September 14, 2008 at 4:08 pm Leave a comment

Louis Kahn remarked: “The sun did not know how beautiful its light was until it was reflected off this building”.
The Sydney Opera House is located in Sydney, Australia was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the world’s most distinctive 20th century buildings, and among the 20 selected finalists in the 2007 New Seven Wonders of the World project.
But the architect who designed it wasn’t paid in full- one of the most embarrassing scandals in 20th century architecture.

The saga of the opera house actually began in 1957, when, at the age of 38, Jorn Utzon was still a relatively unknown architect with a practice in Denmark . Utzon had just entered an anonymous competition for an opera house to be built in Australia on a point of land jutting into Sydney harbor. Out of some 230 entries from over thirty countries, his concept was selected .he unexpectedly won the competition to design the Sydney Opera House, despite the fact that it was his first non-domestic design and his entry did not meet the contest criteria; the designs he submitted were little more than preliminary drawings. But one of the judges, Eero Saarinen, described it as “genius” and declared he could not endorse any other choice.

The work started and the shell was completed. However, there was a change of government in 1965, and the new Robert Askin government declared the project under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Public Works. Utzon fell victim to a politically lowballed construction budget, which eventually resulted in a cost overrun of 1,400 percent.

Utzon was in open conflict with the new Minister for Public Works, Davis Hughes. Attempting to rein in the escalating cost of the project, Hughes began questioning Utzon’s designs, schedules and cost estimates, and he eventually stopped the payments to Utzon, who was forced to resign as chief architect in February 1966. Utzon, who is described as being an intensely private person was unwittingly entangled in political intrigues and besieged by a hostile press, which eventually forced him out of the project before it was completed. He secretly left the country days later, never to return. The Opera house was completed by other designers under the direction of Peter Hall. Utzon refused to return to Australia and has never laid eyes on his masterpiece.

As Pritzker Laureate and Juror Frank Gehry puts it, “Utzon made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology, and he persevered through extraordinary malicious publicity and negative criticism to build a building that changed the image of an entire country. It is the first time in our lifetime that an epic piece of architecture has gained such universal presence.”

The scandal that it created kept Utzon from building more masterpieces.

This, is the real cost of the Sydney Opera House.


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