Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House is a multi-venue performing arts centre on Bennelong Point in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It was conceived and largely built by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who in 2003 received the Pritzker Prize, architecture's highest honour. The citation stated

The Opera House was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 28 June 2007. It is one of the world's most distinctive 20th century buildings, and one of the most famous performing arts centres in the world.

The Sydney Opera House is situated on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour, close to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It sits at the north-eastern tip of the Sydney CBD, surrounded on three sides by the harbour (Sydney Cove and Farm Cove), and neighboured by the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Contrary to its name, the building houses several separate venues rather than a single opera theatre, the two main venues, the Opera Theatre and the Concert Hall, being defined by the two larger shells. The Sydney Opera House is a major presenting venue for Opera Australia, The Australian Ballet, the Sydney Theatre Company and the Sydney Symphony, as well as hosting many touring productions in a variety of performance genres, and is a major tourist attraction. It is administered by the Sydney Opera House Trust, under the New South Wales Ministry of the Arts.


The Sydney Opera House is an expressionist modern design, with a series of large precast concrete 'shells', each taken from a hemisphere of the same radius, forming the roofs of the structure, set on a monumental podium. The building covers 1.8 hectares (4.5 acres) of land, and is 183 metres (605 ft) long and 120 metres (388 ft) wide at its widest point. It is supported on 588 concrete piers sunk up to 25 metres below sea level. Its power supply is equivalent to that of a town of 25,000 people, and is distributed by 645 kilometres of electrical cable.Шаблон:Fact

The roofs of the House are covered in a subtle chevron pattern with 1,056,006 glossy white and matte cream Swedish-made tiles, though from a distance the shells appear a brilliant white. Despite their self-cleaning nature, the tiles are still subject to periodic maintenance and replacement.Шаблон:Fact

The Concert Hall is within the western group of shells, the Opera Theatre within the eastern group. The scale of the shells was chosen to reflect the internal height requirements, rising from the low entrance spaces, over the seating areas and up to the high stage towers. The minor venues (Drama Theatre, Playhouse, and The Studio) are located beneath the Concert Hall, as part of the western shell group. A much smaller group of shells set to one side of the Monumental Steps houses the Bennelong Restaurant. Although the roof structures of the Sydney Opera House are commonly referred to as shells (as they are in this article), they are in fact not shells in a strictly structural sense, but are instead precast concrete panels supported by precast concrete ribs.

Apart from the tile of the shells, and the glass curtain walls of the foyer spaces, the building's exterior is largely clad with aggregate panels composed of pink granite quarried in Tarana. Significant interior surface treatments also include off-form concrete, Australian white birch plywood supplied from Wauchope in northern New South Wales, and brush box glulam.

Performance venues and facilities

The Opera House houses the following performance venues:

  • The Concert Hall, with 2,679 seats, is the home of the Sydney Symphony, and used by a large number of other concert presenters. It contains the Sydney Opera House Grand Organ, the largest mechanical tracker action organ in the world, with over 10,000 pipes.Шаблон:Fact
  • The Opera Theatre, a proscenium theatre with 1,507 seats, is the Sydney home of Opera Australia and The Australian Ballet.
  • The Drama Theatre, a proscenium theatre with 544 seats, is used by the Sydney Theatre Company and other dance and theatrical presenters.
  • The Playhouse, an end-stage theatre with 398 seats.
  • The Studio, a flexible space, with a maximum capacity of 400 people, depending on configuration.
  • The Utzon Room, a small multi-purpose venue, seating up to 210. It is the only interior space to have been designed by Utzon, having been renovated in 2004 under his direction.
  • The Forecourt, a flexible open-air venue with a wide range of configuration options, including utilising the Monumental Steps as audience seating, used for a range of community events, Live Sites, and special-occasion performances.

Other areas (for example the northern and western foyers) are also used for performances on an occasional basis. Venues at the Sydney Opera House are also used for activities such as conferences, ceremonies, and social functions.

The building also houses

  • a recording studio,
  • five restaurants,
  • four souvenir shops, and
  • a guided tour operation.

Construction history


Planning for the Sydney Opera House began in the late 1940s when Eugene Goossens, the Director of the NSW State Conservatorium of Music, lobbied for a suitable venue for large theatrical productions. The normal venue for such productions, the Sydney Town Hall, was not considered large enough. By 1954, Goossens succeeded in gaining the support of NSW Premier Joseph Cahill, who called for designs for a dedicated opera house. It was also Goossens who insisted that Bennelong Point be the site for the Opera House. Cahill had wanted it to be on or near Wynyard Railway Station in the north-west of the CBD.

The competition was launched by Cahill on 13 September 1955 and received 233 entries from 32 countries. The criteria specified a large hall seating 3000 and a small hall for 1200 people, each to be designed for different uses including full-scale operas, orchestral and choral concerts, mass meetings, lectures, ballet performances and other presentations. The winner, announced in 1957, was Jørn Utzon, a Danish architect. The prize was £5,000. Utzon visited in Sydney in 1957 to help supervise the project. His office moved to Sydney in February 1963.

Design and construction

The Fort Macquarie Tram Depot, occupying the site at the time of these plans, was demolished in 1958, and formal construction of the Opera House began in March, 1959. The project was built in three stages. Stage I (1959–1963) consisted of building the upper podium. Stage II (1963–1967) saw the construction of the outer shells. Stage III consisted of the interior design and construction (1967–73).

Stage I: Podium

Stage I commenced on 5 December 1958, by the construction firm Civil & Civic, monitored by the engineers, Ove Arup and Partners. The government had pushed for work to begin early fearing that funding, or public opinion, might turn against them. However Utzon had still not completed the final designs. Major structural issues still remained unresolved. By 23 January 1961, work was running 47 weeks behind, mainly because of unexpected difficulties (inclement weather, unexpected difficulty diverting stormwater, construction beginning before proper construction drawings had been prepared, changes of original contract documents). Work on the podium was finally completed on 31 August 1962. The forced early start led to significant later problems, not least of which was the fact that the podium columns were not strong enough to support the roof structure, and had to be re-built.

Stage II: Roof


The shells of the competition entry were originally of undefined geometry, but early in the design process the "shells" were perceived as a series of parabolas supported by precast concrete ribs. However, engineers Ove Arup and partners were unable to find an acceptable solution to constructing them. The formwork for using in-situ concrete would have been prohibitively expensive, but because there was no repetition in any of the roof forms the construction of precast concrete for each individual section would possibly be even more expensive.

From 1957 to 1963 the design team went through at least twelve iterations of the form of the shells trying to find an economically acceptable form (including schemes with parabolas, circular ribs and ellipsoids) before a workable solution was completed. The design work on the shells involved one of the earliest uses of computers in structural analysis in order to understand the complex forces to which the shells would be subjected. In mid-1961 the design team found a solution to the problem: the shells all being created as sections from a sphere. This solution allows arches of varying length to be cast in a common mold, and a number of arch segments of common length to be placed adjacent to form a spherical section. With whom exactly this solution originated has been the subject of some controversy. It was originally credited to Utzon. Ove Arup's letter to Ashworth, a member of the Sydney Opera House Executive Committee, states: "Utzon came up with an idea of making all the shells of uniform curvature throughout in both directions." Peter Jones, the author of Ove Arup's biography, states that "the architect and his supporters alike claimed to recall the precise eureka moment ...; the engineers and some of their associates, with equal conviction, recall discussion in both central London and at Ove's house".

He goes on to claim that "the existing evidence shows that Arup's canvassed several possibilities for the geometry of the shells, from parabolas to ellipsoids and spheres." Yuzo Mikami, a member of the design team, presents an opposite view in his book on the project, Utzon's Sphere. It is unlikely that the truth will ever be categorically known, but there is a clear consensus that the design team worked very well indeed for the first part of the project and Utzon, Arup, and Ronald Jenkins (partner of Ove Arup and Partners responsible for the Opera House project) all played a very significant part in the design development.

As Peter Murray states in The Saga of the Sydney Opera House:


The shells were constructed by Hornibrook Group Pty Ltd, who were also responsible for construction in Stage III. Hornibrook manufactured the 2400 precast ribs and 4000 roof panels in an on-site factory, and also developed the construction processes. The achievement of this solution avoided the need for expensive formwork construction by allowing the use of precast units (it also allowed the roof tiles to be prefabricated in sheets on the ground, instead of being stuck on individually at height). Ove Arup and Partners' site engineer supervised the construction of the shells which used an innovative adjustable steel trussed 'erection arch' to support the different roofs before completion. On 6 April 1962 it was estimated that the Opera House would be completed between August 1964 and March 1965. By the end of 1965, the estimated finish for stage II was July 1967.Шаблон:Fact

Stage III: Interiors

Stage III, the interiors, started with Utzon moving his entire office to Sydney in February 1963. However, there was a change of government in 1965, and the new Robert Askin government declared the project under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Public Works. This ultimately led to Utzon's resignation in 1966 (see below).

The cost of the project so far, even in October 1966, was still only $22.9 million, less than a quarter of the final $102 million cost. However the projected costs for the design were at this stage much more significant.

The second stage of construction was progressing toward completion when Utzon resigned. His position was principally taken over by Peter Hall, who became largely responsible for the interior design. Other persons appointed that same year to replace Utzon were E. H. Farmer as government architect, D. S. Littlemore and Lionel Todd.

Following Utzon's resignation, the acoustic advisor, Lothar Cremer, confirmed to SOHEC that Utzon's original acoustic design only allowed for 2000 seats in the main hall, and further stated that increasing the number of seats to 3000 as specified in the brief would be disastrous for the acoustics. According to Peter Jones, the stage designer, Martin Carr, criticised the "shape, height and width of the stage, the physical facilities for artists, the location of the dressing rooms, the widths of doors and lifts, and the location of lighting switchboards".

Significant changes to Utzon's design


  • The major hall which was originally to be a multipurpose opera/concert hall, became solely a concert hall, called the Concert Hall. The minor hall, originally for stage productions only, had the added function of opera and ballet to deal with and is called the Opera Theatre. As a result, the "Opera Theatre" is inadequate to stage large scale opera and ballet. A theatre, a cinema and a library were also added. These were later changed to two live drama theatres and a smaller theatre 'in the round'. These now comprise the Drama Theatre, the Playhouse, and the Studio respectively. These changes were primarily because of inadequacies in the original competition brief, which did not make it adequately clear how the Opera House was to be used. The layout of the interiors was changed and the stage machinery, already designed and fitted inside the major hall, was pulled out and largely thrown away.Шаблон:Fact
  • Externally, the cladding to the podium and the paving (the podium was originally not to be clad down to the water, but to be left open).Шаблон:Fact
  • The construction of the glass walls (Utzon was planning to use a system of prefabricated plywood mullions, but a different system was designed to deal with the glass).Шаблон:Fact
  • Utzon's plywood corridor designs, and his acoustic and seating designs for the interior of both major halls, were scrapped completely. His design for the Concert Hall was rejected as it only seated 2000, which was considered insufficient. Utzon employed the acoustic consultant Lothar Cremer, and his designs for the major halls were later modelled and found to be very good.Шаблон:Fact The subsequent Todd, Hall and Littlemore versions of both major halls have some problems with acoustics, particularly for the performing musicians. The orchestra pit in the Opera Theatre is cramped and dangerous to musicians' hearing. The Concert Hall has a very high roof leading to lack of early reflections onstage — perspex rings (the "acoustic clouds") hanging over the stage were added shortly before opening in an (unsuccessful) attempt to address this problem.Шаблон:Fact

Completion and cost

The Opera House was formally completed in 1973, having cost $102 million. H.R. ‘Sam’ Hoare, the Hornibrook director in charge of the project, provided the following approximations in 1973: Stage I: podium Civil & Civic Pty Ltd approximately $5.5m. Stage II: roof shells M.R. Hornibrook (NSW) Pty Ltd approximately $12.5m. Stage III: completion The Hornibrook Group $56.5m. Separate contracts: stage equipment, stage lighting and organ $9.0m. Fees and other costs $16.5m.

The original cost estimate in 1957 was £3,500,000 ($7 million). The original completion date set by the government was 26 January 1963 (Australia Day).

Jørn Utzon and his resignation

Frank Gehry – architect and Pritzker Prize jury member 2003 Шаблон:Cquote

Before the Sydney Opera House competition, Jørn Utzon had won seven of the eighteen competitions he had entered, but had never seen any of his designs built. Utzon's submitted concept for the Sydney Opera House was almost universally admired and considered groundbreaking. The Assessors Report of January 1957, stated:


For the first stage of the project Utzon worked very successfully with the rest of the design team and the client, but as the project progressed the Cahill government insisted on progressive revisions. They also did not fully appreciate the costs or work involved in design and construction. Tensions between the client and the design team grew further when an early start to construction was demanded despite an incomplete design. This resulted in a continuing series of delays and setbacks while various technical engineering issues were being refined. The building was unique, and the problems with the design issues, and costs increases, were exacerbated by commencement of work before the completion of the final plans.

After the election of Robert Askin as premier of New South Wales in 1965 the relationship of client, architect, engineers and contractors became increasingly tense. Askin had been a 'vocal critic of the project prior to gaining office.' His new Minister for Public Works, Davis Hughes, was even less sympathetic. Elizabeth Farrelly, Australian architecture critic has written that Шаблон:Cquote

Differences ensued. One of the first was that Utzon believed the clients should receive information on all aspects of the design and construction through his practice, while the clients wanted a system (notably drawn in sketch form by Davis Hughes, where architect, contractors, and engineers each reported to the client directly, and separately. This had great implications for procurement methods and cost control, with Utzon wishing to negotiate contracts with chosen suppliers (such as Ralph Symonds for the plywood interiors), and the New South Wales government insisting contracts were put out to tender.

Utzon was highly reluctant to respond to questions or criticism from the client's "Sydney Opera House Executive Committee" (SOHEC). However he was greatly supported throughout by a member of the committee and one of the original competition judges, Professor Harry Ingham Ashworth. Utzon was unwilling to compromise on some aspects of his designs that the clients wanted to change.

Utzon's ability was never in doubt, despite questions raised by Davis Hughes, who attempted to portray Utzon as an impractical dreamer. Ove Arup actually stated that Utzon was "probably the best of any I have come across in my long experience of working with architects", and: Шаблон:Cquote

In October 1965, Utzon gave Hughes a schedule setting out the completion dates of parts of his work for stage III.Шаблон:Fact Utzon was at this time working closely with Ralph Symonds, a manufacturer of plywood based in Sydney and highly regarded by many, despite an Arup's engineer warning that Ralph Symonds' "knowledge of the design stresses of plywood, was extremely sketchy" and that the technical advice was "elementary to say the least and completely useless for our purposes". Australian architecture critic, Elizabeth Farrelly, has referred to Ove Arup's project engineer Michael Lewis as having "other agendas". In any case, Hughes shortly after withheld permission for the construction of plywood prototypes for the interiorsШаблон:Fact, and the relationship between Utzon and the client never recovered. By February 1966 Utzon was owed more than $100,000 in fees. Hughes then withheld funding so that Utzon couldn't even pay his own staff. The government minutes record that following several threats of resignation, Utzon finally stated to Davis Hughes: "If you don't do it, I resign". Hughes replied: "I accept your resignation. Thank you very much. Goodbye."

Utzon left the project on 28 February 1966. He said that Hughes' refusal to pay Utzon any fees and the lack of collaboration caused his resignation, and later famously described the situation as "Malice in Blunderland". In March 1966, Hughes offered him a subordinate role as 'design architect' under a panel of executive architects, without any supervisory powers over the House's construction, but Utzon rejected this.

Following the resignation, there was great controversy about who was in the right and who was in the wrong. The Sydney Morning Herald initially reported: "No architect in the world has enjoyed greater freedom than Mr Utzon. Few clients have been more patient or more generous than the people and the Government of NSW. One would not like history to record that this partnership was brought to an end by a fit of temper on the one side or by a fit of meanness on the other." And on 17 March 1966 it reported: "It was not his fault that a succession of Governments and the Opera House Trust should so signally have failed to impose any control or order on the project .... his concept was so daring that he himself could solve its problems only step by step .... his insistence on perfection led him to alter his design as he went along."

Yet in an article in Harvard Design Magazine in 2005 , professor Bent Flyvbjerg notes that Utzon fell victim to a politically lowballed construction budget, which eventually resulted in a cost overrun of 1,400 percent. The overrun and the ensuing scandal that it created kept Utzon from building more masterpieces. This, according to Flyvbjerg, is the real cost of the Sydney Opera House: Шаблон:Cquote ]] The Sydney Opera House opened the way for the immensely complex geometries of some modern architecture. The design was one of the first examples of the use of computer analysis to design complex shapes. The design techniques developed by Utzon and Arup for the Sydney Opera House have been further developed and are now used for architecture such as works of Gehry and "blobitecture", as well as most reinforced concrete structures. The design is also one of the first in the world to use araldite to glue the precast structural elements together, and proved the concept for future use.

The Opera House was also a first in mechanical engineering. Another Danish firm, Steensen Varming, was responsible for designing the new air conditioning plant, the largest in Australia at the time, supplying over Шаблон:Convert of air per minute , using the innovative idea of harnessing the harbour water to create a water cooled heat pump system that is still in operation today


The Opera House was formally opened by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, on 20 October 1973, which a large crowd attended. The architect, Jørn Utzon, was not invited to the ceremony, nor was his name mentioned. The opening was televised and included fireworks and a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.

Prior to the opening, two performances had already taken place in the finished building. On 28 September, a performance of Sergei Prokofiev's opera War and Peace was presented in the Opera Theatre. On 29 September, the first public concert in the Concert Hall took place. It was an all-Wagner concert, performed by the Sydney Symphony, conducted by Charles Mackerras and with accompanying singer Birgit Nilsson. The first lieder recital was also given by Birgit Nilsson, accompanied by Geoffrey Parsons, on 6 October. The first violin and piano recital was given by Wanda Wiłkomirska, also with Geoffrey Parsons.

During the construction of the Opera House, a number of lunchtime performances were arranged for the workers, with Paul Robeson the first artist to perform at the (unfinished) Opera House in 1960.

Reconciliation with Utzon

Beginning in the late 1990s, the Sydney Opera House Trust began to communicate with Jørn Utzon in an attempt to effect a reconciliation, and to secure his involvement in future changes to the building. In 1999 he was appointed by the Trust as a design consultant for future work. In 2004, the first interior space rebuilt to an Utzon design was opened, and renamed "The Utzon Room" in his honour. In April 2007, he proposed a major reconstruction of the Opera Theatre. Utzon died on 29 November 2008.

Inspiration for new works

In 1993 Constantine Koukias was commissioned by the Sydney Opera House Trust in association with REM Theatre to compose Icon, a large-scale music theatre piece for the 20th anniversary of the Sydney Opera House.

Anti-war protest

On 18 March 2003, Dr Will Saunders, a Briton, and David Burgess, an Australian, scaled one of the sails of the Opera house and painted 'NO WAR' in prominent red letters as an expression of their objection to the then-proposed involvement of Australian troops in the conflict in Iraq. The painted message was removed by maintenance workers on the following day. Security services for the Opera House were subsequently upgraded to prevent further unauthorised access.

See also

  • List of official openings by Elizabeth II in Australia
  • Wonders of the World



Further reading

  • Hubble, Ava, The Strange Case of Eugene Goossens and Other Tales from The Opera House, Collins Publishers, Australia, 1988. (Ava Hubble was Press Officer for the SOH for 15 years).
  • Duek-Cohen, Elias, Utzon and the Sydney Opera House, Morgan Publications, Sydney, 1967–1998. (A small publication intended to gather public opinion to bring Utzon back to the project).
  • Stuber, Fritz, Sydney's Opera House — Not a World Heritage Item? — Open letter to the Hon. John W. Howard, Prime Minister, in: Australian Planner (Sydney), Vol. 35, No. 3, 1998 (p. 116); Architecture + Design (New Delhi), Vol. XV, No. 5, 1998 (pp. 12–14); collage (Berne), No. 3, 1998, (pp. 33–34, 1 ill.).
  • "Opera House an architectural 'tragedy"', ABC News Online, 28 April 2005.
  • Flyvbjerg, Bent, "Design by Deception: The Politics of Megaproject Approval", Harvard Design Magazine, Volume 22, 2005.
  • Watson, Anne (editor): "Building a Masterpiece: The Sydney Opera House", 2006, Lund Humphries, ISBN-10: 0853319413, ISBN-13: 978-0853319412

External links

Шаблон:Commonscat Шаблон:Commons

Post a comment
Tips & Hints
Arrange By:
Suna A.
19 March 2017
Absolutely an amazing complex! Its history is unique. Guided tour is essential. Right after the tour you have a discount for a show! I had a chance to watch Tosca!
6 August 2014
The Opera House offers tours led by good humored guides give insight into the origins, construction, controversy and conflict leading up to the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973.
Patrick Salvi
6 May 2016
Must do site in Sydney. Walking to the right of the opera heading to the botanical gardens provides an unfamiliar view of the opera and allows for pictures of the opera and of the bridge in one shot.
Stephen Weber
5 January 2014
While the Opera House is mighty impressive up close, check out the views of it from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Cahill Walk, or the Overseas Passenger Terminal for a good, less crowded view.
1 September 2018
The most iconic landmark of Sydney and since 2007 on the list of the UNESCO World Heritage. A hotspot for tourists, food, bars and a picture postcard of Sydney. Magnificent view at day and night.
Road Unraveled
21 November 2018
This is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world! Take a tour or attend a performance if you can.
Load more comments

Hotels nearby

See all hotels See all
The Westin Sydney

starting $288

Grace Hotel

starting $262

Adina Serviced Apartments Sydney Martin Place

starting $143

Centrally Locate with City Skyline views - A2502

starting $0

Light Filled Sydney Central Apartment - A2504

starting $0

Spacious Apartment in the Heart of the CBD -A1803

starting $0

Recommended sights nearby

See all See all
Add to wishlist
I've been here
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (abbreviated MCA), located in

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a steel arch bridge across Sydney

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia, are the most central

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Kirribillii Lookout

Kirribillii Lookout is a tourist attraction, one of the Scenic

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Fort Denison

Fort Denison is a former penal site and defensive facility occupying a

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Luna Park Sydney

Luna Park Sydney (originally Luna Park Milsons Point, also known as

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Church by the Bridge

Church by the Bridge is an Anglican Church on Sydney's Lower North

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Sydney Cenotaph

The Sydney Cenotaph is located in Martin Place and is one of the

Similar tourist attractions

See all See all
Add to wishlist
I've been here
Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House is an opera house and major performing arts

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Zurich Opera House

Opernhaus Zürich (Zurich Opera House) is an opera house in the Swiss

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre

The Akhundov Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Metropolitan Opera

The Metropolitan Opera Association of New York City, founded in April

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Palais Garnier

The Palais Garnier, also known as the Opéra de Paris or Opéra G

See all similar places