What do you get when you mix a handful of orange peels, a bushel of palm fronds and a Maya temple? If you’re Danish architect Jørn Utzon, you dream up an opera house that will, almost single-handedly, turn a faraway city into a global capital.
The Sydney Opera House is a landmark on the city skyline, a lighthouse for ferries entering the harbor, a projection screen for Sydney’s myriad festivals and a barometer of global artistic talent. Utzon’s dream building is many things, but above all, it’s an architectural marvel that was built well ahead of its time, far ahead of the available technology, and one that changed the image of an entire country.
Now, for a mere A$100 (US$91), you can “own” a piece of this UNESCO World Heritage site to help fund much-needed renovations as the building enters a new phase of renewal in honor of its 40th anniversary.
The Sydney Opera House launched the innovative “Own Our House” campaign and microsite Monday to give both Australians and international fans a chance to show their support for the iconic structure by purchasing a virtual tile. The landmark contains more than a million tiles, but the initial auction spans only the 125,000 on its tallest sail, known as A2, which covers the Concert Hall.
Proud owners, known as Housemates, will be able to zoom in online to choose their tile using laser mapping technology from U.S.-based digital preservation foundation CyArk. Housemates can then check out their tile’s view of the harbor, personalize it with a photo and short message, and join virtual tile communities with friends, family and famous artists like Hugh Jackman, who threw his support behind the campaign Monday. As the sale will only take place in the realms of the virtual world, none of the glossy ice- and snow-colored tiles will ever leave the building.
Sydney Opera House Trust Chairman John Symond said the new grassroots campaign was about having a partnership with the community. “The Opera House is the People’s House [and] Own Our House is an opportunity for everyone to feel that they are contributing to its future.”
Louise Herron, Sydney Opera House CEO, added in a statement that the funds raised by Own Our House would go first and foremost toward helping renew the building. “The campaign gives people a really tangible, practical way of showing how much they care,” she said. “It provides the seed funding for the renewal campaign of Australia’s greatest icon.”
A recent report from Deloitte Access Economics, timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary celebrations in October, valued the Opera House at A$4.6 billion. Yet, despite its cultural and economic value (it lures more than 8.2 million people each year), the Opera House has struggled to scrape up the funds for renovation under a government that is less than eager to foot the entire bill.
Many in the arts world have criticized the Opera House for its lackluster acoustics, while others say its dated interior lacks the panache of its stunning shell. Long overdo for an overhaul, the Opera House turned to its virtual sale to kick-start a “decade of renewal” and drum up both interest in and funds for the Aussie icon.
The venture is expected to raise upwards of A$15 million in “seed funding” if all 125,000 virtual tiles sell out. Combined with some A$13.7 million from the state government, the Opera House said it hopes to finally be able to scope and sequence its projects over the next decade.
Mark Johanson is the travel editor at the International Business Times. He has traveled to and written about more than 30 nations and territories on every continent except...