ARM is proud to have been presented with the NSW Architecture Medallion, the John Verge Award for Interior Architecture and the Greenway Award for Heritage Architecture at the NSW Architecture Awards and is humbled that our peers have considered the project so worthy. The Sydney Opera House is such a sacred talisman for Australia, a symbol of all the achievements and insecurities that make up modern Australian consciousness. We were a little daunted to be given the huge responsibility to repair, to rejuvenate such an icon. ARM have long been dedicated to architecture as a specialist body of cultural knowledge and craft – not a service industry – and we study and learn from architects before us. Our approach to the SOH project was founded in studying Utzon’s original design but also Peter Hall’s remarkable completion. We had the Utzon Design Principles and the array of books on the history of the design but also a prepublication version of Dr Anne Watson’s “The Poisoned Chalice: Peter Hall and the Sydney Opera House”, giving detail of Peter Hall’s work, and long overdue recognition. Our work was directly interacting with Hall’s interiors.

The reconstructed stage and wings. Image: Martin Mischkulnig.

The Sydney Opera House is world heritage listed and one of the most famous buildings internationally, but for many years it was recognised that for performers and audiences, the Concert Hall provided a compromised experience, technically and acoustically.

Designed 60+ years ago, the hall had end-of-life theatre technology and difficulties for contemporary stage crews. A number of front-of-house areas had very poor accessibility with some levels impossible for mobility restricted patrons. In 2012 the SOH management announced that it would undertake a ‘Decade of Renewal’ leading up to the building’s 50th anniversary.

ARM came to the SOH project after completing the sensitive rejuvenation of Melbourne’s Hamer Hall and the heritage icon Shrine of Remembrance. The SOH job was to fix the shortcomings and convert the mid-century Concert Hall into an uber-flexible 21st century venue, suited to the full panorama that comprise contemporary performances and events.

The project included:

– Complete Acoustic reconstruction and enhancement: new over-stage retractable/variable reflectors, acoustic diffusing box fronts, operable in-wall reflecting shelves and fully automated acoustic drapes that quickly transform the auditorium from ‘acoustic’ mode to ‘amplified’ mode. The new acoustic reflectors comprising 18 new petal-shaped reflectors are finished in a magenta colour that references the original seat fabric introduced by Peter Hall. These new reflectors provide direct and early reflections to the musicians on stage and the choir, while also pushing the acoustic energy out into the auditorium

– Wing redesign and rebuilt Stage, adding automated stage risers for orchestral layout: expanding the size of both thereby increasing access for crews and performers. The stage itself was lowered by 400mm and completely rebuilt with the introduction of the automated risers. This allows the ideal ‘horseshoe’ tiered risers for the orchestra to be automatically deployed at the touch of a button.

– New theatre machinery and flying equipment over stage providing state-of-the-art capacity for quick changeover and extensive variety of performance types.

– Access to all foyer levels via a new passageway cut through the eastern foyer staircase, leading to a new lift connecting entry, northern foyer, circle and upper circle. The new passageway and lift in the Northern Foyer transform the visitor experience for people with restricted mobility. The new pathways allow direct access to all where previously you had to climb 50 risers in two flights of stairs. This provides equality in access to one of the most picturesque spots in the SOH with fantastic views over the Harbour.

New acoustic petals and operable wall reflectors. Image: Martin Mischkulnig.


New operable wall reflectors. Image: Martin Mischkulnig.

ARM as the principal consultant, with an expert consultant team including Müller-BBM, Arup, Steensen Varming, Warren Smith & Partners, Theatreplan UK and Schuler Shook, worked with SOH staff and the Sydney Symphony to establish the user needs and resolve the complex technical challenges, all within a $150m budget. The Contractor, Taylor and the team undertook the complex construction works in a very constricted timeframe of 2½ years.

ARM wish to thank the management and staff of the Sydney Opera House and to congratulate all those involved in this transformative project. We are so very proud to have been involved in the rebirth of the Concert Hall.

The subtle rhythms and melodies of the new works visually resonate with the historic space whilst expanding the sensory experience and enjoyment of the visitor. Respecting and honouring the work of both Jørn Utzon and Peter Hall, ARM’s works have achieved the previously unimaginable – the addition of a recognisable third design voice, in perfect harmony.

Jury Citation – NSW Architecture Medallion

New accessible passageway. Image: Martin Mischkulnig.

The renewed Concert Hall. Image: Martin Mischkulnig.