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There’s a perverse irony in the apocryphal tale of the design competition for the Sydney Opera House in 1956. The story goes that, after the selection of the group of finalist designs for the competition, the Finnish-American architect on the jury, Eero Saarinen, re-examined the pile of rejected entries, and reinstated the scheme of the Danish architect Jørn Utzon.
This design, as we all know, won and the contentious project, built over 16 difficult years, has become an iconic image of Sydney and Australia. The fact the architect acrimoniously departed Australia before the completion of the project, never to return, only adds to the poignancy of the story.
The Sydney Opera House story defines the capricious, conflicted nature of architectural design competitions. Are they opportunities for unique, unexpected design propositions, or unnecessary risks that lead to unrealistic, unproven design directions?