The Architecture of the Sydney Opera House

The one building everybody associates with Australia, the Sydney Opera House (Bennelong Point, tel. 02/9250-7250, daily 9am-5pm, tours adult $35, child $24.50, family $90), was inscribed in the World Heritage List in June 2007 with the comments: “Sydney Opera House is a great architectural work of the 20th century. It represents multiple strands of creativity, both in architectural form and structural design, a great urban sculpture carefully set in a remarkable waterscape and a world-famous iconic building.”

The Sydney Opera House, lit up for Vivid Sydney, 2014.

The Sydney Opera House, lit up for Vivid Sydney, 2014. Photo © chaiwat leelakajonkij/123rf.

Probably one of the most recognizable buildings in the world, the opera house is made up of two sets of three sail-shaped roofs facing the harbor and smaller ones facing the city. White tiles give it an ability to shimmer in different colors according to the angle of the sunlight and time of day, and also make it a perfect canvas for the annual Festival of Lights, which projects shapes and colors onto the roof. Although mostly likened to white sailboats due to its location by the water, the roof shapes have also been likened to shells and opening lotus leaves.

White tiles give it an ability to shimmer in different colors according to the angle of the sunlight and time of day.It was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, whose design was nearly too ambitious for the times, with many redesigns necessary before the unique structure could be realized. Utzon resigned due to quarrels over design, schedules, and costs before he could see the entire project through. He was not in attendance for the grand opening in 1973, but he was rehired in 1999 to develop a set of design principles to act as a guide for all future changes to the building. The building is still a stunning example of the impossible possibilities of architecture, and it is a record-breaking accumulation of statistics: It cost $102 million to build (between 1957 and 1973), over one million tiles shimmer on the roof, some 1,000 rooms play host to 3,000 annual events watched by two million people, plus 200,000 tourists visit the opera house each year.

Several guided one-hour tours are offered daily 9am-5pm in various languages, and at noon there’s one for visitors with limited mobility.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef.

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