R.I.P. Jørn Utzon

sydney-opera-house

We wanted to take a moment this morning to remember Jørn Utzon, Danish architect and designer of the Sydney Opera House, who died this past Saturday at the ripe old age of 90. We also wanted to spare a thought for the Opera House itself, since along with the noble wombat and the works of Peter Bowler it represents the very best of that oft-forgotten country.

Like so many masterpieces, the Opera House almost never came to be. Utzon’s design was chosen in a contest when one of the judges dug it out of the reject pile—it had not conformed to the contest rules—announcing that it was a work of genius and that he could in good conscience endorse no other. This is precisely the sort of thing that doesn’t happen often enough to us. The judge, by the way, was Eero Saarinen, who as the designer of the St. Louis Gateway Arch knew a thing or two about iconic national monuments. (Opera House naysayers may counter that, as the designer of Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges at Yale University, he also knew a lot about insanely over-conceptualized white elephant projects.)

The rest, at any rate, is history, albeit with a sad accompanying footnote: as a result of officious bureaucratic bungling Utzon was forced to resign early from the project and never did see the finished Opera House in person. (Since he lived to age 90, we submit that this was because he wasn’t trying very hard; probably that forced resignation left a permanent bad taste in his mouth.) Now, like the white “sails” of his building’s famous exterior—nay, like the last trembling note of an aria rising from its interior—his spirit floats off majestically into the night. Here’s to you, Mr. Utzon: your visionary sense of style, as well as that dramatic ø in your name, will be greatly missed.

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