Origin of disaster; Operaen


Operaen, as it was meant to be; Flat glass facade.  Photo: Thomas Timlen/GIMP

If you’re not Danish you probably missed the scandal. Otherwise only aficionados of great architects, fans of masters like Henning Larsen, would be familiar with this sad tale.

The New York Times covered the story well in 2005.

What happened? Danish billionaire Maersk McKinney Moller paid for the construction of an opera house for Copenhagen, and selected Larsen to design it.

So far so good.

The photo above is my interpretation of what Larsen had in mind; a glass facade that would mirror the water in front of the building. The geometry would match the rest of the structure nicely.

Moller, however, didn’t agree. He demanded a rounded facade, a combination of glass and metal. Some felt this made the building look like a toaster, others, as mentioned in the Times, felt it resembled “the grille of a 1955 Pontiac”.

You are free to draw your own conclusions;


Operaen as it is. Photo; Ben Rimmer/Flickr (details below)

Mystery Solved

Like many, I wondered why Moller insisted on this bubble-facade. Was he a fan of toasters or old Pontiacs? Fortunately for me, the answer was staring me in the face when I moved to Singapore.

Why? Because I saw what Moller saw…

The firehouse.

More specifically, the Tampines Fire Station.

Moller must have seen this building during his global travels. As a shipowner he had likely traveled to Singapore frequently, as it is one of Asia’s major seaports, visited regularly by Moller’s massive fleet of merchant ships.

And he must have been thunder-struck by the design of the Tampines Fire Station.

Honestly, who wouldn’t be?

And how else can anyone explain his vision for the Copenhagen Opera House?

The similarities between the fire station and the opera house are uncanny and undeniable.

See for yourself;


The Tampines Fire Station. Photo: Thomas Timlen/iPhone6


The Tampines Fire Station. Photo: Thomas Timlen/iPhone6


It is easy to imagine Moller instructing his limo driver to stop by the side of the road as he gazed lovingly at the beauty of the Tampines Fire Station, visualising his opera house project.

Taking in its beauty he surely thought to himself, “Wonderful! So beautiful! Just like my old Pontiac. We just need to flatten the roof, eliminate the lower floors, and of course the exterior must be done in Jura Gelb limestone.”

The rest, dear reader, is history.


Photo Credits

Ben Rimmer’s photo of the Copenhagen Opera House is available on Flickr under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license. It has not been altered.

My GIMP rendition of the Opera House is also on Flickr.

The photos of the Tampines Fire Station were taken by me this morning with my iPhone6.


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