The Opera House is one of the world’s greatest buildings. It is World Heritage-listed and an internationally famous symbol of modern Australia.
Renewing the Opera House is essential. This project will upgrade acoustic performance and equipment that has been surpassed by advancements in technology.
It will also improve stage and backstage areas and theatre systems and maximise the Opera House’s compliance with contemporary building codes and accessibility regulations.
The number and diversity of shows being staged in the Concert Hall, as well as their performance requirements, have increased enormously over the decades since the building first opened.
It is vital the Opera House invests in new technology and systems to ensure the venue continues to meet orchestral and contemporary performance needs and the expectations of staff, resident companies, performers and audiences now and in the future.
“The Opera House is a World-Heritage masterpiece of human creative genius,”
—Louise Herron, CEO, Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon. He had won a 1956 international design competition to design it but resigned from delivering the project in 1966 because of protracted constructability and political difficulties. It was finished by Australian architect Peter Hall and finally opened in 1973.
Its iconic form is two sets of overlapping shell shapes. One set houses the Joan Sutherland Theatre (a proscenium arch lyric theatre primarily for opera and ballet) and the other the Concert Hall. There are also four other venues. The Opera House hosts over 1800 events and welcomes 8.2 million visitors per year.
This historic image (courtesy of Steensen Varming) is from the original build.
Performing arts venues are designed for the art that exists in their era. But artworks speak of their societies and as technology, construction and human endeavour progress, so do performance arts.
Over time, venues become technologically and artistically obsolete: they need to be calibrated to contemporary artistic thinking so that new works can be created and performed.
Our consultants include engineers Steensen Varming and Arup—firms involved with the Opera House since the original 1973 build. We have worked with Arup to understand the building’s existing structural condition and, from that, the modifications required to accommodate a new theatre grid system and plant.
Steensen Varming is contributing the electrical services related to the theatre equipment and modifications and improving the air conditioning in the auditorium and foyers.
Works proposed (subject to final planning and heritage approvals) include new box fronts over the stage and elsewhere in the auditorium to better angle sound reflections to the audience and performers.
Acousticians Müller-BBM determined the optimum measurements (e.g. mass, angles and thicknesses) and ARM designed panels that meet those specifications and are sensitive to the Opera House’s heritage requirements and Conservation Management Plan.
Other proposed upgrades are a new acoustic ceiling and specially designed acoustic reflectors to help distribute sound. We worked with Müller-BBM to design and test these, including a performance test with Sydney Symphony Orchestra musicians using temporary prototype reflectors. Feedback from the musicians was extremely positive and allowed us to perfect the designs.
“It’s like playing with a whole new instrument.”
—Rosemary Curtin, Viola, Sydney Symphony Orchestra
“Utzon made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology…a building that changed the image of an entire country.”
We are very proud to be working with the Opera House on this project, and equally conscious of the heritage requirements.
Our design work is reviewed regularly by the Opera House’s Eminent Architects Panel, which comprises senior members of Sydney’s architectural community including the New South Wales Government Architect and members of the State Conservation Council.