National Library of Australia

Jørn Utzon’s Opera House

Jørn Utzon (b.1918)Perspective sketches of Opera House with glazing highlit c.1960

pencil and crayon on paper; 33.0 x 47.0cm

PXP492 ff209

Presented by Bill Wheatland, for Jørn Utzon, 1972

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Perspective sketches of Opera House with glazing highlit c.1960

Described by writer Clive James as looking like a typewriter full of oyster shells, the Sydney Opera House is an Australian icon.Time magazine named it one of the five outstanding buildings of the 20th century.

This drawing shows the preliminary ideas of Danish architect Joern Utzon (b.1918).

Winning the international design competition in 1957, Utzon’s vision was ahead of its time. Innovative techniques for construction were developed as building progressed.

In 1965, the new state Minister for Public Works, Davis Hughes, refused to let Utzon proceed with interior prototypes and declined to pay his outstanding fees.

In 1966, after a series of frustrating conflicts with Hughes, Utzon left Australia, but made repeated, unsuccessful requests to return and complete the project.

The building’s exterior was essentially complete, but the interior designs were replaced by new ones drawn up by Australian architects—a compromise solution.

The Opera House opened in 1973, 10 years behind schedule and $95 million over budget, but is now one of the world’s best known public buildings.

Utzon received the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, in 2003.