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It was Eugene Goossens, Director of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, who first lobbied the government in the 1940s for a new venue that could handle large performances. Joseph Cahill opened discussion for a Sydney opera house when he became Premier of NSW in 1954. Goossens wanted the new theatre to be near Wynyard Train Station in the middle of the Sydney CBD, but town planners Rosette Edmunds and Sidney Luker convinced him that Bennelong Point would be the best location.
Danish architect Jørn Utzon explained his design, saying: “Instead of making a square form, I have made a sculpture…you never get tired, you will never be finished with it when you pass around it or see it against the sky. It is as if something new goes on all the time and it is so important – this interplay is so important that together with the sun, the light and the clouds, it makes it a living thing.”
The exterior is covered in 1,056,006 glazed white granite tiles produced by Hoganas, a Swedish company. The sails undergo regular checks every five years. The tallest of the sails reaches 67m into the air – half the height of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
When Utzon was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2003, the highest architectural honour in the world, the Sydney Opera House was lauded as “one of the great iconic buildings of the 20th century, an image of great beauty that has become known throughout the world — a symbol for not only a city, but a whole country and continent.”
As the costs for the construction of the icon climbed (the planned budget of $7 million blew out to $102 million), an Opera House Lottery was established. Beginning in 1957, tickets cost £5 each with a first prize of approximately £100,000. Over the span of 867 drawings, they raised over $100 million towards the construction cost.
The Sydney Opera House has 2194 different roof sections, held together by 350km of tensioned steel cable. The building as a whole used over 645km of electric cable and 6225 sq. m. of glass, which was specially made in France.
Richard Weston, a professor of architecture at the University of Cardiff, called the sails “the most alive surfaces in architecture, by turns flaring with diamonds of light; sheer dazzling white in full sun, pearlescent in shadow; or glowing cream, pink or ochre as they return the ambient light.”
With 2500 shows performed annually across seven different performance spaces, the building is always filled with musicians, actors, dancers, speakers and staff moving in all directions.
A tunnel is being dug out underneath the forecourt to allow 24-hour access for trade vehicles. This construction, overseen by the Sydney Opera House Trust, is one part of ongoing work to honour the aims, importance and grandeur of the building.
In a letter written to the Sydney Opera House to mark its 40th anniversary, Utzon’s son Jan says, “Wherever your name is mentioned you bring smiles to people’s eyes. You have housed and nourished artists of every kind. You have been and continue to be a global inspiration. We all have so much to thank you for. We shall look after you, care for you and make your feathers shine for the world to see and admire. We look forward to celebrating you for decades to come, and to see where you will take us in the future.”
Home Topics History & Culture Gallery: The Sydney Opera House
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