Utzon and the Opera – again

The Utzon room (photo by Anne Marie Due Schmidt)The new loggia (courtesy of Eoghan Lewis)

Two refurbishment projects: The Utzon Room (photo by author) and the new loggia (photo by Eoghan Lewis)

By now it is old news that Jørn Utzon is re-engaged with his world famous project, the Sydney Opera House. Nevertheless, the story spanning between his dismissal/resignation in the sixties to his re-engagement in 1999 is quite fascinating. Furthermore, isn’t today; the day where the first sod is turned (første spadestik) on the Utzon Center in Aalborg; an appropriate occasion to post some pictures of the recent projects?

After Utzon left the project in 1966, a team of Australian architects took over the project and the Opera House project changed considerably. Acoustically the changing programme resulted in a well functioning concert hall but an inadequate opera theatre. Despite its name, the Sydney Opera House ironically enough, is not well functioning for opera!

The building opened in 1973 and has since then become an icon for the Australian identity and the centre of Sydney’s cultural life. Discussions of the general functionality of the building have persisted since its opening and grew serious during the nineties.

In 1997 the Australian architect Richard Johnson was engaged as Opera House Architect. His primary job was to carry out a number of refurbishment projects. Johnson was a great admirer of Jørn Utzon and therefore decided to travel to Mallorca and ask Jørn Utzon to participate in the refurbishment projects. At first Jørn Utzon was not interested in participating and held the opinion that the building should be left to decay as it was. Finally, however, Johnson succeeded in convincing him that the refurbishment would enhance the public’s experience of the building.

The re-engagement of Utzon in 1999 was world news, “This is believed to be an unprecedented situation – to have the architect of one of the world’s most iconic buildings back working on his creation more than 30 years after he was last involved.” (Building Program at Sydney Opera House, 2004).

Two major refurbishment projects have already been realized in the collaboration between Richard Johnson, Jørn Utzon and his son Jan Utzon. The first one is the refurbishment of a small room called the Reception Hall that was re-opened in 2004 and is now called the Utzon Room.

The second one is a loggia and a foyer in the base of the Opera House that was inaugurated in 2006. This project was quite controversial because it for the first time in 25 years changed the outwards appearance of the Opera House. Furthermore it was criticized for breaking the principle of the closed base of the building. Jørn Utzon, however, dismissed the criticism by arguing that the human experience is always more important than any formal principles in architecture.

A new opera theatre is also on the drawing table and currently awaits further funding. If it is realized, Sydney Opera House might finally be an adequate name for one of the most recognized buildings of the twentieth century.


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