Photo Journal: Long-Lost Model of Sydney Opera House Found and Rebuilt

Classic Arts News   Photo Journal: Long-Lost Model of Sydney Opera House Found and Rebuilt
 

(updated 4 Sept 2006)

It was like a crystal palace ... and it took on that sort of legend. A long-lost acrylic architectural model of the Sydney Opera House has been found and reconstructed, after languishing in storage crates for three decades. The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the model's re-assembly earlier this month.

The world-famous icon was designed by Danish architect Jêªrn Utzon in the late 1950s. Construction began in 1959 and was completed in 1973, though Utzon resigned in 1966 after clashing with government officials over the cost and feasibility of the project.

Following Utzon's departure, model builder Bill Lambert (who died in 1988) was commissioned by the New South Wales state Department of Public Works to build a three-dimensional model of the building based on approximately 8,000 detailed architectural drawings.

Lambert began work on a detailed model that year (1966), as a way of testing how heating, cooling and ventilation would work in the days before computer modeling and graphics were available to do the job. According to the Herald, it took Lambert seven years to build his model, which is 4.5 meters long, three meters wide and 1.8 meters high. The material used was Perspex, a semi-transparent acrylic that can be shaped when heated.

Just as the unique sail-shaped roofs of the Sydney Opera House challenged the builders and engineers, reproducing their design caused Lambert problems. The scale roof took two years to build, according to The Australian. It was only completed after Lambert discovered how to use several ovens to mold Perspex, then newly-developed, into the necessary shapes.

The model was sent to the 1974 Washington World Expo and had not been seen since — until 2002, when the NSW Dept. of Public Works came across the model in storage crates, which were turned over to the Sydney Opera House Trust.

Lambert's masterwork had been disassembled into 1,600 pieces (out of a total of 2,500), but there was no 'how-to' assembly plan stored with them. The SOH Trust was faced with what The Australian called "the ultimate IKEA nightmare."

A local firm called Porter Models painstakingly figured out how to repair and rebuild the model, assembling it more or less like a jigsaw puzzle — a task that took 2,000 hours over three months. Now, according to a spokesperson for the Sydney Opera House Trust, the model, once disassembled, can be put back together in about two days.

The Perspex creation — now affectionately referred to as "the Crystal Palace" — will be on view at the University of Sydney's Faculty of Architecture through December 18. While there is currently no suitable space at the Opera House itself, the Sydney Opera House Trust hopes to find another cultural institution in the city to display the model.


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