History of Sydney Opera House

History of Sydney Opera House is quite controversial with an innovative design ahead of its time by Jorn Utzon, soaring costs, complex engineering solutions, conflicts and contrasts.

Lots of contrasts: awards of excellence and shattered careers, stunning exterior and austere interiors, prizes and criticism. But the end result is a culmination of human creativity with a building that has become an icon of a country and the symbol of architectural breakthrough.

history of sydney opera house - view from the bridge

If you want just the quick Sydney Opera House facts, here is a shortcut. And if you want to know about celebrities who visited it, here is about Oprah and the nickname that the house earned for a week in 2010.

The official history of Sydney Opera House started in 1956 with an international competition for designs.

The terms were really broad - a large opera hall and a smaller concert hall. No design standards or budget limits were specified.

The site chosen was Bennelong Point. It has a historic significance, as it is very close to where Arthur Phillip established the first European settlement in 1788.

history of sydney opera house - sydney town hall Sydney Town Hall

Times were hard, environment unfriendly so people didn't think much about theatre or opera during the following 90 years. But the unofficial history of Sydney Opera House dates back to 1879 when the first opera theatre opened in a warehouse about 1 km from the current location. It was a venue for comic opera and vaudeville.

Later on, as the initial venue lost its appeal, Sydneysiders could listen to concerts and operas in the Sydney Town Hall.

This is really a beautiful building but not suitable for grand performances.

During the 19th century Bennelong Point housed a fort and then a tram depot, which was demolished in 1958 to free the area for the new construction.

The strong tourist attraction potential of the location provided the perfect spot for an unusual design. And that is exactly what the winning entry of Jorn Utzon offered.

history of sydney opera house - opera sails

The young Danish architect created a brilliant design which turned into an extremely difficult construction project.

The harbour location inspired him to come up with the stunning sails or shells.

There were 3 stages in the construction of the opera house:

  • the podium
  • the roof
  • the interiors

History of Sydney Opera House - The Podium

The construction of the podium started in 1959 before Jorn Utzon produced his final design and continued up to 1962.

A number of issues appeared at various levels: engineering, structural, contractual. The most important of all was the lack of connection between the initial construction and the concept.

Construction started too early while the concept kept changing. When the blueprint was finally ready the columns of the podium had to be rebuilt. They were not strong enough to support the daring roof structure.

History of Sydney Opera House - The Roof

As the engineering team struggled to find a cost-effective solution for the architectural vision, Jorn Utzon went back to his drawing board several times.

It took about 8 years to convert the initial free-form shapes he designed for the roof into sections of a sphere.

The spherical solution was finally viable. Popular belief has it that Jorn Utzon came up with this idea while peeling an orange and cutting it into shell-shaped sections.

The roof shells are supported by ribs cast at the site. Simple forms that combine to produce a very complex structure was a design philosophy that guided the Danish architect's entire career.

W ith the roof structure out of the way the tiles became the new issue. They had to be glossy but with no mirror reflection and had to be weather proof. Another hard project that took almost three years to develop.

And it widened the gap between the architect who wanted the best possible solution and the client who wanted to have an opera venue ready to use.

With costs and delays blowing out of proportions, Jorn Utzon was forced to resign in 1966.

Despite the protest of Sydney's cultural elite, a new architect, Peter Hall, was appointed to finalise the construction.

History of Sydney Opera House - The Interiors

Before resigning Jorn Utzon had experimented with the designs of the interiors. He was inspired by the warm colours of kabuki theatre, the ornate interiors of European buildings and also the luxuriant Australian wildlife. He envisioned a festive interior that can set the mood for grand performances.

But his rich, sophisticated design is in stark contrast with the severity and simplicity of the actual interiors. The two halls changed their initial destination: the large opera hall became a concert hall and the second smaller hall was to house opera productions.

The resignation of Utzon did not lower the costs. Peter Hall did not find solutions for the interiors - they are simple and austere. But his glass walls that capture the stunning views of the harbour won an excellence award in 1973.

history of sydney opera house - glass wall

History of Sydney Opera House - The Inauguration

Opera House Sydney opened to the public on 28 September 1973 with Prokofiev's work "War and Peace". The next day the concert hall staged a Wagner program.

Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the opera on 20 October 1973.

In 2007 Sydney Opera House was added to the UNESCO world heritage list.

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