What immediately comes to mind when you think about Sydney? Yes, the opera house. It doesn’t matter whether you have lived in Australia all your life or if you are from a small country in South America and never really thought about it much. That’s why I have felt somewhat disappointed when I picked my random activity card and it said: Beautiful buildings. Because frankly, in a new city like this, a patchwork of poor streets and office glass skyscrapers, could you really find another beautiful building other than the opera house?
I have approached different people with the same question, locals, born and raised in Australia as well as foreigners who got here only recently to make it their home. And they all gave me the same answer, which I anticipated: the opera house. A somewhat flamboyant design that exceeded its planned budget twenty times, which brings the sea shells into mind. The reasons why was it perceived as the most beautiful building of the city, were varied, but a little predictable.
“Most recognizable landmark” said to me an older lady I have met in an Italian class.
“It’s a beautiful structure, with clear lines, the first place you visit” said medicine student I have met watching a beer pong competition.
“I’m not particularly interested in architecture. Although I would not say no to Bernini if he asked me on a date. So I suppose the opera house?” I’ve heard.
And then something unexpected happened.
As I was finishing my tea in a cinema bar, in a student district where all the cafes close unusually late, I have met a man with a French name who have been living in Sydney for quite a few years now. After a bit of small-talk I decided to give it one more chance and asked him to tell me about the most beautiful building in Sydney.
“I think the main building of the University of Sydney. I like buildings with a bit of history and that’s difficult to come by in a modern city like this one. It almost looks like Hogwarts, with its gothic shape and beautiful glasswork. When you go into the square in the middle, and the old tree planted in the corner blooms, it is truly magical” he said.
“I think we often forget to appreciate the things we see every day, you know?” he added after a little while.
On the way back home, inspired by that last remark I decided to cross the campus. As I was standing in front of the main building which I have seen already several times, had classes inside even, I have realized how blind I was. The solid and stable shape of the building with the parallel lines climbing towards the sky contrasted well with the richly decorated windows. I could appreciate the illustrated scenes for the first time in the light escaping from the inside. What a shame I needed a stranger to point out the obvious to me.
“You know when you see the opera house from up close? It’s not very impressive. I mean, it’s made out of tiles. Tiles!” said to me the man with the French name before I’ve left.
I know now.
Hogwarts as seen on my first day