Fifty years of the Sydney Opera House

The Museum of Sydney has a new exhibition celebrating 50 years since the opening of the Sydney Opera House. Although concentrating on 50 years of performances (costumes / posters / sets) it has number of well-curated items and displays of great interest to architects.

Whilst the graphics, (found in myriad books on the building), are digitally distracting, the highlights are the models. This one shows the multi-purpose hall, as designed by Utzon before he left the project.

Lego is all the rage (thanks Hamish and Brickman), and so we have a cut-away model of the same hall, as built, in the little bricks. Apart from being astonishingly detailed, and fun, it is part of the narrative that seeks to widen the story beyond Utzon’s sacking. Equal attention given to Peter Hall’s designs and solutions, part of the resurrection of his critical contribution to the success of the building.

A re-evaluation a long time coming. The exhibition includes a letter by Henry Cowan, Professor of Architectural Science the University of Sydney rebuking the SMH for the elision of Hall in its supplement of 1973, saying that Hall, Todd and Littlemore had “done a difficult job with skill and integrity”.

But the focus was always on Utzon, until his former colleague, Peter Webber, also a long time Professor at the University of Sydney wrote Peter Hall, Phantom of the Opera House. See below.

Prominently positioned in its own room is this delightful model made by indigenous Bidjigal shell artist Esme Timbery from La Perouse. Shells made from shells. Almost lame, but there is history.

As the NMA explains: “Aboriginal women have made decorative shelled objects since the 1880s, and sold them around Sydney, including at ‘Circular Quay near Bennelong Point’. The shellwork trade was especially lively at the Aboriginal settlement at La Perouse”.

Pity there’s no catalog(ue).

Why Labor loathes Max to the max

Federal Labor really dislikes Green’s member Max Chandler-Mather. I mean really loathes him. In the house of reps, PM Albo turned back to remonstrate with Max (most unusual). Penny Wong was quite undiplomatic and out of ministry in a withering put-down of Max (most unusual). Minister for the Arts Tony Burke, in his letter to constituents (sent to me by mistake) lists his ‘worst things’ as 1. Max, and 2. The Green’s Housing Policy (very usual).

Why so vituperative? Well, he’s young, 31. Charismatic, great smile. Out-spoken and well-spoken. Great media presence. Knocked off Terri Butler, Labor proto-royalty, to win the seat of Griffith. But that’s just the entrĂ©e of envy.

The real reason for the dislike is that he has used those talents to utterly demolish Labor’s joke of a Housing Policy. No other serious area of government depends on a ‘future fund’ of dividends from investments. The Housing Australia Future Fund HAFF  (four words, four lies, thanks Guy Rundle, Crikey) promises to build a pitiful number of homes on the never never.

How bad. This bad. The Labor party wants to give the aboriginal people a voice. What would they say? What they have been saying for 50 years - give us decent houses. How many? Estimates vary, but at least 30,000 homes are needed for our indigenous. And that number, 30,000, is the sum total, every single house across Australia, that the HAFF will deliver in the next 5 years - to the end of the next parliament. Not 6,000 per year, but 100,000 a year, every year. That’s more like it.

And the wise heads in the Labor party (increasingly oxymoronic) know it. Which is why they hate Max for pointing it out so forcefully.

Fifty years of architectural work

My first job in an architectural office was exactly 50 years ago. Schools Section, Commonwealth Government Department of Housing and Construction, Canberra. Level 2, north wing Sirius House, Furzer Street, Woden.

It was the best possible introduction - clever creative people making experimental architecture from decent briefs. Pardon my sentimentality but those wonderful, joyful days are gone. As has the old Sirius building (the courtyard building with three long cross-lit and ventilated wings). It’s been replaced with this one by May + Russell Architects.

The distance in architecture could be measured in many ways. Suffice to say: in 1973 we hand drew on tracing paper, others in the ‘roads division’ drew on linen. Then polyester film. Printed on ammonia and dyeline. The 80s had CAD (D for drafting), printed on plotters. The 90s added design, making CADD, on photocopiers. Then BIM on tablets. Better? None of those can yield the joys of our scam in the original Sirius: snaffling unused linen sheets and boiling them down to make handkerchiefs. But then, no one uses handkerchiefs anymore.

Bookends: Sydney Opera House

Two books on the Sydney Opera House. Utzon’s Sphere by Yuzo Mikami, 2002, is the best on Utzon’s design thinking. He worked in Copenhagen and then in Sydney with Joern and Arups. Insights like no other. Hard to get though, the only copy on the net is $600.

At the other end of the bookshelf is Peter Webber’s fine book discussed above. Very available. PS, I oppose book burning, but will allow it for The Sydney Opera House Affair by Peter Baume, one of the most execrable works of fiction posing as fact. Source of so many lies about Utzon.

Signs Off: What’s the point of manning?

Here’s a sign pointing to Manning Point. With an arrow pointing. In a building that is not manned. There is no point to this sign.

Reference: A&D Another Thing week 28/2023

Tone Wheeler is an architect / the views expressed are his.

Long columns are Tone on Tuesday, short shots every Friday in A&D Another Thing.

You can contact TW at [email protected]