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Danish Design Down Under
by Clint Wayne
2008-12-01 09:06:07
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In April 2008, Ovi published this article by Clint Wayne to celebrate Jorn Utzon's 90th birthday. On November 29th he sadly passed away, so it is only fitting for a reprise of the article...

* * * * * * * 

As a fervent lover of travel I was fortunate enough back in 2000 to visit one of my most anticipated destinations and to view a structure that entered my life during my student days. The destination was Sydney, Australia, and the structure was the unique Sydney Opera House.

In 1955 a worldwide competition was launched by New South Wales Premier Joseph Cahill for a new performing arts centre to be constructed on the prominent Bennelong Point. 233 entries from 32 countries were received with great excitement but the design by Danish architect Jorn Utzon caught the judges imagination with his design of sails which were such a compliment to the sailing fraternity that use the stunning Sydney Harbour, so as today is his 90th birthday it gives me a great excuse to pen a few lines on my favourite building.

Utzon unexpectedly won the competition with his first non-domestic design, even though he had not fulfilled the contest’s criteria, and Finnish judge Eero Saarinen described his design as ‘genius’ declaring that he could not endorse any other choice. The submitted design was little more than preliminary drawings which brought about the huge engineering headache of how to set about constructing his complex concept.

With no repetition of any of the roof forms the use of in-situ concrete using formwork was deemed too expensive as was the use of factory manufactured pre-cast concrete sections. Over six frustrating years the design team went through 12 methods before a workable solution was found using the earliest computers to calculate the complex forces. Eventually the perfect remedy was deemed to be that the 14 shells of the building if combined would form the perfect sphere. There is still much conjecture as to whom the ‘eureka’ moment should be credited to but the most important result was that construction of phase 2 was commenced in 1963.

Utzon had overseen all the construction work and had commenced the interior design until a change of government and policy in 1965 led to huge controversy and ultimately to his resignation the following year.

Its distinctive white roofs which glisten in the sunlight are due to the 1.056 million glossy white ceramic tiles manufactured in Sweden and, although they are basically self-cleaning, they are still subject to periodic maintenance.

The Opera House was finally completed and opened in 1973 by Queen Elizabeth II and remains one of the world’s most recognisable buildings. Along with the Harbour Bridge it has been a famous backdrop to the tremendous firework displays of the Olympics and the Millennium celebration yet to this day Utzon has never returned to Australia and has never set eyes on his masterpiece.

For me I am just happy to recall the construction film I watched as a young eager student and the first time I wandered down in the Australian sunshine to the Harbour with my special lady and was overwhelmed by the spectacle that lay before us.

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Emanuel Paparella2008-04-09 12:35:52
Four o'clock: from Stonehenge to the Sydney's Opera house? No matter, viva architecture, and opera too!

Simon2008-04-10 02:03:14
Great article for his birthday!

BTW, Papaerella What does four o'clock mean? I don't get it!

Emanuel Paparella2008-04-10 05:49:42
A hint Mr. Simon: the clock is utilized by fighting pilots to indicate the position of an incoming enemy plane... It has been used in this forum for reasons best known to those who were exchanging some sort of private joke. They can answer your query.

P.S. By the way, the correct spelling of my last name is Paparella, not Pappy, nor Papaerelle, not little Pope, but I prefer to be addressed by my first name, unless of course one wishes to be purposefully disrespectful. That too alas has been done ad nauseam by someone who has disappeared from this forum for the second time, again, for reasons best known to him.

tom2008-04-10 19:05:19
He probably disappeared because of pedantic niggles about correct spelling!

Emanuel Paparella2008-04-11 21:39:41
Quite right, Mr. Tom, quite right! Human nature being what it is, it is almost predictable that if what is presented to us is to our liking, chances are we will characterize it as genial and erudite and show respect to the presenter; on the other hand, when it is not to our liking we may well end up defining it as boring and pedantic. Of course that may apply only to most normal human beings; for a narcissist neither pedantry nor erudition will quite do, only one’s own image in a pond.

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