Sunday, April 07, 2013

Everything you know is wrong

"MANY people say my design was inspired by the sailing yachts in the harbour or by seashells. This is not the case. It is like an orange, you peel an orange and you get these segments, these similar shapes. It was like this in my models. It was not that I thought it should be like sails in the harbour. It just so happened that the white sails were similar. I was influenced by the sails only to the extent that my father was a naval architect and I was familiar with big shapes.
Jørn Utzon revealed the truth about the Sydney Opera House to Eric Ellis way back in 1992; yet still, people say it is all about sails. Worse, architecture students say it in the essays I mark. If only they were to read this blog, then they would know how to avoid humiliation and failure.

The following video is an interpretation of Game Theory's Like a Girl Jesus.  It includes every special effect available to its creator.


Lyndon said...

Alternatively: ‘Model Illustrating the Origin of the Roof Geometry of the Sydney Opera House’

Max said...

Um, it might be what Utzon said in 1992, but what he designed was not about segments: that was Arup and Zunz, who pointed out that (i) Utzon's original "shell" designs were not able to be built without massive and obstructive support structures and then (ii) that a similar shape could be constructed from segments of a large sphere.

This is not to say that Utzon didn't, by going along with Arup/Zunz, then adopt the "segment" model, but - at least according to almost everything published, including the SOH guide - the starting point was sails.

Perhaps marking might be preceded by, well, checking if you're actually quite so clever and so avoiding, well, a deserved reputation for pomposity and perhaps - in these times - being sued by your students?

Paul said...

Perhaps you should not hide behind anonymity.

Also, shells are not sails. And why should the guidebook be a better authority than the architect?

Max said...

In answer to all three points, -my- point was not that you were necessarily wrong, but that you hadn't exactly bothered to check, while the students whom you were so ready to criticise could hardly be faulted for following any number of texts that use the sails/shells terminology.

However, and after some quick checking - albeit motivated by a deep aversion to pomposity - it turns out, you are in fact completely out to lunch on this one.

And, if you're serious about having marked students down on this, some crawling back is in order: see for example, Utzon's own 1957 drawings using the terms "shells" and "sails", referenced in Siegfried Giedion's Space, Time and Architecture:
The Growth of a New Tradition (1982ed) 682. Also, if you're serious about trying to teach, humility is always a good starting point; doing the work is an even better one.

Paul said...

Max, perhaps you would like to say who you are, rather than hiding behind an account name. And perhaps you would like to consider conducting yourself in a professional manner, rather than being nasty. And if anyone is pompous in this discussion, it is you.

I have a primary source: the words of the architect. Clearly the segment idea was developed by Ove Arup, as the photo posted by Lyndon shows. Your citation of the 1957 drawings shows that the matter might not be so clear cut. Unfortunately, you seem to lack the termperament to make you points reasonably, so I shall not argue with any more.


Max said...

Oh, please. It doesn't really matter who I am - I'm not the one talking in disparaging terms about students who you're, presumably, paid to teach and about a significant work with a complicated history not really resolved by reading one (albeit well-publicised) newspaper interview.

The thing (and the reason for the charge of pomposity) is that you've held forth in spite of all this:

- as you (should) know, the Utzon-Arup/Zunz relationship was hardly straightforward: on the one hand, Utzon's building would have failed without A&Z and, even with them, came extraordinarily close to doing so; on the other hand, and as Zunz in particular made clear, Utzon was not only difficult to work with (and not, please, in the tortured artist sense, but rather in the worst pretentious artist sense) but also incredibly dismissive of that exceptionally good work. All this is, or should be, at least somewhat familiar to anyone teaching or researching in the discipline.

- the 1992 interview can really only be understood in light of that ultimately abysmal relationship. The "segments" premise is a useful, but revisionist, account on Utzon's part, for several reasons: Utzon's original design didn't use any sort of consistent geometry and, as above, the idea of using spherical geometry came from Zunz; the "orange" reference would be picturesque but (and perhaps understandably, given his unhappy history with the SOH and the passage of time) was almost certainly taken from Saarinen's much earlier description (though S used a grapefruit) of designing the TWA building in 1957 - Utzon didn't come to the spherical/segment model until persuaded by A/Z in late 1961; and, of course, Utzon was famously keen not only to resist what he evidently saw as engineering interference with his original design but also to downplay what he saw as mundane ancillary work in contrast to his own creative vision, as well as Utzon's own concerns over the work that Saarinen himself had done to persuade the original jury that Utzon's design was feasible and over the uncharacteristically broad brief given Arups by the jury as a counterbalance to Utzon's lack of experience in large projects.

So, sure, see the 1992 interview as a "primary source": just one given long after the events in question, contradicted by records of the time, and arising from a complicated and ultimately frustrated relationship between Utzon, Arup/Zunz and the building itself. So not, really, the most robust soapbox, whether your audience is your students (and, if this really is your approach, they do deserve better from you), this blog or just me.

And as to the "nastiness"? Really? I'm just saying that, particularly, before you get stuck into students for saying something that is (a) all over the texts; (b) sure, contradicted by an interview that you've read, but that can only be understood accurately when placed in context; and so (c) is at least nothing like so simple as you claimed, some caution and some professional rigour would be a good call.

Paul said...

Irony, my dear Max (whoever you are); I would not fail and humiliate students for repeating such a common assumption. I would merely point out that the analogy is contested. I would add that I don't believe modernist architects generally design in terms of crude representation, making buildings that look like other things. I would also say that meanings become attached to buildings over time.

Anonymous said...

Gentlemen, I saw U2 play in 1993 at the SCG, because the Opera House with its lovely sail/peely bit construction was not capable of hosting 20 thousand odd fans. Now at some point in the Achtung Baby set, U2 commenced "Pride" (In the Name of Love) and behind them on vastly over-sized screens, archival footage Martin Luther King was displayed. It was marvelous, and then all of a sudden, it was not. From the row in front of me, someone spoke too loudly. "Who's the black dude?" I held my breath. "Bill Cosby" was the first reply. I reeled. "No mate" another wiser amongst them corrected quickly. "It's that guy that ran in the Hitler Olympics". This brings me to my `wind you up' point. Surely it is only about the Opera House Oyster Bar these days? Or the fact Crowded House played their last gig there? Sails, Peels, Luther, Cosby, Owen - the kids in the front row who you think should know, simply do not. And that is not their fault. Something was missed in their formation, a wider view of the world perhaps. Yours also anonymously, but with Namaste' plus plus intent.