Like many large public projects, the building of the Sydney Opera House was bathed in controversy. But the final result is nonetheless breathtaking. While the interior has many flaws, such as the stage being blocked from portions of the seating area, inside and out it’s an architectural marvel.
The exterior is now known the world over, owing to the distinctive series of overlapping ‘sails’ that form the basic shape. The architect says they were inspired by palm fronds, but they’re technically sections of a sphere. The design is so different and astounding that the buildings have become a symbol of Australia to the whole world.
Erected onto a series of ribbed arches, the white granite surface is covered by over a million tiles, which are ‘self-cleaning’. A relatively recent innovation, they’re made of a stone that tends to extrude dirt which then blows off, though they still require some maintenance.
The roofs underneath are formed from over 2,000 pre-cast concrete sections. Each roof section weighs up to 15 tons and the different sections are held together by a series of tensioned steel cables, over 350km (210mi) in total length.
There are several such shells, one housing the Opera venue, another for the Concert Hall, another smaller one for theatre, and others for several restaurants. The Concert Hall, seating nearly 2,700 and the Opera Theatre with over 1,500 are housed in the two largest shells. The Drama House contains 544 seats. The Playhouse, added in 1999, holds almost 400 and the Studio Theatre 364.
Sited on Bennelong Point, jutting into the harbor, the view from the steps is as spectacular as the building itself. Looking out over Sydney Harbor (technically, Port Jackson) one can readily see the equally distinctive and iconic bridge, along with the lush green hills.
The interior is also quite impressive. Though to its detriment, the architect’s original plans were scrapped mid-way through, much that was left is awe-inspiring. Begun in 1963, it encompasses five theaters, five rehearsal studios, the two main halls, four restaurants along with shops and other rooms.
Completed in 1973, over 10 years after construction began and almost seven after the original architect, Jorn Utzon resigned over numerous disputes, its final cost was more than $100M Australian. The original estimate was $7M, just one of the many sources of acrimony during the project.
But the controversy, after 30 years, is now finally winding down, with the architect invited back to supervise renovations a few years ago. Some of the interiors have been re-worked to his original plans.
Today, the facility conducts tours for over 200,000 people each year through much of the facility, including a walk over the stage. Performances in the complex are attended by two million annually.
Have lunch in the Green Room then take a stroll around the steps outside. Marvel at the wonderful way in which the very high-tech looking buildings complement the natural scenery in perfect harmony.