The Architectural Design Of The Sydney Opera House
Of all the major buildings constructed in the 20th century, few have enjoyed such long-running popularity and continued distinction as the Sydney Opera House. Instantly recognizable all over the globe, this unique public building remains as unique and iconic today as it did when completed more than forty years ago.
Fierce Design Competition
Like many large public works projects intended to project a distinctive appearance, the design for the Sydney Opera House was opened up to a competition between many architects. Given the particular prominence of the project — it was already known that the finished Opera House would be a national as well as local symbol — this design competition attracted worldwide attention.
Despite competing against some of the most prominent designers in the world, the unknown Danish architect Jorn Utzon landed the job. (The presence on the judging committee of Eero Saarinen, a Finnish architect famous for visually-similar curved designs, may have played a role in this.) Utzon’s original proposal — which ended up being changed rather dramatically — was made up of gleaming white paraboloids designed to mimic the spread sails of a windjammer.
Challenges In Construction
Once the Opera House moved out of conceptual design and towards actually being built, numerous difficulties with Utzon’s original design came to light. It turned out that his paraboloid roof shells, beautiful in their geometrical simplicity, were going to be a nightmare to construct in the real world. Solving this problem would require six years, the assistance of world-famous engineer Ove Arup, and some of the earliest computer-aided structural analysis ever performed.
Ultimately, the key to bringing the Opera House to life as intended was to aim for even greater geometrical simplicity. The shells were reshaped to be built out of spherical sections, a solution that allowed the builders to use identical pieces repeatedly. While there were plenty of other challenges to overcome in the building’s construction — the interior was entirely redesigned more than once, for instance — it is the success of the design team in realizing Utzon’s vision for the roofs that made the Opera House as distinctive as it is.
Considering that the Opera House remains famous all over the world and immediately recognizable as a symbol of Australia and Sydney, it’s easy to understand that many people take pride in its successful completion. While every Australian can rightfully share some measure of that pride, an extra portion surely goes to the inventive and dedicated design team that turned Utzon’s dream into a reality in the Sydney Harbor.
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