Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sydney Icons

Miss Pandora and Dr Bradfield's piece de resistance
(and Blackie The Dog)

What would a report from Sydney be without reference to the Sydney Harbour 
Bridge and the Sydney Opera House? Crap, that's what it would be. 
So today's blog post remedies that situation. Despite temperatures soaring into 
the 30s (before breakfast) and every coffee shop in the vicinity being closed, 
Miss Pandora and your blogster dressed in their New Year's Day finery and 
made the first visit of 2011 to the Opera House and Harbour. Here's our report:
The Coat Hanger – aka the Sydney Harbour Bridge – was the baby of Dr J J C 
Bradfield, after whom the very short Bradfield Highway (which crosses it) is named. 
It was a source of employment during The Great Depression, and opened in 1932, 
with the official ribbon-cutting ceremony being rudely interrupted by Francis de 
Groot and his sword, on horseback and in full military uniform, objecting that the 
left-wing NSW premier, Jack Lang, had not invited Royalty to cut the ribbon. 
(De Groot was convicted of offensive behaviour and fined £5 after a psychiatric
 test proved he was sane.)

Dress by Little Marc Jacobs
Let’s get the stats:  according to Guiness World records, it is the world's widest 
long-span bridge. It is the fifth longest spanning-arch bridge in the world, and the 
tallest steel arch bridge, measuring 134 metres from top to water level (almost 
every cruise ship in the world can fit under it, perhaps bar their funnels – when 
The Queen Mary comes in, only her stern can be backed under it). Until 1967 
the Harbour Bridge was Sydney's tallest structure.  The arch has a span of 503m; 
however, expansion of the steel structure on hot days (e.g. New Year’s Day 2011) 
can increase the height of the arch by as much as 18 cm. The bridge is held together 
by six million Australian made hand-driven rivets, the last being driven through the 
deck on 21 January 1932. The rivets were heated red-hot and inserted into the 
plates; the headless end was immediately rounded over with a large pneumatic r
ivet gunThe practice of riveting large steel structures (rather than welding) was,
 at the time, the way things were done. Structural welding had not been adequately developed.
James Michener assessing the Sydney Harbour Bridge in his book
"Return to Paradise"  (1951):
“To get on in Australia, you must make two observations. Say, "You have the most beautiful bridge in the world" and "They tell me you trounced England again in the cricket." The first statement will be a lie. Sydney Bridge [sic] is big, utilitarian and the symbol of Australia, like the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower. But it is very ugly. No Australian will admit this.” (Nor, might I add, are they likely to admit the latter statement, except possibly this summer...)
American travel-writer Bill Bryson's impressions of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
 in his book "Down Under" (2000):
“ can see it from every corner of the city, creeping into frame from the oddest angles, like an uncle who wants to get into every snapshot. From a distance it has a kind of gallant restraint, majestic but not assertive, but up close it is all might. It soars above you, so high that you could pass a ten-storey building beneath it, and looks like the heaviest thing on earth. Everything that is in it – the stone blocks in its four towers, the latticework of girders, the metal plates, the six-million rivets (with heads like halved apples) – is the biggest of its type you have ever seen... This is a great bridge.” (We like Bill; better than James M., anyway.)
Heading to The House
(they've put in a Sushi Bar since I left *unimpressed*)
 The Sydney Opera House – just in case you didn’t know - is a multi-venue performing arts centre in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It was conceived and largely built by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, who, in 2003, received the Pritzker Prize, architecture's highest honour.
The Pritzker Prize citation stated:
“There is no doubt that the Sydney Opera House is his masterpiece. It is one of the great iconic buildings of the 20th century, an image of great beauty that has become known throughout the world – a symbol for not only a city, but a whole country and continent.”
Budding thespian? Miss Pan asserts herself.
The Sydney Opera House was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 28 June 2007. It is one of the 20th century's most distinctive buildings and one of the most famous performing arts centres in the world. It is magnificently sited on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour, close to the Sydney Harbour bridge, surrounded on three sides by the harbour (Sydney Cove and Farm Cove) and neighbouring  the Royal Botanic Gardens. Wikipedia has it that the SOH is “a modern expressionist design”, but I’ll defer to architectural experts on that. Suffice to say, it is spectacular and unique, with a series of large precast concrete "shells", each composed of sections of a sphere of 75.2 metre radius, forming the roofs of the structure, set on a monumental podium. Its stats: the building covers 1.8 hectares of land and is 183 metres long and 120 metres wide at its widest point. It is supported on 588 concrete piers sunk as much as 25 metres below sea level.  The shells are covered in a subtle chevron pattern with 1,056,006 (remember that number: who knows when you could find yourself in a trivia contest) glossy white- and matte-cream-coloured Swedish-made tiles (from Hoganas AB) though, from a distance, the shells appear a uniform white.
Apart from the tile of the shells and the glass curtain walls of the foyer spaces, the building's exterior is largely clad with aggregate panels composed of pink granite quarried in Tarana (small town, central NSW – but you knew that?). Significant interior surface treatments also include off-form concrete, Australian white birch plywood supplied from Wauchope (small town in northern New South Wales – but you knew that?), and brush box glulam (glued laminated timber).
Now, the Sydney Opera House has several performance spaces, of which the Concert Hall and the Opera Theatre are the biggest and most famous. But tucked away underneath the sails are other smaller theatre spaces. Our attention today focuses on The Playhouse, an "end-stage theatrewith 398 seats. It proved rather difficult to access The Playhouse this New Year’s Day morning, as the whole of the OH area was full of trucks and workers cleaning up after the NYE revels. Normally a little restricted access wouldn’t bother me, but add in a recalcitrant three-year-old, 30 degree heat, and the fact that the coffee machines were not yet up and running, and your result is a grumpy blogster.

But despite all, Miss Pandora and I made it to our performance, a charming 55 minute puppet/performer act called "Charlie and Lola's Best Bestest Play Ever" (Remember – we’re talking 3 to 7 year old attention spans here – you can forget ”Tristan and Isolde”). Charlie and Lola are characters created by British author Lauren Child. The siblings (the eponymous Charlie and Lola) were originally introduced in a series of books that were later made into a television series. Despite being primarily aimed at children aged 3 to 7, the books and shows are said to be popular with adults, due to humorous and relatable storylines. Personally, I was rather bored, but it is a long while since I was 3 to 7 years old. Lola is an energetic, imaginative little girl; Charlie is a patient and kind older brother always willing to help Lola learn and grow; Soren Lorenson is Lola’s imaginary friend (Pandora’s imaginary friend is called ’Skug’ – it is good to see these important people achieving artistic recognition). I must admit that I did warm to Lola, whose view of the world was refreshing. I read later that the first "Charlie and Lola" book was called I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato (2001). This being one of the truisms by which I have lived my life, I sense that Lola and I have much in common.

Happy New Year's Day

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