I first saw the below photographs in an architecture exhibition in Sydney, celebrating the construction of the Opera House, one of the world’s most recognisable iconic buildings. The images showed labourers toiling on the construction site as the famous ‘sails’ begin to materialize behind a dense fog of scaffold and formwork. I was absolutely stunned at the period of the photography. The workers clothes, tools and vehicles all looked so dated, which seemed shocking when shot in front of such an ageless architecture.

We have all seen that curved roof so many times, from every conceivable angle, on every type of mug and fridge magnet, that we have become desensitized to its impact. I can only guess what it must have felt like for the locals to watch as this seemingly impossible form began to emerge, or even for the workers, who were using materials and technologies in ways which had no precedent. To see those photos from the late 1950s is to see it as few have; when it was radical.

Here are a few other amazing images I have found across the internet, documenting the construction phases of other revolutionary architectural achievements; the glorious messy bit, before the beautiful finished photo in the hardback first editions.

These buildings were not shocking just because of their physical scale, but because they all demonstrated previously unseen levels of architectural ambition, and the uncompromised authorship of a single visionary. In contemporary architecture we can all be very impressed by the vertical meterage of Shards or Burjs, but when were you last left speechless by the audacity of pure design?



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