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Australian rift-healing over Sydney Opera House 'a sham'

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NEWS

The Australian government has approved a 10year, £8 million masterplan to 'redesign' the Sydney Opera House - but Jørn Utzon expert Richard Weston says it is simply an attempt to whitewash the past and portray the rift as healed. Utzon himself will never return, and says the work is 'more about toilets than concert halls'.

Weston, who has written the just-published Utzon - the definitive monograph of the 83-yearold architect's work, said: 'The New South Wales government is trying to make mountains out of molehills and to say the rifts are all over - and it's not exactly a dramatic refit.'

Utzon's 'return' to the scheme, with Denton Corker Marshall, was first detailed by the AJ three years ago (AJ 25.2.99), but is being exaggerated in PR terms according to Utzon's right-hand man Mogens Prip-Buus. And Utzon's treatment at the time - including an eight-year gagging order - still rankles. 'He got battered, badly, ' said Weston.

The Danish architect, now living in Majorca, was ordered to stay silent on the famous scheme when he signed a legal agreement after it ran into budgetary problems in the 1960s. He was also told that he was not good enough to do the interior of the building.

Now Utzon's son Jan has put together a design manual with guidance notes and principles to be observed. But Jørn Utzon believes his original vision cannot be realised. Weston said: 'It used materials, such as huge 50ft x 15ft plywood sheets, that don't exist now.'

The scheme is a reworking of the building's forecourt, enlargement of the orchestra pit and improvement of the acoustics in the building's two main halls - which Utzon never worked on.

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