November 29, 2008

Jorn Utzon, architect of the Sydney Opera House, never saw his creation.

And now, at age 90, he has died, and the question whether he will ever return to Australia and see it has been answered for good.

From Bill Bryson's book "In a Sunburned Country":
Nothing so daringly inclined and top-heavy had ever been built before and no one was sure that it could be. In retrospect, the haste with which the project was begun was probably its salvation. One of the lead engineers later noted that if anyone had realized at the outset how nearly impossible a challenge it would be, it would never have gotten the go-ahead. Just working out the principles necessary to build the roof took five years -- the whole project had been intended to last no more than six -- and construction in the end dragged on for almost a decade and a half. The final cost came in at a weighty A$102 million, fourteen times the original estimate.

Utzon, interestingly, has never seen his prized creation. He left the project in 1966 in a dispute over rising costs and has never been back. He also never designed anything remotely as celebrated.


George M. Spencer said...

Can't say I know much about Mt. Utzon, but Bryson jumped the shark with that Australia book. Every chapter is about him getting drunk in a different hotel bar or about how he couldn't get a hotel room and got drunk or about how he got lost when he went for a walk and got drunk.

Ann Althouse said...

He goes somewhere and whatever happens to him... that's the book. If you love Bryson, that's it.

But he also wrote "A Short History of Nearly Everything" -- or whatever it's called. I think that's after the Australia book. And he did that childhood memoir, "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid," which has a minimal amount of getting lost and drunk or drunk and lost.

Travis Fisher said...

I loved both "In a Sunburned Country" and "A Short History of Nearly Everything." I learned a lot from both. "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" was meh. I didn't find it nearly as informative. If anything, I thought it self-indulgent in the same way that I think many baby boomers are. As far as the Sydney Opera House,... meh.

Expat(ish) said...

We took a tour of the opera house - the long one.

I think it is very much a building of its time in a very parochial place. By today's standards it is small and cramped everywhere but the main performance space.

And it's hot as heck - lots of glass and the Aussies aren't wizard HVAC engineers.

They are doing a large piecemeal restoration/improvement program so maybe it'll stay useful beyond the iconic looks.


Ann Althouse said...

I was born within 1 year of Bryson, so "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" resonates for me.

Anonymous said...

I would rather stay outside and look at the building than go inside and listen to opera.

George M. Spencer said...

IMHO, his first books, the ones he sweated, were his best, recounting the miseries of the Appalachian Trail and England's idiosyncracies.

Now that he's a brand, he can write about anything (and spend less time doing it) and get huge advances. More power to him.

amba said...

You forgot the Death label.

Meade said...

Architect of architects