Not enough recognition is paid to those who helped shape Australia’s architectural – and national – identity.
The Sydney Opera House has turned 40, and there remains no better example of the contribution of architecture and to civic pride than its iconic sails at Benelong point in Sydney, though it was not always seen as the beloved landmark it is today.
I remember seeing the Opera House soon after it was completed, and to my 10-year-old eyes, it looked like something from another world.
Engineer Ove Arup made groundbreaking contributions to to the art of engineering through the project, but creator Jorn Utzon was publicly humiliated and went back to Denmark, never to return before work on the Opera House was even completed. The project came within a whisker of being cancelled.
Australia owes Utzon a public apology and a memorial, as the architect helped shape Australia’s identity and challenged our provincial outlook. His project put Australia on the map as a modern democratic country capable of great architecture and cultural pursuits. What a great pity that our most iconic building’s creator was treated like a pariah and did not receive the plaudits which were his due.
The most memorable photos of the Opera House are taken under a full moon, when the relationship
between the white sails and pure geometry are most evident.
Arup pioneered the use of computer aided design to cut the geometry of the sails to create a sphere, so perhaps if there were a memorial in honour of Utzon, it could recognise Arup’s contributions too. Unfortunately, Australian architects are all too often not properly recognised for their contribution to civic and cultural identity.
That is also the case with modern architect Harry Seidler, who passed on more than seven years ago.
Seidler wanted to create architecture which was of its time and place, and his contributions to many Australian cities skylines are unique and notable.
One of his first towers in Sydney, Australia Square, used concrete as a sculptural element with the columns tapering from their base to the top. Seidler employed the services of Pier Nervi to engineer the ceiling to the entry foyer and used a calder sculpture as at the entrance. Australia Square opened up a large concourse and plaza which was accessible to the public and incorporated design themes which were to recur often in the design of his tower projects.
The MLC centre, Grosvenor place, The Australian embassy in Paris, Riverside and Riparian in Brisbane, QV1 in Perth have all made a contribution to Australia’s architectural identity and civic pride. In the case of Riverside, Seidler was the first to fully recognise the vistas and promenade along the Brisbane River, and he created a wonderful plaza which opens from the tower foyer, connecting pedestrians to river ferries, a river walk and a bike track.
Seidler’s visionary use of curvacious geometry is remarkably appealing. It is no small wonder that when the building of the Sydney Opera House went over budget and could easily have been abandoned, Seidler rallied supporters from all walks of Australian life to ensure this iconic building was completed.
The newly completed additions to the Sydney skyline of Australia Square and the Opera House enhance our sense of identity and pride. As with Utzon and Arup, perhaps it is time to honour Harry Seidler with a permanent memorial.