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  • Writer's pictureBritney Heerten

The Sydney Opera House Architect

Updated: Jun 10

Out of over 200 contest participants from around the world, Jorn Utzon was chosen to be the designer of the Sydney Opera House. He provided an astounding design that perplexed engineers. It wasn't until he came up with an alternate solution where the shapes he desired be derived from the surface of a sphere that a building solution was discovered. Thinking of it this way allowed for multiple shells to be cast from the same spherical mold. This also meant that the exterior surface could be uniformly tiled. He chose a tile that would beautifully reflect the sky and water around it, but would not cause glare.

With the roof issue solved and the construction in progress relations between Utzon and the NSW Government fell apart. Politicians grew concerned about the building’s cost. The cost first estimated at 3.5 million pounds when construction began in 1959 had increased to 13.7 million pounds by 1962.

"Norman Ryan, the Minister for Public Works, to whom Joseph Cahill had entrusted the Opera House from his death bed, stepped up supervision of Utzon. Instructions by the government in 1963 to change the seating arrangements in the main hall increased the pressure on the architect and tensions grew between the architect and his engineers." - Says the Sydney Opera House website information.

Hughs declared that Utzon was only to be paid for drawings in order to cut costs. Utzon insisted that he needed plywood mock ups for the interiors that would cost 60,000 pounds, but the cost would be too great. The engineers were skeptical of the wooden construction because they were used to using steal. For Utzon no prototypes meant he could not create his drawings; therefore, he could not be paid. Eventually Utzon was forced to resign in 1966 and his engineers agreed to stay on to complete the project. Another architect by the name of Peter Hall was hired to complete Phase 3.

There was public protest and petition over the fact that the original architect would not be carrying on with the entirety of the project. He was offered a less involved position, but was not willing to abandon his original vision to rejoin the team. Utzon expected that he would be asked back out of desperation within a couple of years, but that was not the case. The project continued moving forward with the new architect on the job. In 1999 Utzon did regain connection and was asked to develop a set of Design Principals for the Opera House that would be applied to any future changes. Utzon did not every return to see his design completed.

In 2003 Utzon was rewarded the Pritzker Prize for Architecture and in 2007 The Sydney Opera house was included into the UNESCO World Heritage List under the World Heritage Convention. Utzon passed away in 2008 at the age of 90. Unlike many other amazing artists, he was able to see his incredible design recognized in the highest regard before his time here was over.

Information Source: For a very in depth look at The Sydney Opera House and Architect visit:

The website provides virtual tours, photos, and so much wonderful information about the architect and the facility.

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