Whenever the continent “Australia” comes into the picture, the name “Sydney Opera House” definitely comes into everyone’s mind. Yes, we are talking about a vivid example of splendid modern architecture, beautifully crafted and opened by Danish architect Jørn Utzon.
Undoubtedly, some people are indeed born to create wonders in this world and Jørn Utzon was a great example. This statement is supported by the fact that UNESCO declared the Sydney Opera House a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the 28th of June, 2007.
Most probably, you are aware of this fact, but there are numerous other interesting Sydney Opera House facts you must know! So…let’s feed some compelling facts to your curious mind,
1. Sydney Opera House—A Performing Arts Centre
Sydney Opera house sails on the banks of the famous Sydney Harbour, standing over Bennelong point, in the country of New South Wales, Australia.
It is a multi-venue center for performing arts and consists of several performance venues such as the Joan Sutherland theatre, Utzon room, a Concert hall consisting of 2679 seats, a Drama theatre, and an Outdoor forecourt– an open-air venue, and other facilities such as studios and playhouses, etc.
It hosts more than 1500 performances and events annually which are attended by over millions of people. It has three resident companies namely the Sydney Theatre Company, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and the Opera Australia. Several Operas, plays, concerts, dance performances, etc are hosted in the Sydney Opera House throughout the year.
For other performances and small events, the northern and western foyers of the Opera House are used generally.
2. Management of the Sydney Opera House
It is owned by the New South Wales government, under the Ministry of Public Works, and is handled and maintained by the Sydney Opera House Trust and the Sydney Opera House Executive Committee (SOHEC).
3. Only one Design was selected out of 233 entries
Eugene Goossens- the director of New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, was looking in Sydney for a large performing arts venue and approached the head of the New south wales government- John Joseph Cahill.
Cahill integrated an international design competition in 1955, in which architects from 32 different countries participated. A total of 233 designs were submitted.
This international competition was won by Danish architect Jøhn Utzon who received 5000 Australian pounds as a prize and he also supervised the project. Utzon presented his design in a simple yet effective way by simple sketching.
4. It Replaced Fort Macquarie Tram Depot
The site over which the Sydney Opera House is floating today was earlier occupied by the depot but it was demolished back then in 1958 to construct the Opera house.
5. Constructed under four different stages
The construction of the Sydney Opera House began in March 1959 with a four stages approach under which-
the first stage (pre-construction stage) was assigned for the planning of the building structure from 1957-1959.
the second stage was assigned with the construction of the Upper podium, and from this, the actual construction began in 1959 and lasted till 1963.
Outer shell construction was under stage III from 1963-1967, and the last stage (1967-1973) was assigned for interior design.
6. It Costs more than 102 Million Dollars to build!
At first, it was estimated that the construction cost for building the Sydney Opera House will be around $7 million, but the actual cost might shock you! Yes, the actual cost while the interior construction was ongoing was found to be around $102 million, which is around 15 times the original budget. Quite expensive, right?
Not only this, The above cost may be counted much higher if we take into account other significant expansions and changes after 1973.
7. Queen Elizabeth II formally Inaugurated The Opera House
The Sydney Opera House was formally opened to the public by the Queen of Australia- Queen Elizabeth II on 20th October 1973 and a live telecast of this event was televised. The event also showcased the performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 along with fireworks.
8. The story behind Utzon’s resignation
Jørn Utzon’s dream of the Sydney Opera House was applauded universally when he expressed his idea and he also supervised the construction budget with great progress until Robert Askin became the new Premier of New South Wales, and most importantly Davis Hughes, who was then appointed as the new Minister for Public Works was believed to be reluctant towards Utzon’s abilities.
Further, disparities between the clients and Utzon were caused due to the unwillingness of Utzon to compromise some changes in the design that the clients wanted, and then subsequently Hughes withheld funding which brought Utzon a considerable financial strain.
It ultimately led to the resignation of Jørn Utzon on 28 February 1966 and stated lack of collaboration and withholding his fees of $100,000 by Hughes as his cause for resignation.
9. Reunion of Utzon and the Sydney Opera House Trust
During the late 90s, the Sydney Opera House trust again contacted Utzon to involve in the future development of the house and even appointed him as a design consultant in 1999. The Utzon Room was named under his honor.
Utzon received the highest honor of architecture- the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2003. Jøhn Utzon died on 29th November 2008.
10. Home to some of the brilliant performances and events to date
The Sydney Opera House hosts events and performances as mesmerizing as it is itself.
Paul Robeson– An American vocalist was the first person to perform here for the construction workers during its construction phase in the 1960s. He sang OI Man River to the construction workers there during lunchtime.
Sergei Prokofiev‘s War and Peace was the first Opera ever played in the Opera theatre on 28 September 1973.
An All-Wagner Orchestral event was the first public concert that took place in the Concert Hall by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra 0n 29 September 1973. Also, the grand organ residing in the Concert hall is the largest mechanical tracker action organ in the world and consists of over 10,000 pipes.
The Sydney Opera House served as a center for the Triathlon events during the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Many famous personalities have addressed here several performances. In 1990 former President of South Africa-Nelson Mandela attended here a choral rendition of “God Bless Africa” (Nkosi Sikelel’ Africa) that pulled a crowd of 40,000 people.
Famous Bodybuilder and actor- Arnold Schwarzenegger won his final title for Mr. Olympia Bodybuilding in the Concert hall of the Opera house in 1980.
A state memorial service for Bob Hawke- former Australian Prime Minister was held on 14 June 2019 at the Sydney Opera House.
Oprah Winfrey during her eight days trip to Australia in 2011 filmed her show called the “Ultimate Australian Adventure” in the outdoor forecourt of the Sydney Opera House.
It is very interesting to note that the temperature of the Concert hall in which the orchestra is performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, is maintained to a temperature of 22.5 to tune the instruments’ sounds created by the musicians.
11. Facts related to its architecture
a. At first, the engineers found that the shells of the building were too much complicated to construct and they were unable to do it until they came to a solution of using computers to help design the shells via structural analysis. This application was considered one of the earliest use of computers in structural analysis.
b. The height of the building above sea level is 67 meters taking into consideration its highest roof point. The building covers an area of 1.8 hectares and is supported by concrete piers (588 in number) sunk around 25 m below sea level to support its foundation.
c. The colossal roof structures we see are known as “shells“. These shells are precast concrete panels, supported by precast concrete ribs and are covered by 1,056,006 roof tiles of two different colors- matte cream and glossy white which are manufactured by Höganäs AB- a Swedish company
d. There are two large venues in the Sydney Opera House- the Concert Hall which is located in the western group of shells and the Joan Sutherland theatre which is located in the eastern group. Out of the two, the Concert Hall is the largest venue of the Opera House. The Joan Sutherland theatre comes under the category of proscenium theatres with a seating capacity of 1507 seats.
12. The design went through several changes after Utzon’s resignation
After Utzon’s resignation, several changes were made to the design of the Opera House in contrast to Utzon’s original designs. The Concert Hall was meant to be a multipurpose hall which is now solely a concert hall.
Joan Sutherland theatre which was earlier called the Opera theatre was a minor hall meant for stage productions only but was incorporated with Opera and ballet functions.
Utzon’s design only allowed a seating capacity of 2000 for both the major halls after he consults with acoustic consultant Lothar Cremer, but his designs were completely discarded and rejected. The subsequent designs by other architects presented some significant problems such as the orchestra pit in the Sutherland theatre being impactful to the musicians.
Also, the layout planned for the interiors by Utzon was changed. The dissembling of the already designed and assembled stage machinery in the Concert hall was mostly thrown away later.
The exterior design also went through significant changes which included the changing of the system for glass construction- one example is the steel framing of the glass curtain walls and the internal structure of the foyer of Joan Sutherland theatre, and also the change in the design of the paving.
13. Passing of responsibility of Design from Utzon to Peter Hall
Three persons were appointed soon after the event of the resignation of Jørn Utzon to complete the project by the Ministry of Public Works. Construction was handed over to David Littlemore, Lionel Todd undertook the documentation department, while Peter Hall took the responsibility of Designing.
After several prominent architects of Sydney declined the offer of handling the design, it was Peter hall who took the responsibility even after receiving suggestions that informed him that it would not go well for his career.
Peter Hall, a former student of Sydney University with an architecture degree, indeed did his duty extremely well, he did extensive research, traveled overseas, and collaborated with experts such as acoustic consultant Wilhelm Jordan, addressing the problems and coming up with solutions. All of these efforts led to the completion of the project: Sydney Opera House.
14. Exciting Tours are offered by the Opera House
The Opera house offers tours every day from 9 AM to 5 PM and the length of each time is around an hour which is also known as the “Essentials” tour/Tour Only, with each tour departing every 20 minutes. This tour shows you the public areas of the Opera house and is available in English as well as in other languages such as Spanish, German, Mandarin, Japanese, etc.
There are two other tour options such as the “Tour & Dine” which is a two-hour tour and guides you through all its public areas, encounters you with the great Concert hall where you can watch the making of the Opera house on a large screen, and also taste the delicious local cuisine in the Opera Kitchen. You can also choose the option for “Tour and Tasting Plate”
15. Involvement of several reputable Construction Firms in Building the Opera House
Many renowned construction firms were involved in the construction of the Sydney Opera House at different stages. To name a few,
Civil & Civic
Civil & Civic was a construction firm under the engineers’ group Ove Arup and Partners that handled Stage I of the construction associated with building the Podium.
Hornibrook Group Pty Ltd
Hornibrook Group Pty Ltd, now Bilfinger SE is a European construction company that took into hand responsibility for Stage III construction, and primarily dealt with the design and construction of the shells of the Opera house.
Ralph Symonds Ltd
Ralph Symonds was a plywood manufacturer from Sydney who worked closely with Utzon and supplied plywood used in the construction of the Opera house.
Several other famous construction firms such as Rider Hunt Construction Consultants, tile manufacturing company- Höganäs Keramik, and Engineering firm- Steensen Varming, must be appreciated for their design of a new air-conditioning plant in the Opera house and innovated the idea of using Harbour water in the water-cooled heat pump system which is used to date, and the list goes on…
16. The Utzon Room
The Utzon room was refurbished by Jørn Utzon in 2000 and it was named so in 2004 in the honor of Jørn Utzon.
This is the only space in the Sydney Opera House whose interiors are completely designed by Utzon. The room preserves the original Utzon tapestry involving the work of four weavers and took around 8 months to be made. The tapestry is called “Homage to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach”.
Some Quick Sydney Opera House Facts
- Sydney Opera House is counted among the most recognizable buildings of the twentieth century, and the entire site of the building is covered in an area of over 14 acres.
- It is said that the idea for the design of shells came into the mind of Jørn Utzon while he was peeling an orange.
- The Sydney Opera house is counted among the most photographed buildings in the world.
- There are references to the Sydney Opera House in several films and shows which also symbolize Australia. Some examples of such films are Sunshine (2007 film), Pacific rim (2013 film), Independence day (1996), etc.
- The funds required for constructing the Sydney Opera House majorly came from winning the state lottery.
- “The Eight Wonder” was an Opera show hosted in 1995 by Alan John based on the theme of the Sydney Opera House building journey and also expressed the characters of personalities involved with it such as politicians, architects, construction workers, etc.
- Not only a performing arts center, but the Sydney Opera House also serves as a recording studio, cafes, bars- Opera bar, restaurants such as the Bennelong restaurant, the Opera kitchen, and other retail shops.
- The Sydney Opera House organizes Mandarin tours and showcases beautiful lunar lanterns to celebrate Lunar New Year.
- The props used in the Opera house are located beneath the stage and are lifted with the help of a mechanical stage lift during the times of performances.
- The Sydney Opera house remains open throughout the year except for two days- During Christmas (25th of December) and Good Friday.
- The Sydney Opera house was the first building in its history to use Araldite glue in its design for gluing precast elements together.
- What makes the Sydney Opera House more special and appealing is that you can visit it for free! Yes, the entry to visitors is free of cost so, you can enjoy without the hassle of booking or buying tickets and more importantly saving some money. This is also counted as a reason for the large number of visitors visiting the Sydney Opera House annually.
- It is viewed as the most famous landmark in Sydney and has bagged several awards such as the RAIA Civic Design Award(1980), the RAIA Merit Award (1974), and the Meritorious Lighting Award-Australia (1974).
- The Sydney Opera House uses more than 15000 light bulbs every year for lighting different parts and regions of the building and lights up with vibrant and colorful lights each night.
- The Sydney Opera House was built with the help of more than 10,000 construction workers.
- In the Opera theatre, during an ongoing Opera called “Boris Godunov” which featured live chickens, one of the chickens went from stage to the top of a cellist. To avoid those kinds of circumstances in the future, a net was installed in the Orchestra pit of the theatre.
- The visitors are allowed to consume alcoholic drinks while watching Operas in the theatre as the Sydney Opera House is licensed for it.
- A total of 87, 839 events and performances have been hosted at the Sydney Opera House from the day of its opening till now, and over 57 million people have attended these events so far.
- The ceiling beams installed at the Opera House change their shape while rising depending upon the stress level from a T shape to a Y shape and subsequently to a U shape. These concrete beams easily support the weight of the structure and are proven to be a great alternative to Columns.
- A total of seven performance venues are there in the Opera House. These are- The Concert Hall, Joan Sutherland Theatre, Drama theatre, Playhouse, Recording studio, the Utzon room, and the Forecourt.
- Each sail of the Sydney Opera house cost around $100,000 and was built with the help of three big tower cranes. The Opera House is also one of the first buildings in Australia built using tower cranes.
- Almost 6223 meters of glass were put into use and the unique topaz color of the glass which looks so much captivating was ordered by the company “Boussois-Souchon-Neuvesel”- a french company.
- A concert named “Farewell to the World” pulled the biggest crowd to the Sydney Opera House to date and it was also aired on television back then in 1996. And the list goes on.
The Sydney Opera House showcases how far a man’s creation may go to create marvelous architecture. A building with a design that was way ahead of its time and enlightened engineers to innovate new ideas.
The making of the Sydney Opera House is itself very fascinating- the selection of Jørn Utzon for the design, the change in governance, and later his resignation, assigning responsibility to Peter Hall, modifications to the Opera House, and the diligence of Hall in completing the construction project of the Opera House. The Opera house we see today is the result of a magnificent vision, extensive hard work, an enormous construction budget, and perseverance.
So, here we conclude our article on 15 interesting Sydney Opera House Facts and hope that you liked it and learned some interesting facts. It was also too much fun and informative for us while writing this article.
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