The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Makeover muddle

Sydney, Feb. 5: The infamous showdown over the construction of Sydney Opera House, in which the architect abandoned his half-built masterpiece after a bitter clash over costs, is threatening to resurface 40 years on.

Australia’s most celebrated building is at the centre of a fresh crisis over funding, this time involving the refurbishment of its interior ' and once again the visionary Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, is a principal player.

In 1966, as disquiet grew over the building’s spiralling costs, Utzon was forced off the project by the state government and left Australia, vowing never to return. He has never set eyes on his finished masterwork, whose exterior design mimics the shape of billowing sails, and which has become a national icon. But after being offered an olive branch by the New South Wales government, he agreed to draw up plans for an interior makeover.

Utzon, now 87, who lives in Majorca and is too frail to travel, is presiding over the project from afar, leaving his son, Jan, to supervise. But the plans are so ambitious in scope ' involving excavating into Sydney Harbour and slicing through a concrete beam that holds the building’s shells together ' that engineers have costed the necessary work at '290 million.

The figure is 10 times the state government’s allocation for the refit, raising serious questions over where the rest of the money will come from.

Options being considered include funding from the federal government, setting up a special Opera House lottery, bonds and private donations.

If the money cannot be raised, Utzon’s radical plans would have to be modified, shelved or even scrapped ' raising the embarrassing prospect of a fresh fall-out, echoing that of 40 years ago.

Then, Utzon’s original plans for the interior were torn up after he departed Australian shores, and a government-appointed team of architects finished the job as quickly and cheaply as possible.

The drab result, which led a critic to describe the Opera House as a “grand piano on the outside and a rusty xylophone on the inside”, is exacerbated by severe shortcomings in the performance spaces.

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