The Sydney Opera House is the symbol of Australia, just as the Eiffel Tower is the one of France. It was one of the candidates for the New 7 Wonders contest and has recently been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO , the only monument whose architect was alive at the time of the designation. Its creator, the laureated Danish architect Jørn Utzon, received the 2003 Pritzker Architecture Prize. But, most importantly, the Sydney Opera House is a masterpiece of architecture, engineering and acoustics at the service of music that has transcended to become the iconic symbol of a nation.
The Opera House is located north and south on a peninsula called Bennelong Point (Bennelong was the first native who learned English and this is where his home was built in 1790).It is a privileged place at the entrance of the bay of Sydney and that is why in 1817 this place a fort was erected, called Fort Macquarie.
Over time, a tram station was built on which lasted this area until 1955, when it was demolished to make way to the opera. The peninsula can be seen from all angles, from the sea and from the Royal Botanical Gardens at his back, while enjoying spectacular views from the Harbour Bridge .
Location of the Opera, located north to south at Bennilong Point peninsula. The Harbour Bridge is located to the east and Circular Quay to the south.
See location on Goople Maps
See location on Goople Maps
The famous English director and composer Eugene Goossens arrived in Sydney in 1946 to lead the Symphony Orchestra of that city and he was the one who inspired the idea of building a specialized building for the implementation of opera. Unfortunately he detached from Australia in 1956 because of a sex scandal, Goossens sow the initiative which resulted in an international architectural competition in December of that year. The renown Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, one of the members of the jury (who arrived late to the event), did recheck some projects that had already been discarded by other judges, and when he saw the almost diagrammatic schemes of the young Danish architect Utzon, he exclaimed: "Gentlemen, here is the opera we are looking for. "
Before being an architect Utzon had been a sailor and the shape of the sails would be a major influence in its design. But Utzon was not an improvised beginner. He studied in detail the shape of the Bennelong Point peninsula, and knew that the building would become a visual landmark built upon it. He found many similarities with the prominent location of the castle of Kronborg in his native Denmark and to highlight his proposal he used a podium steps, inspired by Mexican ruins of Monte Alban .
The proposal was then based on a series of parabolic shells that were united in a common axis and that covered three buildings, arranged on a platform or podium. The progression of the domes gives the complex great drama and sculptural character, appearing in the distance as floating above the sea. It is actually a group of buildings inside other buildings. The curved shapes that are seen from the bay do not correspond to the ceiling the audience sees inside the opera, since both roofs serve different purposes.
Model made by Utzon showing the two types of roof, the exterior one made out of concrete and the interior for acoustic purposes.
The building consists of three main bodies: the Concert Hall, the Opera House and the Bennelong Restaurant. They contain a Drama Theatre, a music room and a studio, which together have a capacity of 7,000 spectators. Among its 800 rooms, there are 5practice studios, 60 changing rooms, 5 restaurants, souvenir shops, etc.
But there was a problem. When selecting the winning proposal the jury had no idea how to execute the project. Therefore, after a few months Utzon made a more detailed porposal with the support of Ove Arup in structural design and Vilhem Jordan in acoustic design. To advance with the execution of the work it was decided to carry it out in three stages: the base, the roofs and the interiors. That is, the architects would work on design of the roof, while the foundation and the podium were under construction.
PHASE I: THE BASE
The podium, with an area of 1.8 hectares is developed in two platforms, at 8 and 15 m above sea level. In fact, it is a very interesting experience to walk to the opera from Circular Quay and find with this series of steps that gives a processional, definitely monumental character to the approach to building.
After demolishing the Fort Macquarie, the works of foundations began. Unfortunately Bennelong Point was not as stable as previously thought, so more than 500 concrete poles had to be embedded, while water dammed and pumped out, which significantly increased the costs.
PHASE II: THE COVERINGS
For two years the designers were experimenting with several alternatives for the concrete roofs. The original idea of the parabolic surface was dangerous, because if one collapsed, the others would follow. Utzon also discarded the idea of a metal structure with disguised below cement panels, because it took away honesty from the original project. Working with concrete arches would have give resistance, but to a huge cost because the geometry of the parabola or ellipsoid was irregular and would have had to different sections for each part of the roof.
Utzon finally devised an ingenious solution: spherical sections would be used instead of ellipsoidal ones, which greatly facilitated their fabrication. The covers would be made by using "ribs" of a sphere of radius 75 m. These ribs were independent and would not collapse integrally if one of them failed.
The ribs were joined with epoxy resin forming arches that were arranged radially like a fan, starting from a pedestal at the base.Once assembled, steel cables would be post-tensed from the base to the top. However, this meant an expensive modification of the podium, which was intended to support just a thin shell of concrete and not a series of much more massive arches.
The roof is composed of 10 shells that support each other in three groups. Thus, the A group is composed of four shells supporting each other. The first to be built were the 2nd and 3rd, and then 1st to 4th were supported by them. Thus, the group A is structurally independent from the other groups in the roof and it is supported in six points.
Construction of the domes of Group A. The shell 1 and 4 are based on 2 and 3 respectively. The group rests on three points on each side
Later the group B was built starting by the 6th shell, which is based on the 5th to 7th cover. Note that while the 5th looks as introduced under the 4th cover, in reality both correspond to separate structural groups. Both the group B as C are supported on four points respectively.
Subsequently the roof was covered with two types of mosaic, one glossy white and the other beige mate, so that building would shine under the sun shines but it would not become a blinding. A million pieces of pottery were manufactured in Sweden and pre assembled in modules before being placed on the cover. This effect appears to give the building a smooth surface while observing it from afar and a texture while approaching to it.
Regarding the glass facades, as can be seen in the original proposal, Utzon had initially thought to give rise to large vertical screens, stressing the importance of the covers. However, later it was decided to increase the drama of the building by proposing a facade composed of metal structures, forming two conical sections that opposes the direction of the slope of the domes.
The glass screens help the external formal structure of the building, while internally promote a sense of smooth visual communication between the interior and exterior.
Two views from the foyer, showing the interior visual relationship with the external environment Photo C. Zeballos
PHASE 3: THE INTERIOR
When the domes were completed, the project had far exceeded the time and money originally budgeted for the construction works. In 1965, David Hughes took over the Ministry of Public Affairs and he began questioning Utzon's work, demanding the complete delivery of the project’s blueprints. Given the innovative nature of the project, Utzon had always worked in a more open and flexible way, in order to facilitate experimentation. But now, due to Hughes demands, Utzon had to pass each plan through the bureaucratic censorship of a politician. Seeing his involvement restricted to the role of a mere "designer", subordinate to the power of executive architects, without any authority in the decision process and suffering the lack of payment, Utzon resigned from his participation in the construction of the Opera.
While thousands took to the streets calling for Utzon to take charge again, Hughes was quick to appoint local substitutes. Because of that mistreatment, Jørn Utzon has not since returned to Australia to see his masterpiece, until his recent death. Peter Hall took out the development of the interiors of the work, changing some of the concepts of Utzon, especially in the opera hall, expanding the galleries and changing the of the ceiling of the concert hall’s original shape.
The building was inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II in October 1973, 16 years after having started and at a final cost of $ 102 million. In official speeches the name of Jørn Utzon was not mentioned at all.
However in 1999 a number of design principles for the future of opera were entrusted to an 81 years-old Utzon. "It's good to think about the future of opera rather than its past," said the architect. Today Jan, Utzon’s son, also an architect, continues to be linked to the project. In fact, ine of the rooms recently refurbished is named Utzon Room, and contains a tapestry designed by him, representing his feelings when listening to music.
CRITICISM AND PRAISE
Frank L.Wright used to say that "this circus tent is not architecture," while some have compared the shape of the opera with crawling monsters or with an “orgy of turtles”. However, there have been much more praise tan criticism. Frank Gehry calls it "an epic piece of architecture in our time" and Louis Kahn said of the opera that "the sun never knew how beautiful was its own light until it landed on this building." The opera was considered Cultural Heritage of Australia and Denmark, before it was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on June 28, 2007.
A MUSICAL EXPERIENCE
And here I am, small, open-mouthed and overwhelmed by this formidable giant. The Sydney Symphony performance explodes into thousands of notes and multiplies in the air without the need of any electronic amplification equipment. Tchaicovsky’s vivid melodies, Utzon’s fertile creativity and the enormous technical deployment of engineers and builders behind the construction of this monument have found their momentum in this instant: a sublime sound.
Lighting of the Opera against global warming. During my visit Australia suffered a widespread water scarce.Via Inhabitat .