Sydney Opera House

Jørn Utzon (1918-2008)
1957-1973 Se tidslinje
Sydney, Australia Se kort

By Jeppe Villadsen, journalist, 2006

World famous shells

Almost only the Pyramids in Egypt can boast a more famous silhouette than the characteristic white shells that constitute the roof of Joern Utzon’s Opera House in Sydney. The Opera House is considered Utzon’s chief work, and without comparison it is the world’s most famous architectural work designed by a Danish architect. 

Unforgettable images 

The images pile up when you are looking at the Sydney Opera: a ship with sails suspended in the wind, a handful of white conches, or flapping bird’s wings. Common to all the motifs is the architect’s inspiration from nature. 

At the same time grand and poetic, the Opera House is placed on a small point in Sydney Bay. At this spectacular location, the building resembles a fleet with its sails set, ready to depart or dock - in much the same way as Australian immigrants have long arrived by ship to the huge island. 

A million white tiles 

The building itself appears as a slightly floating formation of gigantic white shells in different sizes which rises above the terrace-shaped foundation and lifts its head towards the sky and the sea. With its more than one million white-glazed tiles, the roof shines and sparkles in the sun.
Utzon’s Opera House is an architectural pearl - and a national pride both in Australia and Denmark. With its simple and lively shape and well-considered detail, it is regarded the most significant contribution to world architecture designed by a Danish architect. 

Sydney Opera House. The shells meets the base. Photo: Jan Utzon.
Pie chart (cut up) with the skulls section marked. Made available by Jan Utzon.

Did you know?

For a long time one was considering dropping the curved shells because the engineers could not figure out how to build it. Jørn Utzon found the solution himself when he one day was cutting an orange into pieces. All the arches are thus a section of a ball. Utzon did not complete the construction itself because he would not accept the savings requirements imposed by the Australian Government. The building later ended up being much more expensive than what Utzon had asked for.

The committee's justification

By the Committee for Architecture, 2006

The Sydney Opera House is Australia’s national opera building, located in a prominent spot in Sydney Harbour. The building appears as a floating, moving formation of giant white sails, the different sizes of which rise over a terraced bastion, towering towards the sea, the sky and the horizon.
Each sail is a different slice of the same large ball. They are colossal, ribbon-shaped concrete structures, clad with white, glazed tiles, arranged symmetrically in pairs on the terraced base above the opera house’s various rooms and functions, which are sunken into the base. Together, the sails form 3 mutually offset shapes, so that, when seen from a distance and up close, the construction appears to be in motion, lightly floating above the base which is anchored in the water.

The building is Jørn Utzon’s main work, and with its simple and vibrant form, its clear geometry and its thoughtful details, it is Danish architecture’s most important contribution to international architecture. As an edifice, the Sydney Opera House basically speaks of humanity’s relationship with nature's elements – the earth, the sky and the ocean. The narrative is poetic because it creates a unique shape and space, but one which everyone understands – simultaneously emotionally fascinating and surprisingly undeniable. Which is why the Australians and the rest of the world’s population can identify so strongly with the building. The Sydney Opera House has, therefore, become the building which symbolises an entire nation’s understanding of its origins and future.


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