Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Jørn Utzon, and the Sydney Opera House

Jacob Levy at the Volokh Conspiracy observes that Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who designed the Sydney Opera House, has been awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Jacob observes that Utzon "didn't see it through to completion for a variety of reasons". The New York Times article he links to states that "While the building was often likened to the Taj Mahal, the comparison was not always complimentary. Such criticisms eventually caused Mr. Utzon to withdraw from the project before its completion". This is all euphemism. What happened was the project (which was funded by lottery money) went over budget. In the election in the state of New South Wales that took place 1965, the opposition Liberal Party used the story of supposed excesses in the building of the Opera House to score political points off the reigning Labor government. When the Liberals were elected, in an act of great philistinism they decided to get rid of Utzon, because sacking people appointed by predecessor governments is something that you do. This was done in a particularly nasty way: the government messed up the finances of the project to such an extent that it was impossible for Utzon to continue and he was thus forced to "resign". (This was not the first or last sacking to be described as "resignation"). The project was then completed by local architects, much to the regret of many people both at the time and since. (The inside of the building is presently being refurbished with some input from Utzon, but sadly it will never be completed to his original design). The whole sad story is told in this article from the London Review of Books (link via aldaily).

Of course, despite all this, the Sydney Opera House remains a truly great piece of architecture.

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