Feb 25 – SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE TOUR INSPIRES AN ESSAY ON ICONIC BUILDINGS [essay]
Guess the rain we were supposed to get yesterday arrived in Sydney today, Feb 25. The weather was positively miserable. We used our umbrella for the first time as we walked slowly from our hotel toward the Sydney Opera House.
We had two dates there today. At noon, a tour of the entire building. And then at 7;30 PM, the long-awaited performance of “Madam Butterfly” at the opera hall (the smaller of two large concert halls).
“Iconic building of the 20th century,” our guide said at one point.
“Wow,” I muttered to myself. “What a perfect caption.”
Every century left its mark in human memory. If I said, “19th century,” for example, what image would come to your mind?
Interestingly, both were French creations. The Eiffel tower was built in just two years for the 1889 world fair in Paris. The Statue of Liberty was intended for the 1876 Centennial. But due to the squabbling in Congress over funding, it opened 10 years late.
What about the 18th century?
For my money, the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, Pushkin, outside of Saint Petersburg, Russia. Opened in 1756.
The 17th century?
The 16th century?
No question. El Escorial near Madrid, Spain (see El Escorial: Grand Finale of a Magical Day and El Escorial Morning After: Special Shamanic Atonement Ceremony to Clear Phillip II Karma)
The 15th century?
Machu Picchu, Peru. Interestingly, both El Escorial and Machu Picchu were built by the then adversarial empires.
Okay. We’ll stop here. Back to the “iconic building of the 20th century.”
When I realized the historical significance and the magnificence of the building I was in, standing on the purple carpet of the (symphony) concert hall (above), I had shivers on my back.
For generations, maybe centuries, people will be looking at the images of the Sydney Opera House and saying, “this is it; this was the symbol and the pinnacle of the 20th century’s creativity.”
The rest? Sadly, the rest of the 20th century will be known mostly for its many wars and destruction of priceless creations from human history.
And some pundits have even called the 20th century the “American Century.” What a legacy! Ancient Romans would empathize.
And then I also had another revelation. More personal.
AN EARLY EXAMPLE OF RE-FUSION OF ARTS & SCIENCES
Back in 1994, I wrote an editorial about the upcoming re-fusion of arts and sciences. It was a futuristic piece, anticipating that process that the Internet and PC revolutions were about to bring about (see RE-FUSION OF ARTS & SCIENCES  and my FORBES column “Move Over Einstein, Signor Da Vinci Is Back”  – Da Vinci as Chief Creative Officer).
Today, we have many examples of marriages of arts and sciences, just like 500 years ago, when Leonardo Da Vinci served as such a role model.
What I did not realize 21 years ago was there was already such an example which had been created 21 years earlier. It was the Sydney Opera House. Jørn Utzon, its Danish-born architect, created “one of the indisputable masterpieces of human creativity, not only in the 20th century but in the history of humankind.” (Expert evaluation report to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, 2007).
“It is the iconic building of the 20th century,” our young British guide told us today as we previewed the building in which we will see a performance of the opera “Madama Butterfly” tonight.
The tour ended at the second Opera and Ballet concert hall. That’s where we are going to return tonight and travel to Japan on the wings of Puccini opera.
Sydney Opera House Story
The Sydney Opera House story is about as fascinating and sad as any opera. In 1957, Utzon’s imaginative design won the contest for an opera house without ever having set foot to Sydney before. But that was only the beginning of his challenges.
Can it be built? Nothing like that was ever attempted. After eight years and 16 different engineering designs having been tried and rejected, it seemed it was a dream impossible. Until Utzon himself came up with the engineering solution while peeling an orange. No kidding. it was an artist, therefore, that came up with the ultimate engineering solution which had eluded teams of scientists. And that’s why I say that this was the first example of the re-fusion of arts and sciences, long before computers took over the world.
The initial estimate was that the Opera House would cost $7 million and take three years to complete. It ended up costing $107 billion (which would be in excess of $3 billion in today’s dollars) and 16 years to construct. When the project ran into budget deficits in the late 1960s, Utzen was forced to resign. He returned to his native Denmark and never came back to Australia.
The Opera House opened in 1973. Yet the creative genius who envisioned it and made its building possible never saw it. Utzon died in 2008, age 90, a year after the UN World Heritage Committee inducted the building into its protectorate. It was the first time a building that young was granted such an honor. It was the first time that this has happened while the architect was still alive.