On the 20th of October 1973, after fourteen years of construction, one of the most iconic buildings in the world was inaugurated: the Sydney Opera House. I’ll always remember the emotion that gripped me when I stared at it for the first time! 47 years after its opening, I wanted to pay tribute to this architectural masterpiece in an original way, inspired by the 36 views of Mount Fuji by the Japanese artist Hokusai: here are 36 pictures of the Sydney Opera House.
📷 For more pictures have a look at my gallery of photos of Sydney.
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Are you familiar with the work of Hokusai? Even if you don’t know his name, you must know at least one print of this Japanese artist who lived between the 18th and 19th century: the Great Wave off Kanagawa. This extraordinarily gifted painter also drew a famous series of 36 views of Mount Fuji (including the Great Wave) between 1830 and 1832; here’s a link to the Wikipedia page about these prints, with a picture of all of them. This series is an absolute masterpiece, and it inspired many other artists over the years.
It also very modestly inspired me! When I was in Australia, I described Sydney as one of the most photogenic places in the world… while the Opera House is probably one of the most iconic buildings ever erected, along with the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty. So when I realised that it was its 47th birthday, I decided to pay tribute to this architectural wonder by publishing 36 pictures of it. Here’s number one:
It took me a while to select all the pictures so it’s a delayed birthday (I’m publishing this article on the 24th of October 2020 while the Opera House was inaugurated on the 20th of October 1973) but being four days late is negligible compared to how long the construction lasted: more than fourteen years! The structures invented by the Danish architect Jørn Utzon are often depicted as sails: they are actually sections of a sphere, and the legend says that Utzon had the idea while peeling an orange.
Until the 1950s, a peninsula called Bennelong Point in the middle of the Sydney Harbour housed the city’s tram depot. It was decided that this exceptional location would be perfect for the construction of a brand-new opera house, and an international design competition was held in 1955. Out of the 233 entries, the project of an almost unknown 38-year old Danish architect who had never built anything outside of Denmark was selected. It was a great call: his building would become a true icon, and along with the Harbour Bridge it forms a fabulous and world-famous panorama.
The project of Utzon could have never seen the light of day though; it was initially rejected, but none of the finalists gave real satisfaction. Here’s what the Opera House could have looked like if one of them had been chosen; you might agree with me that most of these other candidates were remarkably uninspired… But the troubles weren’t over. Utzon’s complicated plans quickly turned out to be a puzzle for engineers, and the costs escalated drastically. In 1965, a liberal Prime Minister called Robert Askin was elected in the State of New South Wales. After a few months of conflict, his government, very critical against Jørn Utzon’s project, decided to sack him. He left Australia in 1966 and never came back.
Luckily, the outside parts of the Opera House were already finished, and the modifications that followed Utzon’s dismissal only affected the interiors, which resulted in acoustic issues in the concert halls. When the building was finally inaugurated in 1973 by her Majesty Elizabeth II, Utzon wasn’t invited, and his name wasn’t even pronounced during the ceremony. It’s only in the late 1990s that the Australian government apologised to Jørn Utzon, but he declined invitations to come to Sydney. A room of the Opera House was named the “Utzon Room” in 2004, while he received the Pritzker Prize, the architecture equivalent of the Nobel Prize in 2003, with the following comment: “There is no doubt that the Sydney Opera House is his masterpiece. It is one of the great iconic buildings of the 20th century, an image of great beauty that has become known throughout the world – a symbol for not only a city but a whole country and continent.” The Opera House is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2007. Jørn Utzon died in 2008, at the age of 90. He never saw his work completed in person.
When I reached Sydney during my Australian road trip in September 2016, I was dying to see the Opera House. I’ll always remember the first time I stared at it. It had rained a lot on the day I arrived, but when I woke up the next morning, the sun was shining over a beautiful bright blue sky. I decided to begin the day with a jogging from my hostel located in Kings Cross to Mrs Macquarie’s Point, the most famous lookout over the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. It was still early in the morning when I arrived and I was almost on my own, apart from a few other joggers. It was amazing. I had goose bumps in front of this extraordinary sight, and my heart was beating very fast. It was a very intense moment of emotion, one of my greatest memories of Australia.
During the following days, I admired it from every possible perspective. From a ferry sailing to Manly…
…and coming back in the late afternoon for a stunning sunset;
from the Rocks, the historical district of Sydney on the other side of Circular Quay;
from the Harbour Bridge, during the day…
…and during the night;
from Kirribilli, on the other side of the Sydney Harbour, where people have the most amazing view over the city;
and from Luna Park, with the interesting perspective of the Harbour Bridge in front of it.
I watched it playing hide and seek with the trees of the Botanic Garden;
I admired ships sailing in front of it;
I took pictures from very close…
…I took pictures in black and white…
…I took pictures during the day…
…and I took pictures during the night.
I even saw a ferry that used the shells of the Opera House as sails!
My only regret is that I never saw it during Vivid Sydney, an annual festival of lights during which the white structure turns into an explosion of colours. Hopefully someday!
Among the people inspired by the work of Hokusai, there’s also… my mother! On her personal blog, she posted 36 beautiful and original views of the giant red gantry crane of Saint-Nazaire’s shipyard. Have a look at it here (in French only)!
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