Mar 142010

Over its short history Sydney has had four buildings that stood as icons for the city.

It’s amazing how fast Sydney moves on.  Only 30 years after the First Fleet, convict architect Francis Greenway had built St. James Church in King Street.  A mere fifty years after that Town Hall would have been widely recognized on the street in Britain.  Then, in the 1930s, the Harbour Bridge was completed, and became famous world-wide.  Finally, even though it was conceived in 1956, the Opera House wasn’t finished until 1973.  There seems to be a fifty-year cycle.

So it might seem that Sydney is due for a new icon, now that the Opera House has had its fifty-year run.  But I don’t think so.

None of its predecessors was unique.  There were similar buildings elsewhere in the world.  Australia had not yet escaped colonialism.  Not so the Opera House.  There’s still nothing else like it, Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava and Zaha Hadid notwithstanding – their buildings’ singularity has been undermined by sustained careers and multiple iterations.  Utzon did it once, on a site that has no room for competitors.

The Opera house came along well into the age of TV.  There was very public and noisy controversy about its design.  The Queen made a special trip from London to open it.  Its fresh and different architectural language matched the brash global reputation of the Aussie spirit.  It’s as though it were all a drama made for television!  The new icon, and the city which spawned it, were instantly famous everywhere.  The imprint on Earth’s collective imagination was indelible.  The symbol continues to stand perfectly for the world’s romantic version of Australian reality.

Some brands just refuse to go away.  And thank god.  Witness the Eiffel Tower.  Which remains the Opera House’s only real competitor.  Hmmmm.  Paris and Sydney.  Not bad company, my dears, for either of you.

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