Opera House – Sydney

So Lilly and I were hoping we could take a walk around Sydney Opera House without necessarily having a tour but unfortunately most areas are closed off unless you have a ticket to a show or a ticket to a tour. The tours are about an hour long and 38AUD but only 28 AUD if you have a student ID. Lilly isn’t a student and although I brought my ID to Australia I didn’t have it with me at the moment, luckily I was able to swindle the lady into giving us the student rate.

The tour was extremely informative in many aspects and it led to more appreciation of the opera house. The first interesting thing we saw was that the elevator of the opera house has no top part. When they built it they couldn’t fit all the mechanics of an elevator on top so they left it with no ceilings and all of the work comes solely from the beneath the floor.

Number 218, that’s all the design for Sydney Opera House was before January 1957; a number in a pool of entries for an international design competition, to represent a young nation transforming itself, initiated in 1956 by the New South Wales government. The competition brief had specifications to attract the best design in the world with the main requirement being a design of two halls one for opera and the other for symphony in front of each other.

Entry 218 was revisited after an American architect joined the independent jury. And although the sketch had no walls to protect from the elements and no engineer had been asked to verify if the structure could stand number 218 was unanimously supported by the judges.

On January 29, 1957 Jørn Utzen entry number 218 was chosen as the future Sydney Opera House design and the NSW government chose him as the sole architect for the project.

When the project was to commence people in the area hated the idea and thought it would be ugly. Those who lived in front feared it would diminish the value of their property and were completely against its design; it wasn’t until it received world recognition that Australians were more receptive of it. This is just one of the many controversies and issues the building of the Sydney Opera House led to. Another issue was the government pressures, during an election year Utzon was forced to set a foundation having no idea the weight or size the opera house was going to be (which ended up having to be completely removed and redone).

Utzon went through several changing design ideas to create something that could withstand using his experiences and travel as a backbone. With the help of an engineer, Ove Arup, Utzon developed a design based on the complex sections of a sphere. The shells on the outside began to be built bringing together the world’s best construction engineers and craftsmen. Utzon had amazing ideas he desired to put forth for the interior but unfortunately could never see them through.

Eight years into the project during the elections of the 1965 the liberal politicians running promised to remove Utzon, a Danish architect, and in his place put Australian architects to finish the work. During this time Australia was a very racist place and so this was the best slogan. The project had also been estimated to take 3.5 years with a $7 million budget so the Australians were fed up with the circumstances.

So they won the election and Jørn Utzon was questioned for cost estimates and schedules and then stopped payments forcing him to resign from the project in February of 1966. Utzon left Sydney at the end of April of 1966 with his family hurt and betrayed by what happened. He fell into a terrible depression and did not work for 10 years following his departure from Sydney. Utzon left Sydney never to return again or see his masterpiece in person.

Three Australian architects were put in his place with Peter Hall, an Utzon fanatic as the main architect. This was also a bad time for Hall as the media depicted things as a rivalry between Hall and Utzon. They were asked to do several things and unlike Utzon followed instruction with little question.

Thirty-two years later, when Utzon was well into his 80s and too fragile to travel he agreed to rejoin in the development of his masterpiece. One of the first things he did was try to switch back the Opera and the Symphony halls but the project would cost billions of dollars and would require the Sydney Opera House to be closed for years. Utzon created the Design Principles to be used as a permanent reference for any future changes to the building.

…I just realized how lost I became in the rich history. There are a million more facts I learned during the tour but I realize if any of you are interested in learning more you can just research it on your own.

During my tour we also saw a seal who arrived at the opera house about a year ago and has never left since. This Sunday he was being overly active according to the tour guide.

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