At a post-hike party this afternoon, I was talking to a friend about the Sydney Opera House, which I visited during a layover in Sydney in early 2007. Even now, visiting the Opera House seems like one of the high points of my life.
Now, I read in the Guardian that Jorn Utzon, the Opera House's architect, has died.
For some reason, this detail in the Telegraph about Utzon's creative process stands out for me:
Utzon rarely used a sketchbook, but would draw on anything that was available. He drew the initial plan for an art museum at Silkeborg, in Denmark, with poured salt on a restaurant table in Sydney, which he then photographed with a borrowed camera. Based on Buddhist caves he had visited near the Gobi Desert, the museum was never built.
Another friend recalled Utzon using a charred stick on a pavement to sketch the cross-section of a cave-room he had seen in China, which was to form the basis for his design for a new house; sadly the sketch was washed away by a thunderstorm that same night.
It also reports this anecdote:
He also told the audience [in London in 1978] of a letter he had received from a woman who was put off the idea of throwing herself into Sydney Harbour by the sight of the opera house, deciding that if Utzon could go through the agony of getting it built without wanting to kill himself, then she too could cope with life.
Thomas Keneally had a great piece on the Opera House last year. It waxed rhapsodic about the design, the amazing location, and the structure's long and complicated history, and is well worth reading. The conclusion:
But it is as a focus for citizens and visitors, as well as the home of art practitioners, that the Opera House works. It is the great communal house of Sydney. In this way, it is more than a mere monument. Inside and out, it is Sydney's agora. The excessive and often excluding awe induced by many European opera houses is missing in it. Children run on its concrete skirts under a blue sky (well, often it is blue), and do not need to be hushed. A building children can feel ownership of is more than a mere opera house.
They say that in the medieval period the great cathedrals - Chartres, say - operated both as a place of wonders and a market not just for bishops and priests but for the entertainment, instruction and delight of ordinary folk, peasants and craftsmen. That is the role the secular cathedral of the Opera House plays in Sydney.