Sydney Opera House Concert Hall Upgrade

The World-Heritage listed Opera House is internationally famous, and one of Australia’s proudest cultural icons.

Our task there is to equip a 1970s venue for 21st-Century expectations—artistic, social and commercial. Using today’s engineering, acoustic and staging technologies, our design team is helping create world-class audience-experience and backstage standards.

The project is part of the Opera House’s current Decade of Renewal.

Watch a 3D walkthrough of the Opera House’s Renewal vision.

 

We are upgrading the concert hall acoustics and staging technology. We are improving circulation and accessibility throughout the foyers, changing the fabric minimally to meet today’s regulations. We are improving the back-of-house facilities for performers and technical staff.

Quicker bumping in and out and automated technical functions are essential because a faster changeover process will mean the Concert Hall can host more performances more often.

History

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 2000 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 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.

Our textured timber panels on the walls and box fronts will optimise the acoustics in the same way as the lumpy gilded caryatides, friezes, dentils and coffers in halls of earlier eras.

Acousticians Müller-BBM determined the optimum measurements (e.g. mass, angles and thicknesses) and we have designed panels (see inset) that meet those specifications and are sensitive to the existing interior design and conservation management plan.

We are introducing leaf-shaped acoustic reflectors above the stage. We have worked with theatre designers Schuler Shook and acousticians Müller-BBM to design and install prototype leaves, and with musicians from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to test them.

See what musicians and acousticians say about the new reflectors.

“It’s like playing with a whole new instrument.”

—Rosemary Curtin, Viola, Sydney Symphony Orchestra

Catherine Hewgill, Principal Cello, Sydney Symphony Orchestra

A new tunnel beneath the existing staircases creates a direct and accessible route
from the southern to northern foyer.

“Utzon made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology…a building that changed the image of an entire country.”

—Frank Gehry

We are elevating the Opera House to functional standards that befit the status of its architecture—standards that 1960s technologies could never meet.

We are very proud to be working on this project, and equally conscious of our responsibility to its heritage and to the Australian public. The World Heritage listing is at the forefront of all practical and creative decision making.

Our design work is reviewed regularly by the 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.

We also present regularly to the architectural and cultural community.