By the mid-1950s, modernism and the International Style of architecture had been in the ascendancy for 30 years. Rejecting the decorative motifs and ornamentalism of pre-WWI architecture, modernist architects preferred to reveal a building’s structure, emphasising function over form. Such modernist buildings typically resembled glass boxes, as did many of the entrants to the Sydney Opera House competition.
In contrast, Utzon’s design was more sculptural and embraced expressionism. Among the competition entries, it was singular in making full use of Bennelong Point’s harbour-side setting, which would allow the building to be viewed from every angle. In the same year that Utzon’s designs were selected in Sydney, Mies van Rohe’s Seagram building was under construction in New York. The Seagram building, completed in 1958, stands as both a highpoint of modernist architecture, and a testament to how far Utzon’s Opera House was ahead of its time.