The Saga of the Sydney Opera House: The Dramatic Story of the Design and Construction of the Icon of Modern Australia

By Peter Murray | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

In April 2003 Jørn Utzon, at the age of 85, was awarded the Pritzker Prize-architecture's 'Nobel'. The citation reads: 'There is no doubt that the Sydney Opera House is his masterpiece. It is one of the great iconic buildings of the twentieth century, an image of great beauty which has become known throughout the world-a symbol for not only a city, but a whole country and continent'. The presentation of the prize places Utzon in the pantheon of the greatest contemporary architects but marks a career that failed to reach its full potential following the traumas of building the Opera House.

Since it opened in 1973 the Opera House has repaid its A$100 million cost many times over as a tourist attraction and as a cultural centre. As a brand it is priceless. The story of its construction is one of triumph and of tragedy; it is Utzon's masterpiece, yet he did not complete the building; the creation of the huge oversailing roofs was a magnificent feat of engineering and collaboration, but the design team split apart amidst misunderstandings and recriminations.

Today the building is loved, yet while it was under construction attitudes were very different. The local press continually attacked its cost, its delays and its architect; headline writers gave the now familiar white shell roofs nicknames such as 'the concrete camel', 'copulating terrapins' and 'the hunchback of Bennelong Point'. Politicians tried to control the costs and speed up the programme. In 1966, the pressures reached such a climax that Utzon wrote to Davis Hughes, then Minister for Public Works in the New South Wales Government, saying 'You have forced me to leave the job'. Hughes immediately accepted what he took to be the architect's resignation.

Soon after Utzon left, Davis Hughes hired three local architects, Peter Hall, Lionel Todd and David Littlemore, to complete the building which finally opened on 20 October 1973-six years behind schedule and costing more than ten times its original estimate.

The significance of the Opera House is not merely in its iconic status. The

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