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Sydney Opera House Architecture | Design, Construction & Controversies

Sydney Opera House - An Engineering Marvel

The Sydney Opera House is a globally renowned architectural gem. Its iconic design was the result of an international competition won by Danish architect, Jørn Utzon. Its stunning design has earned the Sydney Opera House international recognition as one of the most significant architectural masterpieces of the 20th century. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007.

Read on to discover more about how this architectural marvel came to be.

Sydney Opera House Architecture | Quick Overview

Sydney Opera House Architecture

Architectural Highlights of Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House Architecture

Who Designed the Sydney Opera House?

Sydney Opera House Architecture

Jørn Utzon

The Sydney Opera House was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon and also had contributions from other leading architects and designers like Ove Arup and Peter Hall. Architectural competitions often determine the designs for major public sector projects. Jørn Utzon's concept for an opera house in Sydney Harbour was selected from over 230 entries from 30 countries in an anonymous competition.

After controversies presented themselves, Utzon resigned from the project in 1966. The construction of the Opera House was then led by Peter Hall and completed in 1973.

Architectural Style of Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House Architecture



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Construction of Sydney Opera House

The construction of the Opera House was completed in 3 different stages, with the podium being built first, followed by the outer shells, and then finally the interiors. When the first stage of construction began, Utzon's design was still incomplete, leading to unresolved structural issues. The columns of the podium were unable to support the roof and they had to be reconstructed during Phase II. 

From 1957 to 1963, computers were used to determine the structural stability of the shells to understand the complex forces that act on them. The roof design was finalised after wind tunnel testing at the University of Southampton and the National Physical Laboratory. The Hornibrook group manufactured 4000 roof panels and 2400 ribs, which were later pieced together to form the complex contours of the roof. 

After Utzon's resignation towards the end of Phase II, significant changes were brought to his interior designs when the acoustic advisor, Lothar Cremer, complained about the acoustics. Phase III was then taken over by Peter Hall, who then brought in a few changes to Utzon's design during the construction of the interiors.

Controversies on Sydney Opera House Architecture

Sydney Opera House Architecture

In 1965, the government in Australia changed and the construction of the Opera House was moved under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Public Works. Davis Hughes, a new minister at the Ministry began to criticise Utzon's design, calling them impractical and also complained about the costs and time. Hughes tried to portray Utzon as an impractical dreamer and withheld funding, so much so that Utzon was unable to pay his workers.

Eventually, Utzon resigned as the architect of the Opera House when the second phase of construction was nearing its end. Utzon's position was then taken over by Peter Hall who was largely involved in the design and construction of the interiors of the Opera House.

Changes to Utzon's Designs

  • In the original design, many details were left undefined and the brief didn't detail how the interior space was to be used in the Opera House. 
  • The biggest hall was originally designed as a multipurpose hall but was later deemed solely as the Concert Hall. The original machinery was discarded and a new layout was designed. 
  • The smaller hall was named the John Sutherland Theatre and is used for smaller productions. 
  • The interiors of both of the bigger halls were changed completely after the inputs of Lothar Cremer, who suggested changes for better acoustics. 
  • A theatre, a cinema, and a library were added to the design which were then converted to live drama theatres and another smaller theatre. 
  • Utzon's design didn't include glass walls, he wanted to use plywood mullions instead. When the decision was made to use glass instead, the design had to be changed.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sydney Opera House Architecture

What is the Sydney Opera House architectural style?

The Sydney Opera House is constructed using the Expressionist architectural style.

Who designed the Sydney Opera House?

The Sydney Opera House was designed by a Danish architect called Jørn Utzon.

Why is the Sydney Opera House architecture famous?

The Sydney Opera House has a distinctive sail-like roof design which complements the expressionist art form that boomed in the early 20th century only a few years before its construction.

What was the Sydney Opera House inspired by?

While many believe that the Sydney Opera House has a sail-like design, Jørn Utzon actually drew inspiration from the Mayans on the use of platforms. The platform was designed in a manner where the spectators could see only the performance atop the platform, and all the preparations for the performance would occur beneath the platform.

When was the Sydney Opera House built?

The construction of the Sydney Opera House was completed in 1973.

How old is the Sydney Opera House?

The Sydney Opera House is 49 years old.

What’s inside the Sydney Opera House?

There are two major halls called the Concert Hall and the John Sutherland Theatre, along with two smaller theatres, a library and a playhouse inside the Sydney Opera House. There is also Utzon Room for small parties or gatherings and also an Outdoor Forecourt for major outdoor performances.

What is on the exterior of the Sydney Opera House?

The sails of the Sydney Opera House are decked with white tiles made in Sweden. The remaining exterior is mostly covered with pink granite.

How big is the Sydney Opera House?

The Sydney Opera House covers an area of 4.4 hectares.

What is the Sydney Opera House made out of?

The exterior of the Sydney Opera House was constructed using several precast concrete shells supported over several precast concrete ribs.

Where can I book tours to the Sydney Opera House?

You can easily book your Sydney Opera House tours online.