UTZON AND THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE:
it happen 1918-2000
given at the launch of the book at the Museum of Sydney 20 November 2000
you Sue Hunt for your gracious introduction of the Hon Peter Collins QC, MP
for Willoughby. You were kind
enough to remind us that, in addition to being one of the most energetic and
involved ministers for the arts in NSW, he was the minister most directly
involved with the establishing the museum.
We all benefit in some fashion, since it provides a focus for
understanding and recording the life, culture, creativity and shape of Sydney
so we in turn, understand a little better why Sydney is the way it is.
one side of the original 1963 Christmas jigsaw puzzle box Utzon printed the
message: 'it took several hundred men some years to put this together I am
sure you can do it in an hour.' it wasn't that easyŚnot as easy as Utzon
pretended. A friend spent two months, one hour each morning before
breakfast working on it; I spent a further month and the puzzle is still
unfinished. Perhaps I should
explain, the puzzle comprised a black-and-white aerial picture of the
Bennelong Point Opera House site taken late 1963.
was the book designer's idea that my book should be presented in a box
recreated from the puzzle box.
turned out to be significant, not only because it established a theme for the
book itself, but because the motif of red arcs on a white background which
wrap around and meet at the edges tells us a considerable amount about the
design thinking of Utzon.
called the opera house roof 'the fifth facade'.
The puzzle box has an extra or sixth facade--its bottom--; it is
covered with a pattern of red arcs; this was extremely challenging since the
arcs must coincide along each edge. It
demonstrated, among other things, some of the difficulties Utzon and his
architectural team were confronted by in resolving the complex geometrical
puzzle of the Opera House.
and the Sydney Opera House is
the literary equivalent of Utzon's jigsaw puzzle.
Each entry is a piece in the puzzle.
It interlocks with others. When
the right pieces are matched we begin to see the larger picture of events.
I have attempted as best i could and within the limits of limited
resources to give you all the key pieces in the puzzle.
They are arranged chronologically for ease of reference to facilitate
the process of pattern building.
book is a real historical puzzle, just like Utzon's 1963 Christmas jigsaw
puzzle. Hence, it seemed to me to
be especially appropriate that the designers chose, and, I might add, insisted
on, that the book be presented in its own puzzle box.
I trust you like the result as much as I do.
two colours and the arc motif itself all have a special significance in terms
of Utzon's ideas for the opera house. The
seats in the major hall were to be red ox hide, with a white Pirelli tile
floor. Many of you probably also
are aware that the roofs are based on his spherical solution and the proposed
geometry for the auditoria interiors were also to have been generated by
called them the 'mother cylinder'. Hence,
the box design represents a key statement by Utzon about his design intentions
in 1963 which he chose to embody in the puzzle box as a kind of synthesis.
is not my intention to speak at any length, but I would like to raise two
matters: the first is the relationship of the Sydney Opera House to Ragnar
Ostberg's 1923 Stockholm town hall, and the desperate need--1 was going to say
absolute--for systematic research and publication of Sydney Opera House
architectural history. Unfortunately,
after 27 years of neglect, this is still not on the agenda.
Interviews were carried out in the 1980s and this was extremely useful,
but at the present time no real attempt has been made to collect all the
documents and sources, provide authoritative commentaries and publish this
record of the building. It is
crucial that this is done now before further decisions or irreversible changes
are made to the fabric.
spent 14 years working to realise his town hall, he lived on a further 22
years after it was completed, as a forgotten and neglected figure in Swedish
culture. He died the same year that Utzon returned to Denmark after
his 3 year exile in Sweden. Ostberg's
fate, his tragedy which arose from his total dedication to a single work,
greatly distressed Utzon. He
referred to Ostberg and his fate to staff on many occasions. Utzon wished to avoid what occurred to Ostberg and this gives
us some understanding into the background of the thoughts which weighed on his
mind in February 1966 and which may have influenced his decision to withdraw
temporarily for the project.
also mentions in the Gold Book that Ostberg's town hall assisted Stockholm to
rediscover its waterfront. One of
the great contributions of the Sydney Opera House in the 1960s is that it led
this city to look at its own waterfront and to examine ways that the public
could be given greater access to it, which of course, looking back with
hindsight, we can now see was the powerful seed that once planted by the opera
house has grown into a great tree. The
idea of gold leaf on the underside of the vaults in the first model, no doubt,
originated with Ostberg's 'golden hall', which is world famous as the venue of
the Nobel Prize awards.
spent three years in Sweden from June 1942 until 1945.
Before anyone rushes to the conclusion that it is all derived all from
Chinese architecture as some people have proposed, 1 would recommend that more
attention should be paid to this important formative chapter in Utzon's life
which undoubtedly shaped not only his architecture afterwards, but had an
impact that extended beyond the professional into the personal sphere.
second matter is much more politically sensitive.
It has to be faced up to. The
Sydney opera house trust has failed to support and fund a significant ongoing
programme of historical research into the building and its history.
Furthermore, the trust has not made any attempt to publish the drawings
and related documentation, as a primary reference source on the opera house's
conception, design development and troubled realisation.
Such a record, at a minimum, would need to be accompanied by
authoritative commentaries and interpretations in large folio size volumes
with all the essential relevant background to ensure that decisions about the
building fabric ape informed. The procedure is customary with archaeological.
and buildings whose heritage status is similar to, or even of lesser
1994, when I set about collecting the art work for my Phaidon volume, I was
astounded to discover that the trust lacked even the most rudimentary
drawings, namely, a complete set of plans and elevations of the opera house.
And this was twenty years after the building had been opened! I had to
wait a year for a cad team to complete a set of plans and elevations of the
to Elias Duek-Cohen, I discovered that Utzon had expressed an identical
concern in a recent letter.
is being served by such a failure to carry out the most basic architectural
research into the Opera House's history?.
It cannot be in the long term interests of the community or the
building. Such a record ought to
have been started right at the beginning, and carried forward at regular
intervals. It is sorely needed
is simply no credible argument for not carrying out such fundamental research.
One of the preconditions for the world heritage nomination to go
forward to Unesco in Paris was the existence of such a record.
It was a great weakness that none existed at the time.
It will furthermore be invaluable and assist every one with
responsibilities for the opera house by providing a complete, accurate and
reliable record of the building and the process of its realisation.
How can we accept the world's admiration of the Opera House, while, at
the same time, neglecting to generate a full record of its design history.
To fail to do this is to risk its defilement or adulteration by
mediocrity in the future.
of you may have noticed that the cover of the book has no title.
You may have thought it was an oversight on my part.
The cover image is an Australian masterpiece of photography by Josef
Vissel. There is quite a story
attached to it. Utzon wanted a
multi-exposure photograph such as the famous American one of the golfer but
the photographer had to do it by making single exposures of each hand
position. . First Vissel photographed Utzon's head, then he placed a
photographer's black hood over Utzon's face, changed the lighting, and made
exposures of each hand position. Utzon
moved his hands in the darkness so they describe the profile of the glass
walls like a flapping gull wing. Just
think about it one moment, there he is standing with his head hooded in total
blackness, at the same time he moves his hands through 28 or so different
positions, keeping both hands symmetrical remembering the previous hand
position. It tells us something
deeply significant about Utzon -- what a superb spatial memory he must have
possessed to do this.
returning the front jacket -- why no title?
The integrity of this photograph was so important the designers
preferred not to compromise it with intrusive lettering.
Additionally, the absence of a title on the front conveys something
further that was important to Utzon. This
is the idea of an anonymous architecture, an architecture without individuals,
without signatures, without ubiquitous designer
plastered over its bum. It is a
very alien concept at present when everyone clamours for attention, where
every object desperately calls attention to itself -- begs to be noticed.
I hope the image is sufficiently intriguing that you will pick my book
up and you will want to own a copy for yourself.
Nevertheless, the message is the reverse of individuality and
glorification of artistic genius as such.
It is more to do with the beauty or ordinary everyday things, with the
vernacular, with community connections and sensibilities.
is about a discovery Alvar Aalto mentions in 1972, that 'blossoms on an apple
tree are standardised and yet are different'. Utzon shared the same belief
with Aalto on standardisation, a realisation that nature can teach us about
how to design well, and hence, 'that is how we, too, should build'.
Nature does not sign its apple tree blossoms, nor does Utzon sign his
architecture; one aspires to anonymity, the other is anonymous. Before
concluding I would like to thank a number of individuals for their invaluable
assistance and advice:
Bentley, for helping to shape the idea and assisting with the text; Anne
Zimmer from the Opera House shop and Peter Barns at the museum -
both made valuable suggestions about the book's shape and contents;
Colin Rowan and Rhys Butler for their wonderful design, intelligence and
sensitivity; superfine printing for its speed and quality; my parents for
their unswerving support. I am
immensely grateful to the Museum of Sydney for allowing me to do the launch
here. There could hardly have
been a better more appropriate venue than this because the Sydney Opera House
is one of those focal stories that
remain so central to any apprehension of Sydney, its essential meanings and
symbolism as one of the great harbour cities of the world.
you for listening and being here this afternoon.
to book summary.