Celebrating a Milestone – Sydney Opera House Reopens

After five years of design and two years of construction, ARM is delighted to announce the reopening of the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall.

“We’re excited and relieved to see this wonderful and important project come to fruition.”
– Mark Raggatt, ARM Sydney Director.

In 2015, ARM was given the enormous responsibility and privilege of upgrading the iconic building’s Concert Hall. The project called for modifications that were sensitive and respectful of the heritage building, whilst elevating the acoustics to a world-class standard. Our overarching aim was to upgrade the Concert Hall interior and acoustics to match the brilliance of Jorn Utzon’s exterior and Peter Hall’s interior.

ARM Principal Andrew Hayne describes the three principal goals for the project.

“First and foremost, the goal was to improve the acoustics of the Concert Hall. Second, was to improve the functionality of the room itself, to be able to cater for different types of performances and make the changeovers between different types of performance less human-dependent and more automated. And the third was making it more accessible for people – because it was obviously built in a different era when accessibility wasn’t front of mind.”

To improve the acoustics in the Concert Hall, adjustments were required for both the audience members and the musicians on stage. With our acoustic consultants Müller BBM, ARM designed a series of acoustic ‘petals’ suspended over the stage to reflect sound in different directions and highly textured wall panels that are tactile, beautiful and most importantly disperse sound evenly throughout the Concert Hall.

Acoustic diffusion panels. Image: Daniel Boud.

“There are 12 acoustic petals immediately over the orchestra that are there specifically for the musicians themselves, to reflect that early energy back to them so they can hear each other and themselves… and then there are four larger ones at the front which will be angled out towards the audience, and their role is very much to push that acoustic energy up and to the very far reaches of the hall. There are also two at the southern end which are designed to reflect energy to the choir.

The stage has been lowered by 40 centimeters, greatly improving sightlines for everyone sitting in the stalls as well as aiding projection of the sound. New automatic risers on the stage for musicians are not only about making it quick to set up, but it is absolutely an acoustic improvement as well. The musicians will be tiered properly so different sections of the orchestra can hear each other better.”

Installation of acoustic petals. Image: Anna Kucera.

New automated stage risers. Image: Daniel Boud.

Following the reopening of the Concert Hall in July, the reviews of the new acoustics have exceeded expectations.

“The sound in the newly-refurbished Opera House Concert Hall is immaculately clear, subtly astringent with fine layering, keen edge and polished textural detail. If it was a wine, it would be Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, lemony, unwooded and very expensive.” – Peter McCallum, The Sydney Morning Herald

“We don’t feel like we’re coming into a refurbished hall, it feels and plays on the stage like a new hall.” – Simone Young, Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra

“Musicians across the world dream of playing here but all too often the experience has fallen short of expectations — with this upgrade we have corrected that imbalance.” Louise Herron, Sydney Opera House CEO

“Better than we dared imagine… You can hear every minute detail now, every nuance – right up to the back row, everything pings through. It’s a miracle.” – Andrew Haveron, Sydney Symphony Orchestra concertmaster

“The Concert Hall has been overhauled so that the interior can match the glory of the exterior.” – Hugh Robertson, Limelight Magazine

“It’s the first time I have been able to hear myself in this room. It’s the first time I have been able to hear other sections of the orchestra.” – Sydney Symphony Orchestra Musician.

In addition to the acoustics, ARM upgraded the accessibility of the building, to allow every audience member an equitable experience. A new lift has been installed in the northern foyer, along with a new passage that links to the southern foyer, which will greatly improve access for people, particularly the elderly and the less mobile. The location of the passage aligned with Utzon’s original intent, as Hayne describes, “I have been to plenty of concerts here and watched the elderly struggle up those stairs. The fact that Utzon had a concept for a passageway meant that there was something we could latch onto as an idea.”

New passageway with improved accessibility. Image: Daniel Boud.



Sydney Opera House 1973. Image: Alan Gilbert Purcell/Fairfax Media.

Rewarding scenes from the reopening of the Concert Hall at Sydney Opera House after seven years of refurbishment for ARM Architecture. Image: ARM Architecture.
Watch a time-lapse of the Concert Hall construction.