Tag Archives: Sydney Australia

Lessons From the Sydney Opera House

“I like to be on the edge of the impossible”, said Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect who was responsible for designing the Sydney Opera House. On my visit to Australia, I toured the world-renowned landmark. I learned its construction and design was indeed a story of someone achieving ‘the impossible’, but it is also a story of dreams and relationships broken and restored.

The Sydney Opera House is a World Heritage Site because so many of the architectural methods and engineering techniques used to build it were completely new and were created expressly for its construction. Utzon’s design for the building was chosen from 233 submitted, but no one, including Utzon, was really sure a structure of its kind could be built. The tiles on the outside are just one example of the innovation required. They change colour depending on the amount of daylight and the temperature, so they rarely look the same. Most importantly they are self -cleaning. It took Utzon three years to design just the tiles.

Utzon devised and tested sixteen different schemes for making the famous white sails on the building’s roof before he figured out how to cut them from circles of steel. 16,000 workers were required to be on site during the construction of the signature ‘sails’. Utzon by the way did not call them sails. He wanted them to be abstract so each visitor to the opera house could have their own idea what they looked like. Some people say they remind them of waves, a dragon’s back, seashells, or dishes in a dishwasher. I thought they looked like Marilyn Munroe’s white dress in the movie Some Like It Hot when a blast of air from the subway grate blows her skirt up into the air. Whatever they remind you of, those ‘sails’ on the opera house roof took eight years to build.

Ten years after Utzon started work on the opera house a newly elected Australian government gave him an ultimatum. He either had to make concessions in his design and collaborate with government architects so the building could be finished more quickly, or he had to quit. Utzon resigned and the government hired others to complete his work. Utzon never went back to Sydney to see the finished opera house even though he won many of architecture’s most prestigious awards for designing it.

Thirty- three years after he’d resigned someone from the opera house staff approached Utzon to apologize to him and ask for an interview. Would he be willing to let them see all his notes and drawings and would he explain his original ideas so they could be kept for posterity? Utzon accepted the apology and agreed to the interview. Now the Australian government is slowly making changes to the Opera House so that eventually it will look exactly as Utzon planned. They have already replaced concrete outer walls with banks of windows and repainted interior walls with new colours following Utzon’s original plans. Utzon’s son has flown to Sydney to supervise these changes. John Utzon died in 2008 at age 90 but he died knowing that his original ‘dream’ for the Opera House would become a reality in the future.

Seven million people from all over the world visit the opera house each year and 350,000 take a guided tour. They learn all about how the one of kind architectural masterpiece was built. They also hear the story of how the relationship between the opera house designer and the country of Australia was broken and restored because each party was willing to be gracious and forgiving. Both of the stories are inspiring and important.



Filed under australia, Culture, History, People, Travel

Christmas Down Under

In 2009 we spent nearly three weeks in Australia over Christmas. We started out on a horse ranch in the Hunter Valley.  The weather was overcast and drizzly but I went for long walks every morning looking for kangaroos in the wild. My record spotting was thirty-two. 

The Hunter Valley is famous for its vineyards and we spent a day touring seven wineries. We learned all sorts of interesting things 

kangaroos are good for vineyards since they eat the weeds

Chinese winemakers are coming to Australia in droves to study the craft

the loud explosions we kept hearing were gas guns being fired to scare away pesky grape-eating birds from the vineyards

making wine casks is becoming a lost art

there are a growing number of female wine makers and in Australia

a book is published annually called Wine Dogs about dogs that make their homes in wineries. 

Next we were off to the Blue Mountains where we stayed at a charming bed and breakfast built in 1905. Our hosts Trevor and Marion served us sumptuous four course breakfasts. 

We toured the Jenolan Caves and learned the early cave explorers gave all the different stalactite and stalagmite formations interesting names so they would recognize them as landmarks that would help to mark their way as they journeyed in and out of the caves.

Dave is looking at one called Lot’s Wife that resembled….. you guessed it a pillar of salt. 

We went hiking at Echo Point and ……….

hit the links at the Katoomba Golf Club. Although I was worried about the many signs that said DANGER-SNAKE HABITAT we saw nary a snake. 

In the Southern Highlands we stayed at the Chinoiserie Bed and Breakfast in Mittagong. Chinoiserie is a kind of furniture and art style that combines European and Chinese influences.  Dominic Wong one of the owners of Chinoiserie was from China and his partner Chris was British so a name that combined Chinese and European influences was appropriate. Chris and Dominic grew 79 kinds of peonies in their backyard garden and their home had been featured in all kinds of house and garden magazines. 

We went golfing in the Southern Highlands, visited a winery and the Cricket Hall of Fame. Dave poses here with a cricket player mannequin in a replica of an old cricket dressing room. Dave taught cricket in his physical  education classes in Hong Kong and went to watch matches as well. He got interested in cricket when we were in India and he saw young boys playing the sport everywhere often with sticks for bats and stones for balls.

 In Sydney we stayed in a bed and breakfast in the resort town of Manley Beach and took a ferry-boat into the city each day.
We visited the History Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art ……..
 We toured the Opera House.……..
We spent a delightful  evening with Shayli Patrick a former student of both of ours from the Steinbach Regional Secondary School who was working as a nanny in Australia

We went biking for a day ……..

 and visited the Taronga Zoo

We rented a car in Australia and Dave did a great job of driving on the ‘wrong side of the road.’  He’d had practice the Christmas before in New Zealand. 

Dave won’t be enjoying the book I got him for Christmas in this kind of setting in 2011. He’ll have to curl up on our couch under his favorite quilt instead.

Other posts about Australia…….

Animals of Australia

Edge of the Trees

Lessons From the Sydney Opera House

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Filed under australia, Holidays, Nature