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Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House
Author: Adam.J.W.C. (cc-by3.0-unported)

Sydney Opera House Location Map

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Sydney Opera House with shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Opera House with shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Author: Diliff (GFDL)

Sydney Opera House, with the Sydney skyline
Sydney Opera House, with the Sydney skyline
Author: Mfield (cc-by-2.5)

Sydney Opera House side view
Sydney Opera House side view
Author: Matthew Field (GFDL)

Sydney Opera House tiling
Sydney Opera House tiling
Author: Greg O'Beirne (GFDL)

Cleaning the shell
Cleaning the shell
Author: Thomas Moelvig (public domain)

Sydney Opera House Concert Theatre
Sydney Opera House Concert Theatre
Author: Koika (GFDL)

Sydney Opera House at night
Sydney Opera House at night
Author: Wj32 (GFDL), squared by Juan Pablo Arancibia Medina

The Sydney Opera House is a multi-venue performing arts centre in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It is housed in one of the most famous buildings in the world located at Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour, close to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The opera house 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.

The Sydney Opera House was conceived and largely built by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who in 2003 received the Pritzker Prize, architecture's highest honour. It 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. Contrary to its name, the building houses not one single opera theatre, but several separate venues. The two main venues are the Opera Theatre and the Concert Hall, being defined by the two larger shells of the structure. It is a major presenting venue for Opera Australia, The Australian Ballet, the Sydney Theatre Company and the Sydney Symphony, as well as the venue for 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.

Appearance of the Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House structure comprises a series of large precast concrete 'shells', each taken from a hemisphere of the same radius. They form the roofs of the structure standing on a podium. The building covers an area of 1.8 hectares (4.5 acres). It 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.

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


The Concert Hall is within the western group of shells while the Opera Theatre is set 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. In addition, 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.

Venues and Capacities

The following are the venues within the Sydney Opera House:
  • 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.
  • The Opera Theatre, a proscenium theatre with 1,507 seats, is the Sydney home of Opera Australia and The Australian
  • 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.

    Construction History

    The construction history of the Sydney Opera House goes back to the late 1940s when Eugene Goossens, the Director of the NSW State Conservatorium of Music, lobbied for a suitable venue for large theatrical productions. In 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 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 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.

    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.

    The shells of Sydney Opera House 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.

    Utzon moved his whole office to Sydney in February 1963. However, a change of government in 1965 led to Utzon's resignation in 1966. 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. 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. 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.

    In October 1965, Utzon gave Hughes a schedule setting out the completion dates of parts of his work for stage III. Utzon was at this time working closely with Ralph Symonds, a manufacturer of plywood based in Sydney and highly regarded by many. However, an Arup's engineer warned that Ralph Symonds' "knowledge of the design stresses of plywood, was extremely sketchy". Hughes shortly after withheld permission for the construction of plywood prototypes for the interiors. 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 him 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. The resignation followed a great controversy about who was in the right and who was not. 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 formally opened by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, on 20 October 1973, with a large crowd in attendance. 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. 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.

    Getting there

    Location: Bennelong Point, Sydney
    Bus: Sydney Explorer, 324, 438, 440
    Ferry: Circular Quay
    CityRail: Circular Quay

    Opening Hours: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm daily except Good Friday and Christmas Day.
    Official Website: www.sydneyoperahouse.com

    Nearby Sights

  • The Rocks
  • Circular Quay
  • Sydney Harbour Bridge
  • Customs House
  • Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Argyle Stores
  • Campbell's Storehouses
  • Cadman's Cottage
  • Garrison Church
  • Hero of Waterloo
  • Justice and Police Museum
  • National Trust Centre
  • Sailors' Home
  • Suzannah Place
  • St Philip's Church
  • Sydney Observatory
  • The Rocks Discovery Museum
  • Westpac Museum
  • Wharf Theatre
  • Writers' Walk
  • Associate Links

  • Sydney Opera House in World Greatest Sites
  • Sydney Opera House in EarthDocumentary

  • References and Text Attribution: Wikipedia (GFDL)

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