The recent furore over advertising on the sails of the Sydney Opera House is nothing compared to the scandals, political rows and media frenzies that characterised the creation of this iconic building. Most newsworthy was the sacking of Danish architect Jørn Utzon who famously won a 1957 competition to design a world-class performance venue for Sydney. After nine drama-filled years overseeing the protracted construction process, he left Australia, never to return.

The House (Allen & Unwin, 2018), by Sydney Morning Herald journalist Helen Pitt, tells the story of Utzon and many others who toiled on the building between the 1959 sod-turning on the former tram depot site and the official opening by Queen Elizabeth in 1973.

There’s world-renowned conductor Eugene Goossens, who was credited with instigating the project, but left Australia in disgrace after a sex scandal. There’s architect Peter Hall who stepped in to finish Utzon’s job in the face of mounting pressure over cost blow-outs. And there’s the building itself, every aspect of which attracted scrutiny – from its intricately engineered arches to its tiles, plywood interiors and much-maligned acoustics.

Pitt weaves historical accounts from many and varied sources into an informative and entertaining narrative, which received the 2018 Walkley Book Award for Excellence in Journalism.

By Lesley Lopes

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