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A tribute to JΓΈrn Utzon, and the construction of the Sydney Opera House.

Sydney May-June 2014 (9 images)

This is part 4 of my VIVID 2014 series. We return to the main stage from Darling Harbour in my previous post.

During this year’s VIVID Festival of Sydney, one of the nice features of the Lighting the Sails display on the Sydney Opera House, was a visual tribute to JΓΈrn Utzon, and the construction of the building.

In 1957, Utzon won a worldwide competition to design the Sydney Opera House. His submission was one of 233 designs from 32 countries. One of the judges, Eero Saarinen, described it as “genius” and declared he could not endorse any other choice.

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The designs Utzon submitted were little more than preliminary drawings. Concerned that delays would lead to lack of public support, the government of New South Wales nonetheless gave the go-ahead for work to begin in 1958. Utzon said his design was inspired by the simple act of peeling an orange: the 14 shells of the building, if combined, would form a perfect sphere. Sadly, as with such projects, a new government hostile to the arts came to power during the construction. Disagreements ensued and ultimately Utzon resigned from the job, closed his Sydney office and vowed never to return to Australia. The project ran over budget and over schedule.

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The Opera House was finally completed, and opened in 1973 by Queen Elizabeth II. Utzon was not invited to the ceremony, nor was his name mentioned during any of the speeches. He was, however, to be recognized later when he was asked to design updates to the interior of the opera house. The Utzon Room, overlooking Sydney Harbor, was officially dedicated in October 2004. In a statement at the time Utzon wrote: “The fact that I’m mentioned in such a marvellous way, it gives me the greatest pleasure and satisfaction. I don’t think you can give me more joy as the architect. It supersedes any medal of any kind that I could get and have got.”

Utzon died in 2008, He had never returned to Australia to see the completed opera house. On 2 December 2008 the Parliament of New South Wales passed a special motion of condolence to honour Utzon’s life and work.

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The Vivid show included a recording of the original oratory from the local Premier in 1958:

“While it is true that in a changing world, it is necessary for us to equip ourselves with the means, and proper means, to fulfil our destiny by technological development, we must always be on guard to see that those purely material things do not supersede and usurp the humanity, the cultural things, the things we do for the improvement of our minds. I must say that I am personally, as a citizen, glad we have talked ourselves into this project. I think we’ve been like a family debating as to whether they can afford a new house, a new car, or even a television set. These drawings present the concept of an opera house that is capable of becoming one of the great buildings of the world…”

A recording of the voice of Utzon is also heard during the show. The signing of his signature by light beam on the plans and the opera house was a nice touch.

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Construction of the supports commences over the design drawing.

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Internals appear.

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The outer shells are assembled.

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I hope you’re enjoying this series of posts. The next couple will really dive into the world of colour.

My previous VIVID Festival of Sydney photography:

VIVID 2014: Random VIVIDness 2014 (3)

VIVID 2014: Random VIVIDness 2014 (2)

VIVID 2014: Random VIVIDness 2014 (1)

VIVID 2013: Lights. Camera. Action!

VIVID 2013: Random Scenes of VIVIDness

VIVID 2012: Light the Night

Leica Etcetera, Photography Etcetera

Random VIVIDness 2014 (4)


97 thoughts on “Random VIVIDness 2014 (4)

  1. Great shots (of course) but thanks for the story behind the Opera house – it is difficult to believe that such an icon of Sydney would have ever had so much difficulty in gaining the necessary traction in order to be built. And what a shame for the person who’s design idea this was to never see it in person – recognition after the fact is something, but it is never enough to undo the initial insult – although Utzon seems to have been pleased with the honor.

  2. Your shots are getting better and better. I like the blue print drawings. It’s amazing how they can project the lasers with a such precision. Your nights and the footpath must be empty now, not anymore occupied by tripods and clicking cameras. I have to forward your link to my Leica fan Swiss friend. He will love this pictures.

    • Thank you very much Erwin. I believe the company responsible creates models to assist in planning this – it does require pinpoint accuracy. Yes, it does seem quieter now, but it’s good to catch up on the sleep again. πŸ™‚

      • πŸ™‚ Do you know where the projectors are located. They must be quite far on the other side of the bay I think. It’s huge. You must see it to believe it.

        • This year they were above the overseas passenger terminal. Last year there was a standalone projector near the base of the harbour bridge. They must protect them during the day I guess. Any bump to the projectors could potentially ruin the show.

        • Thank you Draco. I guess so too, Over this distance the smallest movement would ruin it except if they have a self calibrating mechanism or software in it.

  3. Oh!!! I did not know that!! What a sad story,….At least he was recognized after…
    I admire artists..>How can they find something so beautiful after the act of something so common as peeling an orange!!
    Thanks for making so wonderful photographies, and for writing his story!!!

  4. What an artistically creative mind Utzon had – peeling an orange is inspiring. The Opera House is nothing short of remarkable, even though some are saying that it looks tired. Love the shots as usual. I’m sure you get inspired by the littlest things around you too, for photography.

  5. This is a neat series of images, and I like the idea of the tribute. My favorite photos are those of the drawings, I suspect partially just because of the vivid blue color they chose. I toured this building several years ago and found it to be inspiring.

    • Thanks. Yes, I liked the showing of the various plans projected onto the sails too. It was an interesting display. And the background audio really added to the atmosphere. I loved it.

    • Thank you. Seeing the old opera house in a new light does really make you appreciate it more. It really is a festival atmosphere for the Vivid event and it’s getting bigger. Book ahead though – they estimate over 270,000 visitors came on the opening weekend alone, a 170 per cent increase on last year’s opening.

  6. Thank you for walking us through the long journey of this grand opera house! I’m in awe of these photos. How sad that Utzon was not invited to the ceremony…
    Great post, Dragon!

    • Thanks very much. The story adds to the interest of the building. I guess major projects like this hardly ever run smoothly. I certainly hope you do get to see the Opera House one day.

  7. LD !!! – thank you a thousand times !!! I’ve been wondering and wondering what some of those projected images were. I never saw the range as you’ve provided it, and it all makes perfectly good sense – apart from being wonderful. As are your photos.
    I think it’s part of our problems of division of ideology that governments can behave like that. It’s exactly what TROWC are doing now, of course – disassembling and destroying everything they can that was set up by the previous lot. Bitchily, too – like children. Which is why I call ’em ‘TROWC’ (see my sticky post).
    Sensational work, m’boy !!!!

    • Glad to be of assistance. Whilst the photos can speak for themselves, a bit of background glues the story together. It was a history of the building of the opera house in 4 minutes. Hearing portions of the original speeches by Premier Cahill and Utzon was a wonderful touch. Thank you kindly.

  8. Like how others have already commented, I really loved these series, and learning more about the history behind this very famous building πŸ™‚ Thank you for sharing.

  9. If I were a judge I would have described it as β€œgenius”, too and not endorsed any other choice. The story behind the Opera house is so intriguing. I got carried away and really enjoyed reading it. What a bureaucratic govt…1958 to 1973 good Lord!
    I must start thinking outside the box, if the peeling of an orange, would result in such a spectacular building, then some of us look too far, and miss things right under our noses. Your photos are amazing Lignum. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Thank you very much Liz. Yes, sometimes simple objects provide the best inspiration for artists. I’ll have to ponder the egg shell when I start cooking breakfast in a few minutes. πŸ™‚
      And governments the world over can be ridiculous.

  10. Incredible building! It’s really cool what they have done with the lights. I find it genius as well! Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos of it πŸ™‚

  11. What really caught my eye in these photos was the relative scarcity of people around the Opera Bar — and then I downloaded a couple and checked the ‘created’ time in the file info. 11.27pm! You are dedicated, indeed. I couldn’t face the crowds so never got close enough to know there even was a commentary, so thanks for sharing it here.

    • I’m intrigued to know where you photographed the opera house from if you avoided the crowds and couldn’t hear the commentary. The entire show was choreographed to music and loudspeakers were set up at multiple locations from the opera house to the base of the bridge.

      I guess event photography is like landscape photography. A little bit of planning is required, to get free parking and to get the best spots. And it also helps to have the next day off. πŸ™‚

      • I laughed at your final line! Yes, that would help.
        I couldn’t avoid the crowds (unless I had taken a corner room at the Shangri La and insisted on clean windows), but I lingered on the fringes. The closest I got was the roundabout at the bottom (top?) of Macquarie St, but I heard no commentary. Snatches of music, but not words.

  12. Wonderful photo and great story of this great architect. Money and power are problem with art, they change and didn’t give the time to end or begin wonderful think.
    I really like this set, wonderful Draco πŸ™‚
    Have a nice sunday

    • Thank you Sophie. Very true. New governments have a policy of changing decisions of previous ones, which can really upset major projects. Have a great Sunday too. πŸ™‚

  13. Pingback: Random VIVIDness 2014 (5) | Etcetera Etcetera Etcetera

  14. LB says:

    Incredible photos … and yes, I’m loving the series. I do think the story of Utzon is a shame!! So glad he was finally recognized

    • It is a shame particularly as they changed some of his original designs regarding internal acoustics, and the such. Which is why they had to consult him again for alterations.

  15. Pingback: Random VIVIDness 2014 (6) | Etcetera Etcetera Etcetera

  16. These are magazine cover photos! Blew me away…
    I thought I clicked the Like and commented on this one, not sure what happened πŸ˜•

  17. thank you, woody dragon.
    i learnt a lot about the sydney opera house from reading this post.
    what is most interesting for me is the fact that the building’s main design elements, the shells were inspired by the act of peeling an orange! what an eureka moment for utzon. btw, what is the typical f-stop/exposure time for the photos published?

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