Architecture / Australia

Sydney Opera House: Disastrous Start, Fantastic Finish

Opera house

Every major international city has its icon. London has Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower means Paris, and nothing says “New York” like the Statue of Liberty. For Sydney, this symbol is the beautiful, awe-inspiring Opera House. Sitting postcard-perfect on a finger of land in the bustling Sydney Harbor, it continues to amaze all who see it.

But, if there was ever a poster child for a project management disaster, it was this building. The finished project is wonderful, but the process of construction couldn’t have been uglier. Construction began in 1959, and 14 challenge and feud-filled years later, it was completed.

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The Opera House was designed by Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, who won the international competition with his futuristic plan. The plan was certainly novel, but the main problem was that almost every aspect of the building involved new, untried, and in some cases, unknown technology.

A good example is the primary feature of the building, the distinctive, soaring, shell roof. At the time, no one, including the architect, knew how to build the roof to support its own weight. I’m no architect, but I’d call that a big problem, and this was just the beginning of the problems.

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Amazingly, halfway through construction, a disagreement between the architect and the wallet-wielding politicians resulted in Utzon’s resignation. He left Australia in disgust, and ironically, never returned to see the Opera House completed. His loss.

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On the positive, interesting side, what a wonderful structure! I was so surprised to learn that the exterior is covered with individual tiles of two colors (beige and off white), and each panel is handmade.

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Despite its disastrous beginning, it’s an obvious, huge success. It hosts over 3,000 events annually, and residents of Sydney love their Opera House. Rightfully so!

If you want more information on the Opera House and its history, check out this link.

Happy Trails,
James

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