Superstar architects may be a dime a dozen, but superstar buildings are another matter altogether. Even celebrated structures by lionized architects rarely remain in our collective consciousness for long, never mind long enough to evolve into transcendent cultural symbols.
The Sydney Opera House is a rarity on many levels: a design masterwork; a revolutionary engineering feat; symbol of all that can go wrong when politics trumps art; eventual World Heritage Site; and, ultimately, emblem of a continent.
Australia’s most famous building is the work of a great Dane—Jørn Utzon—whose winning 1957 design was declared ‘genius’ by fellow architects, but shamefully marginalized during the construction phase. When Utzon finally washed his hands off the project—and Australia—he never set foot on the continent again, having merited neither an invitation nor mention at the Opera House’s official unveiling in 1973.
Thankfully, Utzon lived long enough to be awarded the Pritzker Prize—official recognition for having created “one of the great iconic buildings of the twentieth century”—and to design (across oceans) the Opera House’s Utzon Room, completed in 2004.
The celebration this weekend to mark the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Opera House will include Denmark’s Crown Prince and Princess, but the building’s architect will once more be missing. We’re willing to bet, though, that Australia will this time accord Utzon, who died in 2008, the tribute he deserves for giving them “those indelible ceramic sails on the Tasmanian Sea.”
Photo credits: Promila Shastri