The Sydney Opera House is celebrating 50 years as Australia’s most famous building
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Sydney Opera House with its unique design resembling sails on a boat. Learn more about our most famous building
READING LEVEL: GREEN
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Sydney Opera House.
So let’s go back in time to remember how it came to be built in the shape of a boat’s sails and also behind the scenes to celebrate the building which is a favourite community meeting place, the nation’s busiest performing arts centre and a hugely popular tourist attraction.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
An international design competition was held in 1957 for an arts centre to be built on Bennelong Point, which was once home to Fort Macquarie (the fort to protect Sydneysiders was built in 1817 and knocked down in 1901).
There were 223 entries received from 28 countries. Danish architect* Jorn Utzon won the competition with his unique and eye-catching design of shells that looked like sails on a boat.
“We have returned again and again to the study of these drawings and are convinced that they present a concept of an Opera House which is capable of becoming one of the great buildings of the world,” the four judges wrote in their report.
BUILDING AN ICON
Construction* began on March 2, 1959 and quickly ran into trouble.
The ground was not suitable to hold the weight of the House and huge concrete foundations* had to be built.
Mr Uzton had also made some mathematical mistakes about how many columns would be needed to support the roof. During the early stages of the build, it became clear the concrete shells were at risk of collapsing, so the whole building had to be taken down. Mr Utzon then figured out a way to distribute* the weight of the concrete by making each giant shell out of a section of a perfect sphere*.
The 14 shells look like a single piece of concrete, but they are actually built across ribs of concrete to hold them in place. They weigh as much as 15 tonnes each.
This major correction saved the project but added 14 years to the build time.
Mr Utzon left the project in February 1966 before it was finished because the government was not paying his bills.
The Opera House was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in October 1973. Mr Utzon was not invited to the opening and his name was not mentioned.
The Queen did praise his design though, saying: “The Sydney Opera House has captured the imagination of the world, though I understand that its construction has not been totally without problems. The human spirit must sometimes take wings or sails, and create something that is not just utilitarian* or commonplace.”
Mr Utzon said her comments meant more to him than any professional award.
The original budget for the Sydney Opera House was $7 million but all the challenges led to a huge cost blowout*. The final cost was $102 million with the $95 million shortfall raised by starting the Australian National Lottery.
The building is the official home of eight celebrated Australian performing arts companies including Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
There are seven different performance venues — the Concert Hall, the Joan Sutherland Theatre, the Playhouse, Drama Theatre, The Studio, the Forecourt and the Utzon Room.
It also houses several restaurants and bars.
- At first glance, the roof of the building looks white, but it is actually a pattern composed of 1,056,006 tiles in two colours — matte* cream and glossy white.
- The exterior of the building is covered with pink granite panels from a quarry* in New South Wales.
- The highest roof point is 67m above sea-level – the same as a 22-storey high building.
- In 2007, the Opera House was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List*.
- More than 10 million people visit the Opera House every year and 1.4 million arts fans attend performances there.
- The Grand Organ in the Concert Hall took 10 years to build and is one of the world’s largest organs containing 10,000 pipes.
- Five new commemorative* 50c coins are being released in August 2023 by the Royal Australian Mint to mark the 50th anniversary. The collection has been designed to provide Australians with a special memento* of the Sydney Opera House’s milestone year.
The school holidays are a great time to visit Sydney Opera House. Paper Planet with Polyglot Theatre is playing across 23 September – 7 October. Inspired by the environment around us, Paper Planet is a fun and affordable show, designed for kids to learn more about climate change and sustainability by inviting them to help create a world they want to live in. Enter a world of gigantic cardboard trees and run wild to help create this ever-growing, hands-on installation using paper, sticky tape and your imagination. Visit sydneyoperahouse.com for more information and tickets.
- architect: a person who is qualified to design a building and to plan and supervise its build
- construction: the building of something
- distribute: share
- sphere: a round solid figure like a ball
- utilitarian: designed to be useful or practical rather than attractive
- cost blowout: when actual costs are greater than the expected costs
- matte: not glossy
- quarry: a large, deep pit, from which stone or other materials are taken out
- UNESCO’s World Heritage List: places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity
- commemorative: acting as a memorial of an event or person
- memento: something to help remind you of something
1. Who designed the Sydney Opera House and which country was he from?
2. How many tiles are on the Opera House?
3. What two challenges did the early construction encounter?
4. How many sails does it have and what are they made from?
5. What was the final cost to build the Opera House?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Make a list
List all of the reasons why you think the Sydney Opera House was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, History, Visual Arts
Can you think of something or someone else that should be commemorated on a special 50-cent coin? Write a convincing paragraph explaining your choice. Then create a design for both sides of your coin. Don’t forget to check and include the features that go on all of our coins.
Time: allow 60 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Visual Communication Design
1. Wow word recycle
There are plenty of wow words (ambitious pieces of vocabulary) being used in the article. Some are in the glossary, but there might be extra ones from the article that you think are exceptional as well.
Identify all the words in the article that you think are not common words, and particularly good choices for the writer to have chosen.
Select three words you have highlighted to recycle into your own sentences.
If any of the words you identified are not in the glossary, write up your own glossary for them.