The Poisoned Chalice: Peter Hall and the Sydney Opera House
OpusSOH, $59 hb, 244 pp, 978064696739
Researching Australia’s most iconic building and writing about its beleaguered history from the time Jørn Utzon resigned in 1966 until it opened in 1973 might result in an indigestible plot for many of the building’s enthusiasts. Yet narrating the fraught circumstances behind the completion of the Sydney Opera House by Australian architect Peter Hall and the newly formed consortium Hall, Todd, & Littlemore is just what architectural and design writer Anne Watson has accomplished, warts and all. The outgrowth of a PhD thesis, as she readily acknowledges, this book results from forensic scholarship and is handsomely produced.
For those readers interested in the history of twentieth-century modern architectural styles, this revealing investigation apprehends Utzon’s romantic and organic modernism and fairly dethrones the hagiography surrounding him but not the SOH masterpiece. There are informative references to Hall’s work for Sydney interior designer Marian Hall Best, and to Scandinavian and American modernisms gleaned primarily from Hall’s study trips abroad, and insights into his revelations in Japan. The Australian plywood detailing in the final design of the SOH Concert Hall, for instance, was inspired by the Japanese architect Kunio Maekawa’s new Saitama Community Centre concert hall, near Tokyo, which Hall saw in 1966.