney Opera House was added to this venerable list in 2007.  Why it took so long is a bit baffling, but then I read the story behind its construction.  The story is filled with contention, happenstance and finally, a super-human tenacity from a brilliant engineer who brought the architect's vision to life.  Controversy is its middle name.

I knew none of this, despite taking the tour back in the 1980's.  (It's all a blur.)  I spent most of the hour chasing my two-year old up and down steps and catching glimpses of the remarkable sails floating above me.  Like millions of people before me, I was in awe of the architecture.  We took a second tour of the entire Sydney waterfront and from the boat, the lines of the opera house seemed even more remarkable.  Sharp, and yet delicate.  The large precast shells seem to be filled with the wind like the massive sails of a clipper ship.  This, of course, is exactly why Jorn Utzon's design was chosen as the winner of an international competition, back in 1957.  Unbelievably, it was an American architect, Eero Saarinen (of the St. Louis Arch fame) who arrived late to the judge's table and pulled the drawing from the stack of rejects.

But how to build such a beauty?  Nothing like this had ever been attempted before.  Anguish after anguish ensued.  Years went by.  The need for more and more money followed, much to the dismay of the New South Wales government.  It is when the engineer Ove Arup stepped in and solved the challenges with new technology, new materials and the help of a computer, that the Sydney Opera House finally began to take shape.  Arup's firm went on to build many more exceptional structures like the Bird's Nest in Beijing and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.  Utzon, although resigning in disgust, eventually received the Pritzker Prize for Architecture, the highest award in its field.  The construction of the Sydney Opera House was truly a labor of love and continues to inspire the architects of the future.

  

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