Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Food magazines and opera houses.

Cooking, working and raising children doesn't leave a whole lot of time for reading, so why we continue to subscribe to food magazines is a mystery. Maybe because they are fun to read. My personal favourite is New Zealand's Cuisine.

I've got old food magazines stacked away in cupboards, spare rooms, in the boots of Volvos and just lying about on coffee tables and floors and in bathrooms, ready for a quick flip through in an increasingly rare spare moment.

The May edition of Bon Appetit just arrived. It features the cuisine of Australia among those of other lands and it has a picture of the Sydney Opera House on the cover. Inside, the first several pages are glossy double page ads. One of these is a for a shipping line advertising tours to Australia. It shows a couple gazing out of their tour ship at ... the Sydney Opera House.

What is it with the Sydney Opera House as an Australian symbol? The Sydney Opera House was someone's idea of a post-modern architectural joke. Building contractors scratched their heads for years and almost couldn't build it because of its complexity. When they did finally finish it in 1973, its cost had overrun by something like 1400%-1700%, depending on who you ask, and yet the 'waterproof' joints between the roof shells had a projected life of 12 years with no provision made for inspection, maintenance, or repair. By 1989, the Sydney Opera House was falling apart and needed another $500 million thrown at it.

All that, for an acoustically-inferior concert hall that endangers the hearing of the musicians, has serious shortcomings for performers and looks like a yacht race in a cyclone.

A Federal Government Department of Environment report into the state of the building provides the following 1998 Sydney Opera House Trust comment. (They are bureaucrats, so we will need to call in the translators.)

'Since being completed twenty-five years ago, the Sydney Opera House has become an international icon, instantly recognisable to people all around the world.'

Translation: everyone recognises it, so we're stuck with it.

'The Sydney Opera House Trust has decided to embark on a long-term program aimed at achieving two significant objectives.'

Translation: 'long-term' means we can push costs onto future administrations, because we're not sure if it will work or whether it's worth it.

'The first is to safeguard the Sydney Opera House and its site for the benefit of future generations.'

Translation: it's falling down.

'The second is to address the current effectiveness of the building’s function as a contemporary performing arts centre.'

Translation: it's falling down and it doesn't work.

'In establishing these two objectives, we are mindful that they must be achieved within the design principles established by Utzon.'

Translation: the design was nuts and our task is probably impossible.

'The challenge now facing the Trust is to safeguard the integrity of Jørn Utzon’s vision, whilst assessing the functions of the building to ensure that it can continue to perform as the world-class performing arts centre that Utzon intended it to be.'

Read: unfortunately we can't pull the bastard down.

The Opera House would never have been built in Melbourne. The irony is that to most Sydneysiders, that's a criticism.


Diane said...

Heh. I live in Wisonsin, once home to Frank Lloyd Wright. We have quite a few of his buildings - from smallish city homes to churches to corporate headquarters - in the state. They all share the same problems as the opera house. They leak, they are difficult/impossible/prohibitively expensive to maintain/can never be demolished.

Dan said...

What's not mentioned is the secret plot by those Viking Northlanders to destroy Civilization (sorry, I meant Civilisation) via ugly, useless architecture.

neil said...

Really, the Opera House encapsulates all that Sydney empty's all show and no go.

Sara said...

Isn't the Opera House up for nomination for the new wonders of the world?