The studio of Jørn Utzon: creating the Sydney Opera House

'I am delighted that my entry was awarded first premium, and I assure you that I shall be happy to do everything to make it possible to carry my concept out to final realisation.’ Jørn Utzon, letter to Opera House Committee, 11 February 1957.

The studio of Jørn Utzon was the most comprehensive exhibition yet assembled of the designs and inspirations of Danish architect Jørn Utzon for the Sydney Opera House. 

The exhibition portrayed Utzon’s personal design process and reflected the diverse sources of his inspiration. It included many items which have not been exhibited previously, including his original competition drawings for the Sydney Opera House, which has become one of the 20th century’s most significant architectural achievements.

The exhibition ranged from Utzon’s competition entry, awarded first prize in the international competition of 1957, to his final unrealised schemes for the Opera House’s interiors, completed in 1966 shortly before he left Sydney under pressure. It also included his current ideas as he works again on the Sydney Opera House as its architect, in collaboration with his son, architect Jan Utzon and Australian architect, Richard Johnson.

Utzon’s architectural models, sketches, plans, rare books and travel movies reveal the inspirations for his designs from his early work on the building as well as his new ideas behind the recently completed Utzon Room (his first interior at Sydney Opera House) and changes to the Western facade.

'The exhibition illuminates some of the sources of Utzon’s inspiration, and also demonstrates the agility of his mind, its ability to combine influences into a unique design which is entirely original, proving that there is no single key to its identity’, said exhibition curator, John Murphy.

The exhibition’s title refers to Utzon’s process of design. Through Utzon’s home movies of his travels visitors may see through his eyes the world’s architectural monuments, including the tiled mosques of Iran and the Mayan temples of Mexico - some of his inspirations for the solid granite covered podium of Sydney Opera House and its soaring tiled roof.

Following Utzon’s ideas from his conception of the early building designs through to his current work, the exhibition follows the flow of his creativity.

'As time passes and needs change, it is natural to modify the building to suit the needs and technique of the day. The changes, however, should be such that the original character of the building is maintained’, Jørn Utzon 2002.

Nowhere is this better shown than in his designs for the current construction of a colonnade - along the western façade of the building. These designs show how Utzon has managed to develop ideas for a space which he never envisaged as a public area -  opening the theatre foyers to the harbour setting yet maintaining his design principle for a solid heavy podium base.

The exhibition was initiated by the City of Sydney and was presented in association with the Sydney Opera House Trust.

18 December 2004 - 1 May 2005

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