Skip to main content

The Edge of the Possible: Special EditionJørn Utzon and the Sydney Opera House

By September 21, 2011films

HUGO 300“I like to be on the edge of the possible” – Jørn Utzon 1918-2008
The acclaimed architect of the Sydney Opera House tells the story of the design and construction of his masterpiece. Now with more than an hour of extra never before seen footage.



Special Features in this new edition
This special edition includes extended interview with architect, Jorn Utzon, and 50 minutes of  additional material including never-before-seen footage filmed during the construction.

  • Extended interview with Jørn Utzon
  • Super 8 Footage: Sydney Opera House under construction and protest at Utzon’s departure.
  • Jørn at home in Hellebaek, Denmark
  • Opera House aerial vistas

Jørn Utzon was awarded the first prize in an international architecture competition to design an Opera House for Sydney. In 1957 he flew to Australia to begin work on the construction of the greatest building Australia has ever seen and, indeed, one of the finest achievements of modern architecture. Utzon was forced from the project in 1966 and has never returned to Australia. What defeated him in the end was politics. This film charts the dramatic course of the creation of a masterpiece and includes a rare interview with Jørn Utzon as he reflects on his role in the compelling story of the conception and construction of the Sydney Opera House.

Jørn Utzon, the Danish architect of the Sydney Opera House lived in Hellebaek, Denmark in a modest house he built himself. Jørn Utzon died in 2008. In a distinguished career he received every major architectural award, the Alvar Aalto Medal, the Order of Australia, the Sonning Prize, the French Legion of Honour and, recently, the Keys to the City of Sydney. But in February 1966 it was a very different story. In that month his nine years’ work on the Opera House came to an end. He wrote to the then NSW Minister for Public Works, Davis Hughes, the historic words “you have forced me to leave the job”. Utzon fled Australia with his young family in April 1966 and he never returned.

This beautifully photographed film charts the triumphant, exhilarating and then tragic course of the design and construction of the Sydney Opera House. For the first time in 25 years Jørn Utzon appears in a lengthy interview speaking in English. Four of his colleagues, from the international and close-knit team of architects he assembled to work on the project, also appear for the first time on film.

All Australians, and much of the rest of the world, are familiar with the unique profile that is Jørn Utzon’s shell concept for the Sydney Opera House but very few have ever entered the building. Those that do venture inside often speak of an ambivalence towards the interior architecture. Utzon, of course, left the project before he could begin work on the interiors — they were finished by his successors the Australian team of Peter Hall, David Littlemore and Lionel Todd.

One claim was that Utzon had no plans for his interiors, yet in 1973 the State Library of NSW took delivery of thousands of drawings which reveal his concepts. Many models too were built which show Utzon’s unique ideas for his interiors. Almost all these models mysteriously disappeared after Utzon left Australia but for the first time, with archival footage that has never before been seen this film shows details of these intricate and breathtaking models.

Finally Utzon himself argues that the building should be respected now for what it is and not what it could have been had things gone differently. He implores the Australian Government to inscribe the Sydney Opera House on the World Heritage Listing in order to give it lasting international protection – the government took his advice in 2007.

This is a gentle portrait of a man and his most enduring work. The tragedy is there, a testament to what could have been, but so too is the antidote — the subtle and glorious vista on Bennelong Point.

Directed by Daryl Dellora
Produced by Sue Maslin
Feature Duration: 56 minutes 24 seconds
Extras: 50 minutes
Written by Daryl Dellora & Ian Wansbrough
Original Music by David Bridie and John Phillips
Narrated by Robyn Nevin
Developed and Produced with the assistance of Film Victoria
Developed with the assistance of the New South Wales Film and Television Office
Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Financed by the Australian Film Finance Corporation Limited
© 2009 Film Art Doco Pty Ltd and  Australian Film Finance Corporation Limited