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Utzon's Sphere

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review

Utzon's Sphere. Sydney Opera House - How It Was Designed And Built By Yuzo Mikami. Shokokusha, 2001. 170pp. £39.95 With several accounts of Utzon's masterpiece already in print, one can be forgiven for wondering if we need yet another tramp over well-trodden ground, writes Richard Weston.

This new account contains no major revelations but is to be welcomed on two counts: the author worked on the building, first for Utzon, later with Arup; and the illustrations are outstanding, both the new colour pictures by Osamu Murai and Mikami's personal archive of photographs and drawings (Utzon, by contrast, was no recordkeeper).

Mikami met Utzon through his employer, Kunio Mayekawa, and joined the office in Hellebaek in 1958, shortly after the competition victory. Utzon's staff remember him as an able draughtsman who, following their departure for Sydney in 1962, 'betrayed' them by going to work for Arup, fuelling their suspicion that the engineer was positioning itself to take complete responsibility for the job.

Having worked for both major players, Mikami is well placed to give a comprehensive account, and his book can be recommended for the clarity and detail of its explanations - both verbal and graphic - of the design's evolution. The familiar story of the structure of the 'shells' is told in depth, but developments after 1962, such as the tiles and final, unrealised, configuration of the acoustic ceilings, understandably receive less detailed treatment. And not surprisingly, given his subsequent affiliation, Mikami does not explore the increasingly fraught relationship with Arup revealed in Mogens Prip-Buus's Letters from Sydney.

On one point, however, Mikami is misleading. His role was rather more modest than his book suggests, and when he observes that 'only a few young assistants followed Utzon to Australia', hinting that this contributed to the eventual debacle, he is being, to say the least, disingenuous. The 'young assistants' included Utzon's most trusted staff, who were both more experienced and more gifted designers than their former colleague.

Richard Weston is professor at the Welsh School of Architecture and author of the first authorised monograph on Utzon, to be published early next year by Edition Bl°ndal

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