Considered by many to be the last century’s top architectural masterpiece and one of the greatest works of engineering of all time, Sydney Opera House has become, over time, the symbol of Sydney, of Australia and of man’s great ingenuity.
Its story began in 1956 when the state of New South Wales launched an international competition to create a complex which would include an opera house and a concert hall. Amongst the 230 architects who took part in the competition was a young and promising Dane by the name of Jørn Utzon.
The judges included the well-known Finnish architect and designer, Eero Saarinen. He began to promote Utzon’s spectacular and unusual design, and it won the competition in 1957.
Work began in the following year and Sydney Harbour became the site of one of the twentieth century’s greatest architectural works.
Utzon’s design provided for an exterior covered with a multitude of shells (similar to the segments of an orange), which gave the impression of sails unfurled in the wind – an image wholly in keeping with the maritime landscape around.
The real challenge in the project, however, lay in the creation of the shells, and to do this the renowned British engineering studio Ove Arup & Partners was approached. Not without difficulty this miracle of engineering was brought to a successful conclusion.
In 1966 Jørn Utzon resigned from the project on account of a number of complications, including an increase in costs and disagreements with the new state government. Seven years later, Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the whole complex.
When Sydney Opera House was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 2007, it was described not only as one of the twentieth century’s undisputed architectural masterpieces, but also as one of humankind’s greatest works.
Utzon never returned to Australia.
Sydney, January 2018