|List||National Heritage List|
|Legal Status||Listed place (12/07/2005)|
|Place File No||1/12/036/0449|
|Summary Statement of Significance|
The Sydney Opera House, constructed between 1957 and 1973,
is a masterpiece of modern architectural design, engineering and construction
technology in Australia. It exhibits the creative genius of its designer, the
Danish architect Jørn Utzon and the contributions to its successful completion
by the engineering firm Ove Arup and Partners, the building contractors M.R.
Hornibrook, and the architects Hall, Todd and Littlemore. It is an exceptional
creative and technical achievement in the national history of building design
and construction in Australia. Since its completion the Sydney Opera House has
attracted world wide acclaim for its distinctive design, enhanced by its
prominent location on Bennelong Point within a superb harbour setting. With its
soaring white roof shells set above a massive podium, the Sydney Opera House is
a monumental urban sculpture, internationally acclaimed as an architectural
icon of the twentieth century. Its many national and international awards
reflect its pivotal place in the national story of creative and technical
achievement in Australia. The challenges involved in executing Utzon’s design
inspired innovative technical and creative solutions that were groundbreaking
in the history of architectural design and building construction in Australia,
particularly the roof shells that were based on the geometry of the sphere and
demonstrated the extraordinary creative potential of the assembly of
prefabricated, repeated components. The interior spaces also reflect the creative
genius of Utzon and his successors, Todd, Hall and Littlemore, who completed
the building after Utzon’s departure from the project in 1966. The Sydney Opera
House is the most widely recognised building in Australia, and is cherished as
a national icon and world-class performing arts centre. It represents an
enduring symbol of modern Sydney and Australia, both nationally and
internationally, reflecting changing social attitudes towards Australian
cultural life in the decades after World War II. The Sydney Opera House has
played a seminal role in the development of Australia’s performing arts,
enhancing the cultural vitality of the nation. It continually attracts
nationally and internationally acclaimed performers, and is a mecca for
visitors from around Australia and overseas. The peninsula on which the Sydney
Opera House now stands has a special association with Bennelong, an Aboriginal
man who became a prominent and influential figure in the early colony and
played a significant role in mediating interactions between Aboriginal people
and early settlers.
The Sydney Opera House is strategically located on Bennelong
Point, giving the building added prominence in the Sydney Harbour vista. It is closely adjacent to Circular
Quay, the harbour’s main transport hub.
It also forms an important visual relationship with the Sydney Harbour
Bridge to the west – the strong curves of both are complementary.|
The opera house complex is made up of two main buildings plus a smaller one, principally of reinforced concrete, which sit on a massive concrete platform on a foundation of piles. The three upper buildings are formed of clusters of reinforced concrete vaulted structures which contain a large hall for 2690 people (the Concert Hall) and a small hall for 1547 people (the Opera Theatre) plus theatrical spaces (Drama Theatre and Playhouse), the Studio, administration areas, a major restaurant (Bennelong) plus other areas. Utzon’s plan set the two largest halls side by side on the platform. This made possible the building’s dramatic sculptural elevations – the roofs resemble billowing sails and the whole ensemble has a singular freedom of form. The two halls have their stage set to the south which maximizes views of the harbour from the northern foyers and from the glass-walled passages as the public passes around to the northern end. The concrete platform is clad with precast panels faced in reconstituted red granite, and this material is also used for the paving of the waterfront promenade which surrounds the platform. The platform, both in its form and colour, contrasts with the roofs of the building. The building is entered from the southern forecourt and a wide sweeping set of stairs, which makes for a grand approach on foot.
Inside, the two main halls are constructed using a hidden steel framework which has been faced with timber. Plywood panels were designed as part of the internal lining to conceal the services. The Concert Hall includes a mechanical-action pipe organ. Linings in this hall are birch plywood, in radiating ribs on a suspended hollow raft ceiling, running down the walls to laminated brush box linings which match the floor. The Opera Theatre by contrast has black-stained ceilings and walls. Both of these main halls have proscenium curtains designed by John Coburn. The design of the interiors was completed by Todd, Hall and Littlemore after the departure of Utzon in 1966. The general experience of the interiors of the Sydney Opera House is one of majestic spaces defined by strong structural forms.
The glass walls, filling the external openings under the vaulted concrete shells of the roof, are constructed of a light steel framework supported off the concrete ribs, supporting laminated, topaz-tinted plate glass sheets with bronze fittings. The walls were designed after Utzon’s departure from the project. These glass walls provide spectacular views from the main foyers out across Sydney Harbour. John Olsen’s painting, inspired by the Kenneth Slessor poem ‘Five bells’, relates to the harbour and hangs in the main foyer and is a well known feature of the building’s interior.
The most revolutionary feature of the building is the concrete roof. Utzon produced a design utilizing ribbed shell vaults made of precast concrete. Utzon based the shape of the vaults on the curve of a sphere, so that all segments had the same curve and could be mass-produced. These segments were precast and lifted into place and held together with epoxy resin and prestressing tendons, an innovative method at the time of construction. The engineering firm on the project, Ove Arup and Partners, and the building contractors, M.R. Hornibrook, both made important contributions to the realization of Utzon’s project. Conventional design, construction and finish methods were superceded by a range of innovative approaches to meet the challenges of the building’s design. The roof segments, for example, were coated with small ceramic tiles. Utzon spent more than a year working with manufacturers in Sweden to develop tiles specifically suited to the building. The glazed tiles have a slightly irregular surface with a glasslike finish. The central tiles are glazed white and the border tiles matt cream. The standardized prefabricated method used on the roofs was both much less costly than other methods, and also allowed for very precise quality control.
When the First Fleet arrived in 1788, and moved from Botany
Bay to Port Jackson, it landed in Sydney Cove. The beginning of European settlement in Australia occurred
within a short distance of the site of the future Sydney Opera House. Upon arrival, Governor Arthur Phillip’s
Instructions of April 1787 were to ‘endeavour by every possible means to open an intercourse with the
natives, and to conciliate their affections….’ (McBryde, 1989:5). While initially friendly, Aboriginal
people soon came to shun the Sydney cove settlement, threatening the ‘plan he had so much at
heart of conciliating and establishing a friendly intercourse with them’
(Phillip, 1789:112). Taking
initiative, Governor Arthur Phillip organised to take ‘by force’ an Aboriginal
person. Arabanoo was captured in
December 1788 but soon died from smallpox (April 1789). Two Aboriginal children (Nanbaree
and Boorong) then acted as informants following a stay in the colony hospital
(Attenbrow, 2002:14). In
November 1789 Phillip decided to capture two more men, Bennelong (also known as
Wolarawaree) and Colbee (Tenchs diary, Ch.
5). While both later escaped, they
retained connections with Governor Phillip. |
Bennelong became a particularly prominent Aboriginal figure in and around the settlement (e.g. Tench’s journal, Bradley’s journal). He and his relatives often stayed or dined at the Governors’ residence when visiting the settlement, and on a number of occasions Phillip offered the shelter of his house to Aboriginal women seemingly at threat (McBryde, 1989:17). In time Bennelong solicited the government to ‘build him a hut at the extremity of the eastern point of the cove. This, the governor, who was very desirous of preserving the friendly intercourse which seemed to have taken place, readily promised, and gave the necessary directions for its being built (Collins, I, 113). The hut, built of brick, twelve feet square, and roofed with tiles, was completed in November 1790. It is illustrated in a painting by Thomas Watling (Dixson Gallery), which shows its exposed, isolated position on the point. From this time the point, formerly called Tubow-gule (various spellings, Attenbrow, 2002:11) became known as Bennelong’s Point. There is no evidence to suggest that Bennelong spent much time in the dwelling; rather, it seems that the house was more of a symbol of his importance (Kerr, 2003:1-2). The place was however occasionally used as a social centre for those Aboriginal people who were about the settlement (McBryde, 1989:17). William Bradley recounted an evening of ‘entertainment’ in March 1791 provided by Bennelong at his house for the governor and his party (Bradley, 231). Bennelong and another Aboriginal man returned to England with Governor Phillip, departing in 1792. Only Bennelong survived the trip, and in 1795 he returned with the new Governor John Hunter. During his absence, Bennelong’s house was lent to a visiting Spanish expedition, and was demolisted in 1795. Upon his return, Bennelong’s importance and status in both the Aboriginal and the European communities apparently remained high, and he was offered official protection as Governor Hunter’s friend (McBryde, 1989:17). Records of his life in this period (early 1800s) are few and un-sympathetic. Bennelong died on 3 January 1813 (McBryde, 1989:27).
A defensive battery was built at Bennelong Point early in the colony’s history, followed by the construction of Fort Macquarie in 1821 by order of Governor Lachlan Macquarie. It was designed by Francis Greenway. By 1902 the fort had been replaced by a tramshed as part of Sydney’s public transport system. The tramshed, built in Gothic style like the fort, stood until the 1950s when buses were increasingly used to replace trams throughout Sydney. A proposal was put forward for an opera house to be built in Sydney. This proposal was pursued by the conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Eugene Goossens, on the advice of town planners Rosette Edmunds and Sydney Luker (Freestone 1995). Goossens published a conceptual plan for an opera house in 1948. It emphasised the place of high culture in the centre of Sydney, but the idea did not gain political support until 1952 when the then Premier of New South Wales, J.J. Cahill, announced the government’s intention to build an opera house. The decision reflected a growing desire to change the public perception of Sydney as a former penal colony, and to put the city on the world map. According to Denis Winston, a professor of town planning, ‘The building of the new Opera House on one of the grandest urban sites in the world – the headland where Governor Macquarie’s old Fort used to be – will be a visible symbol of the coming of age of the capital of the Mother State.’ (Winston 1957, 19). In November 1954 Cahill appointed an Opera House Committee to advise the State Government on ways to implement the proposal. The Committee recommended Bennelong Point for the site and an international competition in order to select a suitable design. The competition was announced in January 1956, attracting more than 220 final entries received from 32 countries. The competition brief called for a ‘national opera house’ on Bennelong Point with two halls designed for specific uses, but no limits on the estimated cost of the project. The judging panel included Henry Ashworth (Professor of Architecture at Sydney University), John Leslie Martin (Professor of Architecture at Cambridge University), Cobden Parks (the NSW Government Architect), and Eero Saarinen (the renowned Finnish architect). On 29 January 1957 the judges announced that Jørn Utzon of Denmark had won. The winning design attracted considerable public interest and, whilst there were some critics, Utzon’s design was widely acclaimed for its spectacular presentation and suitability for the Bennelong Point site.
The spectacular and dramatic design was far ahead of its time. The influence of Utzon’s father, a naval architect, had led to Utzon’s interest in curved shapes and an attention to detail. Utzon was also inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies Van Der Rohe, as well as architectural traditions from a number of cultures. His design was particularly inspired by the harbour setting for the proposed building, and the first design drawings depicted shell-like entities, floating in space like clouds, rising above a grand ceremonial platform with staircases reflecting the form of Mayan temples. Utzon’s guiding design principles emphasised the organic forms of nature and the creation of a pleasurable sensory experience (Kerr 2003, 44). He envisaged the Opera House as a sculpture that would be viewed from all angles – from water, land and air. It was to be the focal point in a grand waterscape. As Utzon explained, ‘Instead of making a square form, I have made a sculpture – a sculpture covering the necessary functions…If you think of a Gothic church, you are closer to what I have been aiming at. Looking at a Gothic church, you never get tired, you will never be finished with it – when you pass around it or see it against the sky…Something new goes on all the time…Together with the sun, the light and the clouds, it makes a living thing’ (Utzon, Descriptive narrative, Sydney Opera House, cited in Kerr 2003, 16).
During this period, new forms of expression were sought by architects worldwide. The pioneers of the Modern Movement in architecture during the early twentieth century, including Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright, had developed new principles of architectural design. The basic intention of the Modern Movement was ‘to realise an image of the new open and dynamic world’ where people could participate in a world of freedom of movement and choice (Norberg-Schulz 1996, 167). It represented a departure from earlier architectural ideas that placed humans outside of the understood world and emphasised enclosed, static spaces. Instead, modern architecture sought to restore the human presence. In this way, the Sydney Opera House, is as an exemplar of the late Modern Movement, and demonstrated what Giedion called the ‘humanisation of modern architecture’ after the ‘functional’ achievements of early modernism. It reflected the world-wide demand for a ‘new monumentality’ and a ‘new regionalism’ in architecture, and ‘a humanised urban life, where the human settlement is served by a ‘heart’ which gathers its primary qualities. The Sydney Opera House is such a heart. In the rational context of the modern city, it represents a living core, that is, a place where life is revealed as being meaningful, not in the sense of a dogmatic centre, but a place where culture takes place’ (Norberg-Schulz 1996, 172).
‘The Sydney Opera House accomplishes what is the basic aim of modern art and architecture: the relinquishment of the split between thought and feeling. The word “modernity” has been used to denote the rational thought that has been dominant since the Enlightenment, and which implies a pragmatic attitude devoid of emotional qualities. “Modernism”, on the contrary, is an artistic movement which his directed against mere reason, as was pointed out by Gropius when he in 1935 presented the Bauhaus approach to the British public: “…rationalization, which many people imagine to be the cardinal principle (of the new architecture), is really only its purifying agency…The other, the aesthetic satisfaction of the human soul, is just as important as the material. Both find their counterpart in that unity which is life itself.” It is precisely this unity Utzon has accomplished in his works, and in the most significant way in the Sydney Opera House…in the Sydney Opera House Jørn Utzon realised the great synthesis of earth and sky, landscape and city, vista and intimacy, thought and feeling, in terms of a unity of technological and organic form. Hence we may safely say that the Sydney Opera House represents a masterpiece of human creative genius, and a most significant step in the history of modern architecture’ (Norberg-Schulz 1996, 1972).
In September 1957, the New South Wales Government announced the establishment of an Opera House Lottery to pay for the construction costs of the building, and over the next 16 years it yielded just over $100 million for construction (SOH website). Utzon’s designs for the Opera House were initially presented as concept diagrams that were not structurally feasible. Over a five year period, Utzon collaborated with the London-based Danish engineering firm Ove Arup and Partners to develop a method for constructing a ribbed shell roof system based on the geometry of a sphere. The system permitted each rib to be built up with standard segments cast on site. The segments were then lifted into place between the previous rib and a supporting telescopic steel arch devised by the contractor, M.R.Hornibrook. Design and construction of the Sydney Opera House was difficult, demanding innovative solutions that extended the boundaries of technological and building methods of the period (Kerr 2003, 16).
The design of the building had already attracted the attention of professionals, but by the mid-1960s the general public was aware of the controversy surrounding the project’s time and cost overruns. There were also difficulties between Utzon and a new NSW Government elected in 1965. As a result Utzon resigned in February 1966, with the podium in place and the roof structure nearly complete. The reasons for Utzon’s departure from the project were complex and have been widely discussed in the literature. A major factor was Premier Cahill’s insistence on the building being commenced before the March 1959 election, before the design for the shells and their supports had been resolved. The problem of construction running pushing ahead of design solutions was to be a problem that beset the construction of the Opera House throughout its fifteen year construction period. Utzon encountered further difficulties with the technical advisory committee not providing timely advice to the project. In addition, Utzon’s attention to detail and his approach to resolving design problems by developing solutions in consultation with technical experts and artisans through trial and error brought him into conflict with the new State Government, who viewed his methods as not conducive to the scale and complexity of the project. In April 1966, Utzon was replaced with a panel of Australian architects to complete the project, involving Peter Hall, Lionel Todd and David Littlemore in association with the NSW Government Architect, Ted Farmer. Utzon gave them drawings to assist them in completing construction, but Hall described these as incomplete. This made the task of completing the project difficult, and emphasised the different approaches preferred by Utzon and his Australian successors. Whilst Utzon worked with consultants and contractors to develop, test, and refine three-dimensional prototypes, Hall, Todd and Littlemore followed the standard practice used in Australia of relying on two-dimensional drawings. Utzon’s departure from the project meant that his plans for the major and minor halls, the glass infill walls and the public spaces were not realised. Instead, Hall, Todd and Littlemore contributed to the final design with innovative topaz-coloured glazing in bronze frames which enclose the ends of the roofs. In June 1966 the major intended commercial user of the main hall, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, belatedly produced a set of specific requirements. As a result, Hall, Todd and Littlemore produced a number of recommendations to the State Government, outlining radical changes to the interiors to accommodate the ABC’s needs. Theses included making the main hall a dedicated Symphony or Concert Hall, and the smaller hall a dedicated Opera Theatre. The recommendations were approved in April 1967, and Hall, Todd and Littlemore developed the final designs for the interior. The interiors are largely attributed to Peter Hall.
In 1960 American actor and singer Paul Robeson climbed onto the scaffolding of the Sydney Opera House and during construction, and sang to the workers. The first official performance was given by the Australian Opera Company on 28 September 1973, and on the following night Charles Mackerras conducted the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in the Concert Hall. The Sydney Opera House was officially opened on 20 October 1973 by Queen Elizabeth II, and 300 journalists arrived from across the world ‘to see if the Sydney Opera House was to be a white elephant or a sacred cow’ (Kerr 2003, 24-5). Martin Bernheimer, the music critic of the Los Angeles Times, wrote: ‘This, without question, must be the most innovative, the most daring, the most dramatic and in many ways, the most beautiful home constructed for the lyric and related muses in modern times’ (cited in Kerr 2003, 24-5). By his own choice, Utzon did not attend the opening nor did his name appear on the plaque in the entry concourse. It was, however, widely acclaimed as Utzon’s creation, with the outstanding contribution by Hall, Todd and Littlemore in turning his masterpiece into a fully-functioning performing arts centre. Since its opening, the Opera House has attracted great artists from across the world, and hosted performances by many nationally and internationally acclaimed performers. These include Joan Sutherland, Kiri Te Kanawa, June Bronhill, Joan Carden, Luciano Pavarotti, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Bob Hope, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Mikhail Barishnikov, Twyla Tharp, Ella Fitzgerald, Nana Mouskouri, Harry Secombe and Crowded House (SOH website). Since 1973 over 45 million people have attended over 100,000 performances, including classical and contemporary music, ballet, opera, drama and dance, events for children and outdoor activities. It is used as a venue by a wide range of organisations including performing arts companies, entrepreneurs, schools, community groups, corporations, individuals and government agencies. The harbour-side Broadwalk and some of the foyers are open to the public, and it has attracted an estimated 100 million visitors.
The construction of a forecourt, car parking, and an appropriate approach by land to the Opera House was undertaken between 1986 and 2003. The approach was designed under the supervision of Andrew Andersons and involved Peter Hall. It was undertaken as part of the State Government’s bicentennial refit of Macquarie Street and the public areas flanking Sydney Cove, and completed in time for the visit by British Royalty on Australia Day 1988. The parking station was an ingenious design solution to the problem of car access to the site. It involved a double helical coil set underground behind the Tarpeian cliff face. The vehicle entry and exits were in Macquarie Street, the air intake grills along the base of the cliff and the air exhaust a feature in the centre of the vehicle roundabout east of the forecourt. Part of the 1858 Bennelong drain was relocated during the work, and the harbour tunnel avoided. The pedestrian tunnel linked the 1988 lower forecourt to provide undercover access to the Opera House. It offered protection from the elements and serviced the lower forecourt shops, although it bypassed the grand forecourt approach envisioned by Utzon (Kerr 2003, 26). Between 1988 and 1997, the NSW Government commissioned the Public Works Department to upgrade the building and establish an asset management system to ‘ensure the survival of the house for future generations’ (SOHUP Progress Report 1993, 4-11, cited in Kerr 2003, 27). Further work was carried out in 1994 to accommodate catering venues in the Opera House and lower forecourt, including the redesign of the Bennelong and Forecourt Restaurants and the Café Mozart, and modifications to the Harbour Restaurant. The Sydney Opera House Trust established a Conservation Council to advise and assist the Trust on the care, control and maintenance of the building. Whilst Jørn Utzon never returned to Australia and nor saw his building completed, he accepted an invitation from the NSW Premier to provide advice to the Sydney Opera House Trust, including a set of design principles to guide the ongoing conservation and management of the opera house, including any future redevelopment of the interiors. These were delivered in 2002. Utzon wrote that ‘it is right that we should be looking forward to the future of the Sydney Opera House and not back to the past. For this reason I believe…future architects should have the freedom to use up-to-date technology to find solutions to the problems of today and tomorrow (cited in Kerr 2003, 31). The refurbishment of the Reception Hall, now called the ‘Utzon Room’, was completed according to Utzon’s advice, and includes a tapestry designed by Utzon.
The Sydney Opera House has received many awards for its design and construction. These include the United Kingdom Institution of Structural Engineers Special Award in 1973, the Royal Australian Institute of Architects Gold Award to Jørn Utzon in 1973, and a Commemorative Sulman Award in 1992. The Association of Consulting Engineers gave its Excellence Award for the glass walls in 1972. The Illuminating Engineering Society of Australia gave a Meretricious Lighting Award in 1974, and a Certificate of Commendation for the shell floodlighting in 1988. The Royal Australian Institute of Architects has also given a range of other awards including one for outstanding environmental design in 1974, a civic design award in 1980, the Lloyd Rees award in 1988 and a National Civic Design Award in 1988 for the design of the forecourt. In 2003 the NSW RAIA gave the inaugural ‘NSW 25 year award’ and in 1998 the Sydney City Council awarded Utzon the Keys of the City of Sydney. In 1982 Utzon was warded the A. Aalta Medal and in 2003 the prestigious international Pritzker Prize for his contributions to architecture and in recognition of his masterpiece, the Sydney Opera House. The Pritzer Prize Juror, architect Frank Gehry, observed that ‘Utzon made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology, and he persevered through extraordinary malicious criticism to a building that changed the image of an entire country. It is the first time in our lifetime that such an epic piece of architecture gained such universal presence’ (Pritzker Prize website, 2003).
|Condition and Integrity|
The building is in good condition and has a high degree of integrity.
It retains its original design appearance although the fabric has been restored
in part with new compatible finishes. The building’s interiors have been
extensively remodeled although many significant spaces remain close to their
original form. |
2 Circular Quay and Macquarie Street, Bennelong Point,
Sydney, comprising all of Lot 5 DP775888 and all of Lot 4 DP7879333, and
including the sea walls abutting these lots.|
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Report Produced Thu Aug 28 10:16:38 2014