The Sydney Opera House is without doubt the most representative man-made monument of Australia and the most recognizable symbol of Sydney. It is a true masterpiece of the modern architecture. This amazing building is famous in the entire world and is treasured by the Australian people. The building was designed by the Danish architect Jørn Utzon and is considered the most symbolic structure of the XX century architecture.
Its unique design is composed by a series of large precast concrete shells, each taken from a hemisphere of the same radius. These giant shells are the roofs of the structure that hosts two main performance halls and a restaurant. The entire building was designed to look like a boat sails billowing in the wind. Stabilizing this unorthodox and complex structure required great innovations in construction techniques. A characteristic of the Sydney Opera House is the ingenious use of platforms, which are a typical feature of Utzon’s designs.
The two main halls of the Opera House run from north to south and have their long axes, slightly inclined from each other. The auditoria faces to south and the stages are between the audience and the city. The Opera House is a real freestanding sculpture of spherical roofs sheathed in white ceramic tiles. The interiors are composed by pink granite and plywood.
Besides, the Concert hall has the best acoustics of any building of its type in the world and with its 2679 seats, is the home of the Sydney Symphony. On the other hand, the Opera Theatre with 1507 seats is a beautiful proscenium that hosts opera and ballet perfomances. But, this building is much more than an opera house; the Sydney opera House is a performing arts complex; since, in addition to the two main halls, it is composed by many playhouses and studios (like the Drama Theatre, the Utzon room or the Forecourt), as well as several bars and restaurants.
Currently the Opera House is home of some of the most prestigious cultural performances of Australia and the world such as The Australian Ballet, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Bell Shakespeare Company, the Ensemble Theatre, Musica Viva Australia, the Sydney Dance Company, the Opera of Australia, the Sydney Symphony and the Sydney Theatre Company. It is the busiest performing arts centre in the world, hosting around 3000 events per year with an audience of about 2 million people. The Sydney Opera House opens 24 hours, every day; closing only on Christmas and Good Friday. It can reach the Opera House by bus, ferry or using the city rail.
The first plans to construct the Sydney Opera House started in 1940s, because of the insistent request made by Eugene Goossens, the Director of the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music to have a suitable venue for large theatrical productions; since, the usual site used for these productions was the Sydney Town Hall, which was too small to host great spectacles.
In 1954 the request of Goossens was heard and the Premier of the State, Joseph Cahill decided to convene a competition to find the best designs for a dedicated opera house. The site designated for the Opera House was the place known as Bennelong Point; this place was also chosen by Eugene Goossens. The rules of the competition, established that the building had to have a large hall seating 3000 people and a small hall for 1200 people. Both halls had to be designed for multiple uses, such as choral concerts, lectures, full-scale operas, orchestral concerts, ballet performances, mass meetings, amongst others.
The contest was made in 1955 and the state administration received 233 designs from 32 countries. Finally in 1957 the judges chose the design submitted by the Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who arrived to Sydney the same year to help in the supervision of the project. Nevertheless, the construction began only in 1958, after the demolition of the Fort Macquarie Tram Depot, which occupied the site chosen to build the opera house.
The entire project was concluded in three stages. The first stage between 1958 and 1963 was employed to construct the Podium of the Opera House, which was completed on August 31, 1962. Nevertheless, the project’s problems started early; since, the podium columns were not strong enough to support the weight of the roof structures; however, this problem was solved. The famous shells of the roofs were constructed during the second stage of the project; nevertheless, the engineers faced huge problems to find the final designs and technology needed to build the shells of the Utzon’s design. Many schemes were probed, including options with parabolas, ellipsoids and circular ribs. The engineers had to use computers to solve the designs problems. This was one of the first works of CAD (computer-aided design) of the world. Finally in 1961 the design team found the definitive design, whose shells were created as sections of a sphere. The shells were built by the Hornibrook Group Pty Ltd., which used 2400 precast ribs and 4000 roof panels to construct the famous roofs of the Sydney Opera House.
The third stage of the project included mainly the finishing of the building’s interiors. In this stage Utzon decided to abandon the project, because of the pressure from the press and the political intrigues; then the control of the project was assumed by the Ministry of Public Works. The works were also made by the Hornibrook Group Pty Ltd. Nevertheless, it had to make many changes to the original design. In 1966 a report made by the acoustic advisor Lothar Cremer revealed that the design of the main hall only allowed 2000 seats; 1000 seats less than the original specification. Besides, this report also criticized the width of the stage, the location of the dressing rooms, the facilities for artists, the sizes of the doors and lifts, the location of the lighting switchboards and many other details.
Another change in the original design was the multipurpose opera concert hall, which finally became only a concert hall; whereas the minor hall became an opera and ballet hall. Most designs created by Utzon for the interiors were changed or abandoned. But, despite all problems during the construction; the Sydney Opera House was formally completed in 1973 and cost 102 millions dollars, an amount much higher than initial budgeted amount.
The Opera House was officially opened on October 20, 1973. This opening was very waited by many people in the entire world; therefore, it was televised. The opening ceremony included fireworks and a performance of the Symphony Nº9 of Beethoven. Since then, the Sydney Opera House has hosted the performances of the best artists of the world. The building has been modified some times, including the creation of an interior space in 2004, which was rebuilt, respecting the original design of Utzon; this hall was named “The Utzon Room”, in honor to the creator of the Opera House. In June 2007 the Sydney Opera House was included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List; since, this marvelous monument is considered one of the indisputable masterpieces of human creativity of the XX century and all the history. Currently the interiors of the Opera House are being reconstructed to put in practice what Jørn Utzon visualized.