Keen to see the development of one of the most exciting projects in contemporary architecture, the chairman of the international design competition for the Sydney Opera House, architect Harry Ashworth, along with members of the International Union of Architects, visited Jørn Utzon in Hellebæk, Denmark, in September 1960.
On 5 September 1960, Ashworth, seen here walking beside Utzon, visited the architect’s studio in Hellebæk, Denmark.
Ashworth had been an influential and early supporter of the Sydney Opera House. He was also now the lead architectural adviser of the Sydney Opera House Executive Committee, the body responsible for overseeing the project.
Ashworth was visiting Utzon after a study trip throughout Europe to a number of opera houses.
One of the young architects working in Utzon's office, Yuzo Mikami, recalled that “it was for him [Ashworth] a very important visit in which he became well acquainted with Utzon’s design methods, particularly the way of working out designs through building models ... Utzon developed cogent explanations about the designs ... with which Ashworth was completely indoctrinated.”
The following day, up to 40 members of the International Union of Architects visited the large warehouse space that had been swiftly rented and filled with models.
Utzon’s young assistant architects had spent the past fortnight racing to finalise the presentation space for the auspicious visit. The visitors responded, Mikami observed, “with mixed feelings of admiration, envy and skepticism”.
This group had splintered off from the union’s main conference held in London some weeks earlier. There, Italian master builder Pier Luigi Nervi had criticised architects who designed structures without a proper understanding of technical aspects. Whether this was a veiled criticism of Utzon’s winning entry is unclear, although it was widely known that the architect had not consulted an engineer before submitting his design.
Regardless of whether members of the group shared this critique, their presence in Hellebæk emphasised how much Utzon’s design had emerged as one of the most exciting projects in the world.
Created by Sam Doust and the
Sydney Opera House GCI Team
State Library of New South Wales