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Read About the Extraordinary History of the Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House History
Australia's cultural hub, the Sydney Opera House is a magnificent site and the pride of Australia, a monument that has stood firm as the symbol and icon of their tastes and history.
Vacayholics Staff
Last Updated: Mar 8, 2018
Sydney Opera House
An architectural wonder, the Sydney Opera House is a modern expressionists design, built to cater to the cultural expansion and expression. A landmark that has become a 'recognition point' for Sydney, the house today stands in testimony that art can be easily reflected in modern architecture as well. It's history though, is full of controversy and debate, yet the end product has been that of beauty and technical achievement.

A melting pot of cultures was voiced in different artistic expression long before the idea of a central cultural point was conceived. Besides international influence, Australia's own fine art and beach culture was growing with inclusion of development and acceptance of modern art, and to ensure its growth, the Director of the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, Eugene Goossens, expressed a desire in the late 1940s for the construction of a theatrical house larger than the Sydney Town Hall. He lobbied for a good fourteen years, before NSW Premier Joseph Cahill called for a dedicated opera house design.

To ensure the very best when it came to design and practical use of space and to keep it fair, a design competition was announced on 13 September 1955 by NSW. The magnanimity of the project and the need to express art in concrete was met with the reception of 233 entries, from architects representing themselves or their firms from 33 countries. After much mulling over the designs; cost and design wise, 38 year old Danish architect, Jorn Utzon was declared winner. He was not only awarded the construction project, but a prize money of £5,000.

When Jorn Utzon's selection was announced it was stated, 'we are convinced that they present a concept of an opera house which is capable of being one of the great buildings of the world'". And it is a great building, for its design, according to Jorn Utzon himself, was inspired by the natural state of nature, and the desire to create sensory experiences to bring pleasure to the patrons. The use of shell like shapes made with white Swedish tiles, brought alive the Opera House's artistic moods, and the effect of dawn to dusk is well played out by the sheer brilliance of the white tile surfaces.

The engineering company Ove Arup and Partners was roped in for bringing the design from the blueprint to reality. The location chosen for this art wonder was the Bennelong Point, close to Sydney Harbour's Port Jackson. The project was split in three phases:
  • stage I - upper podium
  • stage II - the outer shells construction
  • stage III - interior design and overall construction
Work on the podium began in early 1959 and was completed on 31 August 1962, amidst uncompleted final designs, unresolved structural issues, inclement weather, etc. An early start further complicated matters when the podium columns were found to be weak, and had to be re-built. Project schedule was lagging behind 42 weeks.

Stage two, which began in 1963 brought along its own problems with it. The construction of the shell shaped roof proved to be a technical challenge that took the architect Utzon, and the construction company Ove Arup and Partners more than four years to resolve. However, their solution came with plenty of rebuilding and strengthening the earlier built work, which also included the foundation. The shells were constructed by German based Hornibrook Group Pty Ltd. Constant changes in the original design, and escalating cost amounted to a growing tension between the NSW government and all involved in the project constriction. Some 2400 precast ribs and 4000 roof panels later, the shell shaped roof was in place. The construction of the outer shells was completed four years later in 1967.

1965 saw a change in the government and subsequently policies too. The Liberal Party of Australia's premier Sir Robert William Askin, brought the construction of the Opera House project under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Public Works, eventually leading to Utzon's resignation in 1966. By the time the second stage was over, the project's team saw significant changes; Peter Hall was made responsible for the construction of the interior design, and architects E. H. Farmer, D. S. Littlemore and Lionel Todd were brought in.

The stage three of the construction began in 1967, and was mired in criticism of the original interior designs. Acoustics advisor for the Opera House, Lothar Cremer, came down heavily that the number of seats accommodated (2000) could not be increased without damaging the acoustics' effects. Even the stage designer, Peter Jones, criticized the overall interiors and the facilities meant for the artists. Amidst all criticism, work continued with significant changes being made to Utzon's designs. The third stage was finally completed in 1973, with an estimated cost of $102 million. The Sydney Opera House project was completed ten years later than its intended date on 26 January 1963 with a budget that exceed fourteen times the actual amount; $7 million.

This massive complex houses the Concert Hall, the Opera Theater, the Drama Theater, the Playhouse, the Studio, the Utzon Room, and the Forecour. It also houses a recording studio, restaurants and bars and two retail outlets. Most important conferences, ceremonies, and social functions are also held within its walls. The Sydney Opera House was formally inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II on October 20, 1973.

To honor the creative blend of architecture and structural design, this structure has been included in the State Heritage Register of New South Wales in 2003 under the Heritage Act 1977, and the National Heritage List in 2005 under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Its rich history has contributed to it being included in UN and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 28 June 2007. The Sydney Opera House has seen many changes since its inauguration, each done to add to its aesthetic value without infringing on its original design and purpose. The man who dreamed this cultural stage, Jorn Oberg Utzon passed away on 29 November 2008, leaving behind an extraordinary artistic expression and an architect's vision.
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