Coming to terms with an iconic opera house:
We call them shells because that's how they look. Properly speaking, though, the [Sydney] Opera House is not a shell structure at all.
The shell idea thrilled architects of the mid-20th century because it looked effortless and was immensely difficult to achieve. The idea, though, is simple: in a structure shaped around natural stress patterns, the forces generated by self-weight will remain within the material, removing any need for external ribs, beams or buttresses.
Utzon's shells were never actually shells, even before they were re-formed into spherical sections to make the maths do-able. And, either way, the same fundamental problem would have arisen.
The problem is that they are three-dimensional gothic arches which generate huge outward thrust. The Opera House is really a gothic cathedral, sans buttresses. This necessitates the enormous tie-beam that holds the "shells" together underground and, in so doing, makes a proper orchestra pit impossible. Along with the narrow peninsula site and the sketch-decision to locate the two halls side-by-side, the shell idea meant the opera hall could never have orchestra pit, fly-tower or side-stages.
Which does not mean there is anything wrong with the building, just that we misnamed it. We could fix its faults by admitting it is not an opera house at all, never will be. It is not, really, architecture. It is a fabulous, transcendent piece of sculpture.
And more on the same from a different perspective:
In the second act of Swan Lake, elegant ballerinas, with white tutus fluttering, toes pointed, leap across the Sydney Opera House stage at speed and out of sight into the wings. What waits for them there must rank among the least graceful moves in all the world.
But it is one that has saved them from disaster, according to the ballet's artistic director and a former dancer, David McAllister.
"The girls would race off the ramp in the second act and we'd have someone there to catch them and push them off to the side, a bit like a football or handball, so the girls didn't go smashing into the wings," he says.
Their leap into the arms of a catcher, often a sturdy mechanist, has been necessitated in Swan Lake and other ballets over the years because the Opera Theatre has so little wing space. It is about two metres wide, a quarter of what the ballet has at its Melbourne venue. This makes exits at speed in the Opera Theatre risky: accidents must be avoided, but illusion - essential to the magic of theatre - must be maintained.
And finally, The Music Of The Spheres:
Of all the habits shared by ancient and modern people, stargazing may be the most serene. When we look up at a clear night sky, or view the fabulously beautiful pictures of stars and galaxies coming from the Hubble Space Telescope, we enter awestruck and humble into a magical realm that has the sacred hush of an ancient cathedral or a great art museum. We almost feel we should keep our voices down and turn off our cell phones out of respect.
So how would you feel if suddenly, as you quietly admired a dark and starry sky, you heard the stars making all kinds of crazy noises?
Einstein's theory of spacetime tells us that the real universe is not silent, but is actually alive with vibrating energy. Space and time carry a cacophony of vibrations with textures and timbres as rich and varied as the din of sounds in a tropical rain forest or the finale of a Wagner opera. It's just that we haven't heard those sounds yet. The universe is a musical that we've been watching all this time as a silent movie.