The Sydney Opera House is a Living Thing

What’s different about my book is that it considers how the Sydney Opera House is brought to life. As the economics of publishing has pushed architecture books towards the profession, with the life, the “program” outside their scope, I describe performances and food culture that could only happen at the Opera House. The resident Australian arts companies may also be resident elsewhere, rock bands perform there during world tours, the two most famous chefs also have restaurants elsewhere but all of those things come together as a “living thing” at the Opera House, it’s a unique ecosystem within one of the most famous pieces of architecture on the planet.

(limited edition book available for sale now at

Jorn Utzon may not have completed the Opera House, but he considered it a living thing. The title of my book is from a quote from an interview he gave in 1970, three years before the Opera House would open after Peter Hall, Lionel Todd and David Littlemore completed the building. Utzon describes starting with the life of the city being drawn towards the precinct, and it being brought into the vital worlds of the performances. His design principles define the essential characteristics of the architecture but he also states that the lifeline must never be completely severed, new building projects must, as much as possible, bend to the life force of the building.

Anne Watson’s book Poisoned Chalice not only allows us to consider Peter Hall’s contributions in bringing the Opera House to life on their own considerable merits, it gives us a vision of Hall as the bright, talented young architect full of promise, inspired by Matisse and the bright colours of 60s industrial design and rock’n’roll and wanting to bring that energy and excitement and wild life into the building. The brilliant blue of this Paul Kelly concert on the forecourt last year is something I imagine that Peter Hall would have liked.



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