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SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

Site, Design, Construction, Costs 

Notes for presentation to TAFE Students, Sydney, 2002

By Philip Drew

________________________________________________________________

Much as the Eiffel Tower defined Paris, Sydney is recognised around the globe by its Opera House.  This presentation traces the chief moments in its creation and use to the present day, from the choice of site to the original requirements, JÝrn Utzonís unique concepts, the search for a roof solution, and costs. The building cost represents only 26% of the expenditure since 1973.

Selecting a site

Requirements 1956

Utzon's concepts

The roof design 1957-1962

The roof construction

Estimates and expenditure 1957-1973

Changes & expenditure 1973-2002

Total expenditure

SELECTING A SITE

Everyone agrees that the choice of Bennelong Point for the new Sydney Opera House in 1955 was brilliant, however, few people are aware how many alternatives were considered initially before Bennelong Point was selected. 21 sites were investigated, including:

  • Macquarie St (Domain and Sydney Hospital)  

  • Philip Park (including Haig Ave)

  • Vicinity of Conservatorium

  • Fort Macquarie (Bennelong Point)

  • Domain (near Art Gallery of NSW)

  • Prince Alfred Park

  • City Markets

  • Corner College Street-Liverpool streets (City Council proposal)

REQUIREMENTS 1956

The original requirements set out in the competition were for two multi-use halls.  In the process of its realisation, after Utzonís departure in 1966, these requirements were lost sight of and Grand Opera was abandoned in the Major Hall, with opera relegated to the Small Hall, which was intended as a theatre.

The 1956 Competition brief asked for:

  • Large Hall seating 3,000-3,500 persons for symphony concerts, large-scale pera, ballet and dance, choral, pageants and mass meetings

  • Small Hall to seat approximately 1,200 persons for dramatic presentations, intimate opera, chamber music, concerts and recitals, lectures

  • Restaurant to seat 250 with lounge, bar, etc, 2 meeting rooms for 100, 200 people

UTZONíS CONCEPTS

Compared to the other competition schemes, JÝrn Utzonís winning scheme stood apart because of its unique ideas inspired by such examples as Mayan temples, Kronborg Castle, the City Hall in Stockholm and experiments with shell roofs in Copenhagen which he witnessed as a young architecture student. His ideas, whilst obviously drawn from a diverse range of sources, carried a the imprint of his unique genius.

Utzon included a number of unique ideas:

  • Opera House as a civic focus to connect Sydney with its harbour

  • Processional way from Circular Quay to theatres

  • Overlapping roof silhouettes

  • Contrasting composition of platform versus roof shells-performance functions rest on service functions

  • Shell roof shapes moulded around interior volumes

  • Ancient Greek theatre seating

  • Spherical geometry applied to roof shapes

  • Nature as inspiration: beech trees and waves in auditoria

THE ROOF DESIGN 1957-62

It took Utzon and Ove Arup and Partners some five years to solve the roof.  In their search for a solution, a variety of geometries were investigated leading to Utzonís proposal for a spherical solution which was ultimately adopted as the simplest and least complex geometry for determining the roof shape.

Ove Arup and Partners London Office considered many geometries:

  • Utzonís freehand shape

  • Parabolic ridge and ribs

  • Parabolic ridge and circular ribs

  • Elliptical ridge and rib

  • Ellipsoidal Scheme

  • Spherical ridge and rib

  • Small circle ridge, great circle rib

THE ROOF CONSTRUCTION

Ove Arup and Partners explored a range of constructions starting with Utzonís suggestion for a single skin reinforced concrete shell with stiffening ribs.  Double skin and space frame solutions were seriously debated before the present precast hollow ribbed vault was adopted.

The engineer also investigated many types of construction before settling on the final precast ribbed vault with insitu solution

  • Single skin reinforced concrete with ribs

  • Single skin shell with ribs

  • Double skin reinforced concrete with 2-way ribs and structural louvre wall

  • Steel space frame with reinforced concrete skin, louvre shell  replacing louvre wall

  • Insitu and precast concrete

  • Precast reinforced concrete ribs, structural stage tower walls

  • Precast reinforced concrete partially insitu

ESTIMATES AND EXPENDITURE 1957-1973 

Today, the cost of the building ($102 million) seems extremely cheap. Utzonís contribution of $18.4 million to complete Stages 1 & 2 is extraordinarily economical considering the later benefits to Sydney and Australia of the Opera House, as venue and as a symbol.  The blue columns represent the main estimates which caused such political anger at the time, the brown, yellow ones, real spending by Utzon, the last pale blue column, by far the greatest expenditure, was by the architectural team that replaced Utzon.

CHANGES & EXPENDITURE 1973-2002

Expenditure on the Sydney Opera House since its completion dwarfs the initial building cost of $98.8M which is some 26% of what is either proposed or has been expended.  The pie chart shows the major additions and projects undertaken since 1973 and further includes the Second Upgrade by Richard Johnson costing $66.59M which was included in the NSW governmentís June 2002 budget. By far the single greatest investment was the First Upgrade, 1988-1998, which cost $120M. 

TOTAL EXPENDITURE

 

Actual Million

STAGE 1: PLATFORM: 1957-1963 (Architect: JÝrn Utzon) 

$5.2

STAGE 2: ROOF: To Feb 1967 (Architect: JÝrn Utzon) 

$13.2

STAGE 3: INTERIOR: To June 1973 (Architect: Peter Hall)

$80.4

FORECOURT REFURBISHMENT: 1988 (Andrew Anderson) 

$34.6

UPGRADE 1: EXTERIOR / INTERIOR: 1988-1989 (PWD) 

$120.0

UNDERGROUND CAR PARK: To 1993 Mar 17

$40.0

THEATREWORKS / THE STUDIO / CH ANTEROOM / WESTERN BROADWALK FOYER: To 1999 Mar 5 (Architect: Leif Kristensen) 

$12.0

UPGRADE 2: EXTERIOR / INTERIOR: 1998-2002 (Architects: Richard Johnson / JÝrn & Jan Utzon) 

*$69.0

TOTAL

$374.4

Table: Sydney Opera House Construction and Refurbishment Expenditure 1957-2002

* $69 million committed

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