Iconic Roofs: Sydney Opera House

October 29 2019 0comment

Iconic Roofs: Sydney Opera House

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This week’s entry to the Iconic Roofs series focuses on what is perhaps the most iconic roof of them all – Sydney Opera House. Certainly one of the most recognisable buildings of the modern world, Sydney Opera House has stood in place since construction began in 1959. The world-famous opera house is known for the distinctive shell-shaped panels which top its great halls and rooms.

Notre Dame

Figure 1 - Sydney Opera House at night

The Sydney Opera House’s design was selected in 1956 via a competition won by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, who was selected as chief architect until his resignation in 1966. Utzon departed Australia and didn’t come back to see his project take shape, but he was later appointed as a design consultant for future works by the Sydney Opera House Trust. Initial projections for the cost and duration of the construction works put the price at 7m Australian dollars and expected four years of work. These guesses were wildly incorrect – the building actually cost 102m dollars and took 14 years to build. The building’s first ever performance came during this time, when American singer Paul Robeson climbed the scaffolding and sang to the construction workers while they ate their lunch.

Roughly 10,000 construction workers were needed to build the Sydney Opera House – a considerable number! The workforce was required to be so large not only because of the scale of the construction site, but also because there were so many materials involved. Over one million roof tiles cover the structure. 2,194 sections make up the ‘shells’ on the roof and weigh up to 15 tons each, being held together by 350km of tensioned steel cable. The building itself is 185 metres long and 120 metres wide, requiring hundreds of metres of wind resistant demarcation while rooftop construction work was done. The building itself contains 6,225m2 of custom-made French glass and 645 kilometres of electric cable. There are 1000 rooms in total in the Sydney Opera House, which speaks magnitudes of how vast the premises are.

There have been plenty of big events at the Sydney Opera House. Renowned bodybuilder and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger won his final Mr Olympia title in the Concert Hall in the 1980 competition, and the grounds he played a part in several Olympic events in the summer of 2000. The Queen herself opened the opera house in 1973 and awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of Architects Australia to Jorn Utzon, however the architect was not present to receive it. Her Majesty has visited the site four times since.

The Opera House is cooled using seawater taken directly from the harbour itself. 15,500 lightbulbs are changed every year. When the Sydney Symphony Orchestra plays on stage, the room is kept at 22.5 degrees to ensure that all instruments remain in tune. Final fact: Above the orchestra pit hangs a net installed after a live chicken walked off the stage and landed on a cellist.

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