Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News And Features
Better House music, but still via the underground
ELIZABETH FARRELLY. Elizabeth Farrelly is the Herald’s architecture critic.
It’s not every day you see the great and good vying for heights or is it depths of genuflection.
For the Premier, the new Utzon-endorsed Sydney Opera House design principles constitute “an act of reconciliation”. For trust chairman, Joseph Skrzynski, they are “removing the last vestiges of intellectual taint”.
Either way, one thing is clear: the Opera House matters to us.
The Opera House, says Skrzynski, “symbolises Australian vision, creativity, and ‘can-do’ approach”. Wrong. Not only is there nothing Australian about it (Danish architect, British engineers, German acoustics, Swedish tiles), but boofy Australian can-doism sent Utzon packing because dealing with genius was giving the boys a pain in the none-too-slender neck.
So now we’re making up for it. Trouble with this sort of compensatory genuflection, though, is that it affects your eyesight, making small issues look big, and big ones disappear. Thus Bob Carr contentedly devotes $69 million from what he yesterday called the “great earth mother of the NSW budget whose bosoms stretch for every good cause,” to fix a range of practical minutiae that leave the building’s main flaw untouched.
So, in six years time, the Opera House will have a working orchestra pit, improved acoustics, new seats, better air-conditioning and enhanced disabled access. But it still won’t have a front door. Utzon himself will never experience the most frustrating spatial sequence ever imposed on excited concert-goers; expectant ascent, emphatic lockout, mystified descent, bewildered entry through underground cavern. Virtual fly-throughs don’t show this stuff. And does it matter? Perhaps not if, like Utzon, you see the Opera House as “an oil painting by one of the masters”. If, on the other hand, you think the world’s most charismatic symbol deserves an entry sequence equal to its fabled presence, maybe it’s time we stopped tiptoeing and dealt with the architecture front-on.