Sydney Opera House: Building an Icon

it's one of the most recognizable

buildings in the world positioned on the

water's edge and overlooking the famous

harbour Sydney Opera House is an iconic

structure that is synonymous with

Australia though it now appears to float

effortlessly on the water this landmark


took some extreme engineering and over a

decade of construction works to become a


this is the story of how Sydney Opera

House was built

in 1955 when the New South Wales

Conservatorium of music outgrew their

home at Sydney Town Hall premier Joseph

Carr Hill launched an international

design competition for a dedicated Opera


after reviewing 233 entries from

architects in 32 countries the judges

declared Danish architect John Hudson as

the winner of the competition in 1957

despite his entry comprising largely of

diagrammatic drawings and simple



following his win hudson proceeded to

refine the building plans however in

order to capitalize on strong public

support for the project at that time and

to ensure its funding the New South

Wales government pushed her work to

begin early in 1959 before the scheme's

design had been finalized

with an initial budget of seven million

Australian dollars and an expected

completion date of January 1963 the push

to begin construction without a

finalized design and before solving

crucial structural design challenges

caused the project to be delivered ten

years behind schedule and more than 14

times over budgets its final cost was a

hundred and two million Australian

dollars which is equivalent to nine

hundred and twenty seven million

Australian dollars today the

construction of Sydney Opera House was

planned in three distinct stages the

first would consist of the structures

podium the second would see formation of

the iconic outer shells and the final

stage would focus on internal fit-out of

the concert halls and other open spaces

in March 1959 construction began on some

588 concrete piers to support the 1.8

hectare building

by 1961 the project was already facing

significant delays and work was more

than 47 weeks behind schedule partly due

to inclement weather but mostly due to

the lack of completed proposals to give

just one example of the impact this had

the support columns for the building's

roof were installed before the roof

itself had been designed when the full

extent of the roof structure was

determined and finalized the columns

proved too weak to support it resulting

in all of them being taken out and



construction of the sail-like structure

that gives the Opera House its iconic

shape made up the bulk of the project

second phase

while all the shelves of Hudson's design

were a key part of his winning

submission no one at the time knew of a

cost-effective way to construct these

large non repetitive forms in effort to

find an economical solution the roof was

redesigned at least 12 times the project

was one of the first to use computers to

run structural analysis on the designs

allowing the product team to understand

the complex forces that the roof shelves

would be subjected to eventually a

solution was reached that would see the

curved roof shells cast as sections of a

single sphere while the individual

responsible for this breakthrough

remains unconfirmed it is rumored that

Utz and himself came up with the

solution while peeling an orange by

treating each shell as sections of one

sphere arches of varying lengths were

able to be cast in a common mold in

total more than 2400 precast ribs and

4,000 roof panels were manufactured this

way in an on-site factory avoiding the

need to cast the shells in situ and the

high formwork costs this would have

entailed once installed the roof

structure was finished with more than a

million white and cream tiles giving it

the appearance we see today


as works progressed but soon relocated

his office to Sydney in 1963 however

when the government changed just two

years later the project was placed under

the jurisdiction of the Ministry of

Public Works the new government had long

been outspoken critics of the projects

and tensions around its delivery

steadily began to grow following several

threats of resignation but soon finally

left the project in February 1966 with

more than a hundred thousand Australian

dollars owed to him in unpaid fees

despite public outrage and protests in

Sydney demanding that he be reinstated

as lead architect Hudson left Australia

never to return or see his project

completed departing before the internal

fit-out began several changes to us

since initial designs were undertaken

the multi-purpose major hall which was

to host both concerts and opera became

solely a concert venue while opera and

ballet productions were planned to take

place in the minor hall which became

known as the Opera Theatre until its

renaming as the Joan Sutherland hall

some years later Hudson's original

acoustic and seating proposals for the

major hall were considered insufficient

and led to a redesign which still caused

acoustic problems for performers and

orchestras on completion

after 14 years of construction Sydney

Opera House was officially opened by

Queen Elizabeth the second on the 20th

of October 1973 in a televised event

that featured fireworks and a

performance of Beethoven's Symphony

number nine


goodsoon was not present at the opening

nor mentioned during the ceremony and it

wasn't until the 1990s that the Sydney

Opera House trust appointed him as a

design consultant for future works on

the building Hudson was awarded

architectures highest honor the Pritzker

Prize in 2003 and works to rectify the

building's interior have been ongoing

since 2004 works on the Joan Sutherland

theater began in 2017 and the concert

hall will undergo renovation between

2020 and 2021 despite these ongoing

works and the years of engineering

professional and logistical challenges

to bring the structure into existence

Sydney Opera House is now synonymous

with the city that surrounds it and has

become an enduring symbol of the

Australian nation

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