clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

You Can Buy a Le Corbusier Tapestry Meant for the Sydney Opera House

Danish architect and Pritzker Prize winner Jørn Oberg Utzon may be the least famous architect behind what's arguably one of the signature structure of the 20th century, the Sydney Opera House. Later this month, Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers in Dennark will put up some of his personal effects for bid, including personal pieces, such as furniture from Alvar Aalto and artwork from Picasso, that tell of Utzon's influences and friends. But in addition to personal artifacts, a rare Le Corbusier print, "Les dés sont jetés" (The dice are cast), will also sold to the highest bidder. With it goes an important, unrealized part of Utzon's iconic concert hall design, one that might have made one of the world's most prized buildings even more groundbreaking.

Utzon's legendary masterwork, the Sydney Opera House, was burnished by his reputation, or lack thereof, when he entered the open design contest in 1956. When contest judge Eero Saarinen declared the 38-year-old's design, one of 233 submitted, many by the leading architects of time, to be "genius," it was a shock due to Utzon's thin resume. Turns out, Utzon had been studying, so to speak. The previous decade found the architect in the midst of a world design tour, visiting Alvar Aalto, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and the Eameses, among others, with detours to study Japanese minimalism and be awed by the temples of Mexico.

Utzon's vision for the Opera House drew from his extensive travels, the sails a clear naval reference to the harbor. His design, which required a rudimentary form of computer modeling and the work of structural engineer Ove Arup to realize, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in his lifetime and has become an icon. But from March 1959, when he started working on the project, to 1966, when he resigned due to frustration, he was challenged by the complex engineering requirements and chastised by officials, especially Minster of Works Davis Hughes, over cost overruns, which led to him leaving his post and the country. When the building was finally opened in 1973, Utzon wasn't at the opening, nor was his name even mentioned.

Part of what was abandoned when Utzon was replaced was a more complex interior scheme, which included Le Corbusier tapestries (Utzon visited him in 1959 to discuss the project). Utzon's initial ideas also featured spectacular glass walls, with individual pieces encased in glass mullions that would be arranged to unfurl like the wings of a bird. Utzon was eventually invited back to the building, and collaborated with his son Jan on redecorating what would be called the Utzon Room, which opened in 2004. While the architect's boundary-pushing design lives on, his interior scheme was never fully realized.

Jørn Utzon and the Sydney Opera House at 40 [Guardian]