|Professor Sir Leslie Martin, MA, PhD, FRIBA, who, along with Cobden Parkes, Eero Saarinen and fellow Mancunian Harry lngham Ashworth, chose Jorn Utzon as the winner of the Sydney Opera House Competition has died peacefully in his ninety-second year.|
As an architectural eminence gris, Martin had no equal: early accepting his own limitations as a designer, Martin used his strategic genius to bring out the best in younger architects, sometimes as team leader with projects such as London’s Festival Hall and Cambridge’s Harvey Court, which respectively launched Peter Moro and Patrick Hodgkinson, among others, and sometimes as an invisible hand guiding the destinies of such apparent meteors as Utzon and James Stirling.
Proof of Martin’s ability to control an architectural jury, so as to nurture a visionary project, is nowhere better demonstrated than in his fateful letter to Ashworth (NLA mss 4500), dated 12th February, 1957:
I am writing to let you know that Utzon flew over to England on Wednesday last and that Eero Saarinen and I saw him and discussed with him the way in which the Opera House project could be carried out.
I am now sending you this letter with Eero Saarinen’s agreement. In the first place we would like to say that we feel that Utzon is a charming person. We are sure that he will be both enthusiastic and helpful in developing the project with Committee. He apparently has an office in Denmark and is carrying out a housing scheme in Sweden, but all the drawings for this work are finished and Utzon states that it can now be carried out by his staff. He is, therefore, ready to start work at once on the Sydney scheme.
We have considered with him various possibilities of collaboration. We are, however, completely satisfied that he ought to take the personal
Sir Leslie Martin, Dr Cobden Parkes, Eero Saarinen and Professor Henry Ingham Ashworth
responsibility of working with the Committee in developing the programme and that he is admirably equipped to deal with all matters of design. The support which he needs is, in fact, connected particularly with the technical problem of calculating and later building the very complicated shell vault system. We therefore feel that the best type of collaboration would be with an engineering firm of outstanding reputation from the start - I should perhaps add that this suggestion has Utzon’s complete agreement. We have in mind that he should work with a firm of the standing of Ove Arup and Partners of London, or Christiani and Nielson [sic] of Copenhagen.
We feel that this collaboration would give Utzon any support which he might need on the managerial and financial side of the work. We think that this type of collaboration would be the most effective way of using his capabilities to the full and of ensuring that the best advice is available on the structural aspects of the work.
Do please let me know if there is any further way in which we can be of assistance.
As they said about Richelieu, "Only the eyes moved".
Peter Myers is Sydney-based architect