Jørn Utzon, the architect whose visionary designs were behind Sydney’s iconic Opera House, died today in Copenhagen aged 90. He never saw his most famous creation complete.
Utzon skipped town in 1966, leaving the New South Wales government to raise the Opera House as best it could.
The Sydney Opera House—with its vast, soaring roof and shitty, impractical interior—is a monument to the vision of a great man, Country Party public works minister Sir Bill Davis Hughes (1910-2003). It was Sir Bill who, when all around doubted him, had the clarity and courage to stand up for that vision.
Sir Bill’s idea was simple and elegant. Sydney needed a world-class icon, not a world-class performing arts centre. Future generations would not judge this architectural masterwork on the opinions of ballerinas or the OH&S committee. They would cast their eyes over the gleaming exterior from a safe distance, gasp at its brilliance and then move on to other attractions.
Thanks to the genius of Sir Bill, countless millions of dollars of public money were saved, at no cost to the building’s usefulness as a symbol of Sydney as a global centre. When the naysayers insisted that some Danish guy had to organise some wood panelling or whatever, Sir Bill stood up for an opera house every bit as good and quite a bit cheaper.
It was Sir Bill who uttered those famous words that have inspired countless works ministers that followed in his footsteps: “If we are to have an architectural gem—maybe one that will be outstanding in the world—we still must consider the question of costs in relation to the social needs of the people…If you people who are coming here making complaints about not enough schools, the drought and so on, are willing to let the costs of this opera house escalate to any level, I shall not be a party to it and neither will the Government.”
Today we honour the vision and sacrifice of Sir Bill Davis Hughes. Thanks to him, Sydney got its opera house, and at a bargain price. And despite the shitty interior, they even managed to put the odd show on there.