The Opera House is one of the world’s greatest buildings. It is World Heritage listed and an internationally famous symbol of modern Australia.
“The Opera House is a World-Heritage masterpiece of human creative genius,”
—Louise Herron, CEO, Sydney Opera House
In 2015, ARM was given the enormous responsibility and privilege of upgrading the iconic Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall. The project called for modifications that were sensitive and respectful of the World Heritage Listed building, whilst elevating the acoustics, accessibility and functionality to a world-class standard. Our overarching aim was to upgrade the Concert Hall interior to match the brilliance of Jorn Utzon’s exterior and Peter Hall’s interior.
The Sydney Opera House (SOH) is one of the world’s most recognisable buildings and a symbol of all the achievements and insecurities that define modern Australia.
Our initial approach to the SOH project was to immerse ourselves in a study of both Jørn Utzon’s original design for the iconic building and Peter Hall’s subsequent completion of it. On hand we had the Utzon Design Principles and an array of books on the history of the design. Perhaps most valuable to us was a pre-publication version of Dr Anne Watson’s The Poisoned Chalice: Peter Hall and the Sydney Opera House, which details Peter Hall’s work and pays long overdue recognition. Our work was directly interacting with Hall’s interiors.
While the Sydney Opera House is World Heritage Listed and one of the world’s most famous buildings, its Concert Hall was widely regarded to be compromised, technically and acoustically.
Designed 60+ years ago, the hall was fitted with ageing theatre technology and presented difficulties for contemporary stage crews. Several 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 having recently completed the sensitive rejuvenation of Melbourne’s Hamer Hall and the heritage icon, The 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 of 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.
“It’s like playing with a whole new instrument.”
—Rosemary Curtin, Viola, Sydney Symphony Orchestra
ARM as the principal design consultant, with an expert consultant team including Müller-BBM, Arup, Steensen Varming, Warren Smith & Partners, Theatreplan UK and Schuler Shook. We 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, completed the complex construction works in a very constricted timeframe of 2.5 years.
ARM wishes 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 Sydney Opera House Concert Hall.
In 2023, the project was recognised with the Emil Sodersten Award for Interior Architecture, the Lachlan Macquarie Award for Heritage Architecture, the NSW Architecture Medallion, the John Verge Award for Interior Architecture and the Greenaway Award for Heritage Architecture at both the AIA NSW Architecture Awards and the AIA National Architecture Awards.
“Utzon made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology…a building that changed the image of an entire country.”
“ARM Architecture has managed to perform the most flattering of facelifts for this grand dame. “The House” feels ready for its next 50 years..”
—Jury Citation – Emil Sodersten Award
“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