seier + seier = (architecture + comment) x excellence
November 29, 2008 4:15 PM   Subscribe

Jørn Utzon, the architect who designed Sydney Opera House despite the project being plagued by controversy and scandal, died today. While the rest of us are posting photographs of our drunken friends or the poetry of a plastic bag caught in the wind, one Flickr user is busy with pithy, insightful, considered and often witty architectural commentary supplementing exquisite architectural photography. This obituary for Utzon captures the cost of that project to the man himself and to the world. posted by carbide (21 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Whoa, nice dig a Flickr in your FPP!
posted by KokuRyu at 4:23 PM on November 29, 2008

posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:13 PM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Hey -- sorry about that plastic bag photo. I'll try to get a modernist building in the background next time.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:40 PM on November 29, 2008

Rather snippy for a first FPP, eh? At least you didn't insult MeFi I suppose.
posted by tommasz at 5:46 PM on November 29, 2008

But my drunk friend was so funny lol
posted by ORthey at 5:55 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

controversy and scandal?? There were disagreements and cost overruns, but scandal?

While the rest of us are posting photographs of our drunken friends or the poetry of a plastic bag caught in the wind.

That's, that's so me.
posted by mattoxic at 6:01 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by fire&wings at 6:40 PM on November 29, 2008

the poetry of a plastic bag caught in the wind

Say whatever you want, but architects still have to draw a gable if the client wants a gable.

Whereas Billy Collins can write whatever shit he damn well pleases!
posted by plexi at 6:43 PM on November 29, 2008

Poetry and more poetry.
posted by longsleeves at 6:57 PM on November 29, 2008

-I- liked the flickr links. Thanks.
posted by phyrewerx at 7:20 PM on November 29, 2008

Does Seier+Seier have anything to say about Utzon? I couldn't find anything.

I was in Sydney earlier this year and was, like a lot of people, overwhelmed by the beauty of the Opera House. Such a simple, yet brilliant idea.
posted by Kattullus at 7:35 PM on November 29, 2008

Christ, what a bitchy FPP.
posted by bardic at 9:53 PM on November 29, 2008

Here you go, Katullus. There's a lot of commentary on many of the photos.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:54 PM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

I swear I did a tag search on Utzon...

And now there's a set of the Utzon commentaries. Again, I swear that wasn't there...

I blame my sore throat. Or possibly the hallucinations from all that green tea with mint, honey and lemon.

Anyway, interesting commentary on Utzon.
posted by Kattullus at 10:03 PM on November 29, 2008

Sorry, that read to me more like gently slagging a group of people that includes myself - I wasn't aiming for bitchy. Nor was the dig aimed at Flickr itself, as I'm generally a pretty big fan.
posted by carbide at 1:55 AM on November 30, 2008


(Are we still allowed to do that?)
posted by oxford blue at 2:00 AM on November 30, 2008

Sorry, that read to me more like gently slagging a group of people that includes myself - I wasn't aiming for bitchy. Nor was the dig aimed at Flickr itself, as I'm generally a pretty big fan.

Well, that's how I read your post, and I'm happy to have learned more about Utzon.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:34 AM on November 30, 2008

So, Utzon died of the plague and it's very expensive for the world. Or something. Utzon deserved better than this. But then again, I guess he's probably used to it.
posted by tellurian at 1:39 PM on November 30, 2008

I still think Clive James' take on the Sydney Opera House is the most accurate I've heard:

"A portable typewriter full of oyster shells."
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:05 PM on November 30, 2008

Detailed architectural plans were slow to emerge from Jorn Utzon. He liked to gather insights, textures, effects of the light, before he drew anything. The concept, he used to say, embodied everything the realisation needed. The Lutheran church he designed in Bagsvaerd, in his native Denmark, began as a study of drifting clouds and sunlight on a day at the beach. An art museum in Silkebourg emerged from salt poured out of a shaker on a café table. And his entry for the most important competition of his life was a series of sketches of triangles and random parabolas, free shapes bounded by “curves in space geometrically undefined”. Along with the sketches came a cartoon self-portrait of a tall, thin, many-armed young man dipping a pen into his skull, which had sprung open like an inkpot.

His entry was thrown out at first, and not just for that. It broke several of the rules laid down for the competition to design a new opera house (in fact, two performance halls) on Bennelong Point, in Sydney. It was too big for the site; there was not enough seating; and, most notably, there was no estimate of cost. But Mr Utzon could not possibly cost it, because he had no idea whether it could ever be built. It was his dream-answer to the challenge of a “beautiful and demanding” site, one he couldn’t resist; but, like the church at Bagsveard, it was inspired largely by clouds, boats and light. Mr Utzon had never been to Sydney. Instead, as a practised sailor, he had studied the local naval charts. When one of the judges plucked his entry out of the pile of also-rans, he was as astonished, and unprepared, as everyone else.

The year was 1957. He was 38, and had little other work to his name except a workers’ estate, of yellow-brick houses grouped round courtyards, near Elsinore. What he wanted for Sydney was the effect he had noticed when tacking round the promontory at Elsinore, of the castle’s piled-up turrets against the piled-up clouds and his own billowing white sails; the liberation he had felt on the great platforms of the Mayan temples in Mexico, of being lifted above the dark jungle into another world of light; the height and presence of Gothic cathedrals, whose ogival shape was to show in the cross-sections of the Sydney roof-shells; and the curved, three-dimensional rib-work of boat-building, as he had watched his own father doing it at Aalborg. The load-bearing beams of the Opera House shells he called spidsgattere, in homage to the sharp-sterned boats his father made.
- From The Economist's obituary on Utzon.
posted by Kattullus at 12:08 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

From The New Yorker's profile on Utzon:
The roof tiles of the Sydney Opera House were Utzon’s version of the chair. He liked to say that almost everything about the building’s design was “on the edge of the possible,” and for the tiles he wanted something very specific: a tile that “had gloss but did not have a mirror effect. A tile with a coarse structure that resembled hammered silver.” He did not want a blinding flare off the roof surfaces, or a “normal” glaze, which looks “as if it is made from white cardboard.” He used many metaphors for what he was seeking. The tiles, he said, should contrast matte against sheen, like a fresh layer of snow on a frozen snowbank, or the shine of a fingernail against skin. “The material,” he wrote, “would have to be sought in the building of the ancient world, which has stood up to many years’ use without deterioration.” He travelled to China and Japan, looking at samples of ancient roof tiles and half-glazed ware. In an archive of his papers kept in a Sydney library, images of the tiled dome of the Great Mosque at Esfahan, in Iran, are filed alongside a more contemporary inspiration: an advertising photograph of a Swedish swimsuit model, the chevron pattern of her costume flowing easily over her curves. The Opera House tiles, Utzon decided, would be laid in chevrons, fanning out across the roof curves to express the form of the concrete beams beneath.
posted by of strange foe at 2:33 PM on December 22, 2008

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