Archive for the ‘Sydney’ Category

Jørn Utzon, flights of angels, and the sound of the Sydney Opera House


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Photo by Vermin Inc / © Some rights reserved.

Architect Charles Boyle of Perth, Australia writes to Hello Beautiful!:

The issue with the acoustics in the Sydney Opera house stem from the use of the halls – at the time, the “Opera House” was intended to lend competitive cultural gravitas to Sydney in favour of Melbourne (the same bean-field war propagated the location of the national capital in Canberra mid-way between the two)

The larger hall was intended for Opera, and the smaller for concert performances.

However, opera waned in popularity, so the decision was made to house the opera in the smaller hall, but the facilities are modest, and the volume insufficient to allow the operatic acoustic to develop.

The reason why Mr Utzon could not continue was that he wished to build full-scale mock-ups and trials for the interior acoustic lining, but the government of New South Wales who had commissioned the project, baulked at the cost for something that might be simply discarded later, and so suspended any further payments on the project. Mr Utzon was thus forced to retire from the project. He never actually resigned.

His approach would not be questioned in these days when acoustic excellence is a specialised field of consultancy: I recall how his office in Helsingor was littered with models, prototypes and samples of construction methodologies as this was his very hand-on way of exploring new ideas and pioneering solutions.

“Good night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”

Charles Boyle – architect
Perth, Australia

Thank you Mr. Boyle.


Joseph Rykwert:

“I never quite loved the Sydney Opera House.”

Like almost everybody, I reluctantly admired the Sydney Opera House when I first saw the competition results back in 1956, with its earth-bound podium growing out of the soil of Bennelong Point and jutting out into the bay, the vaults hovering over the layered platforms in counterpoint to the arch of the Harbour Bridge. It may all have been very thrilling, but I never quite loved it. Perhaps I was uneasy, or even feared those vaults as foreboding the iconic buildings 50 years hence. Or perhaps I could not buy into the analogy between the vaults and the sails in the bay. Just think how that analogy has now been debased by the curved side of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai.

Burj Al-Arab in Dubai.

Read Rykwert here.

Interior photo from Flickr

Rest in Peace Jørn Utzon

Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect, died on November 29, aged 90.
He designed the Sydney Opera House
but left the project and never saw it completed.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

With a friend, Tobias Faber, Utzon wrote a controversial article espousing two central architectural principles; learning from vernacular architecture and intelligent response to function.

If these were the seeds of the Sydney Opera House design, travel was the nutrient. In the late 1940s, the Utzons went to America, where Joern had warm meetings with the renowned Finnish architect Eero Saarinen in Michigan, Frank Lloyd Wright in Wisconsin and Charles Eames in California, as well as a bizarre encounter in Chicago with the cigar-sucking Mies van der Rohe, where communication, in English, was through a secretary. Mies allowed the Utzons to visit his newly finished Farnsworth House at Plano, Illinois.

Utzon was struck by the way Miesian spaces were at once disciplined and voluptuous, by Wright’s richly textural use of material and by the sheer panache with which Eames combined off-the-shelf componentry; lessons which he combined to good effect in his own house in Hammermill Wood, Hellebaek, 1952. Next stop Mexico, where Utzon had his first experience of the Mayan temples that, in creating massive stone platforms at the height of the jungle canopy, enabled the Mayans to break through into the sunlight and re-create lost horizons; much as Utzon would later do in Sydney.

(From the New York Times) – As a young architect Mr. Utzon worked for Gunnar Asplund in Sweden and Alvar Aalto in Finland before establishing his own practice in Copenhagen in 1950. In 1956 he read about the Sydney Opera House competition in a Swedish architecture magazine. He spent six months designing a building with sail-like roofs, their geometry, he said, derived from the sections of an orange.

(Back to the Sydney Morning Herald) … by the time he won the Sydney Opera House competition, Utzon was a 39-year-old architect brimming with ideas and design skill but with relatively little experience in the tribulations of getting things built….

The apocryphal story is that (Opera House competition judge) Saarinen arrived two days late and, plucking Utzon’s scheme from the bin, declared it the winner. “So many opera houses look like boots,” he told the press at the time. “Utzon has solved the problem.” … the winner was agreed…. Ten-year-old Lin Utzon, Joern’s eldest child (who herself would later create a number of artworks for Sydney buildings) carried the news to her father, pedalling furiously through the frozen landscape on her bike. “Now,” she said, “can I have my horse?”

Even as Utzon basked in his win, the furor began. His winning scheme was displayed at New York’s Museum of Modern Art beside Saarinen’s TWA Terminal. Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe hated Utzon’s design; Saarinen and Richard Neutra loved it.

Read the whole story here.

A professor of mine, Rafael Moneo, worked on the building, under Utzon. He helped develop some of the geometries of the curved shells. Moneo spoke in superlatives of his former employer. And he said that working on that project influenced his design for the

Kursaal Auditorium and Congress Center in San Sebastián, Spain (1999). Particularly in the use of two volumes to separate functions.

Warning to those who like straight lines – I don’t think his Kursaal – by all accounts wonderful – identifies San Sebastián as famously as Utzon’s design identifies Sydney.

But the Kursaal halls are said to have marvelous acoustics, whereas the acoustics in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House are said to be poor and artists complain about the lack of performance and backstage space.

Lynn Becker has a smart post on Jørn Utzon.

Utzon portrait AFP/Getty
Sunset shot Greg Wood/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


Svelter Shelter

Opera stars are getting svelter, and so are opera houses.

Where is this one? You know who designed it. Santiago Calatrava.
It’s in Valencia, where’s he’s designing a new world. In the old world.

Are we getting tired of buildings that screamingly call attention to themselves? If they’re going to do that they’d better be screamingly beautiful. I don’t know if this one is.

Calatrava already has a Planetarium and IMAX Theater and a Science Museum in Valencia, his native city.

This new opera house, also features Calatrava murals and ceramic bas-relief sculptures. And it looks like his opera house in Tenerife:

That one is screamingly beautiful! Though a bit of a rip-off of the Sydney Opera house.

Which will always be the icon.

From the Valencia opera house press release: In 1991, the government of Valencia commissioned Calatrava to design this vast urban intervention (86 acres!) to bring coherence and life to a previously neglected area, and to provide the city with cultural facilities of national importance.

Enlightened government? Some say the buildings don’t work very well. That they’re form over function.

Santiago Calatrava’s Valencia Opera House is due to open October 25.

If you’re there, you’ll hear Fidelio. Odd choice. Why not also commission new music? A new Spanish opera to go with the new building? Especially as the press release tells us,

“The people of Valencia have traditionally shared a deep love of music,” Santiago Calatrava states. “The region is sometimes known as the Land of 1,000 Bands, since every village and town has its musical association. In fact Llíria, called the City of Music, has two, which are respected throughout the world. The project of creating the Valencia Opera House is therefore highly significant—because of the role that music plays in the life of the region, and because of the civic role that the building will now play in the evolution of the city.”

When it opens, will Calatrava’s other buildings, the ones with wings that move, wave at it?


And, is ‘svelter’ a word? 😉

Calatrava portrait by Suzanne DeChillo/TM cThe New York Times