Reviewing The Research To The Sydney Opera House Construction Essay

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The following assignment will endeavour to present research done on the construction of the Sydney Opera House. The research will be broken down and discussed under five main headings:

Project Overview/Background - giving the overall facts from the events leading up to the construction of the opera house.

Project Team/Stakeholders - this section of the assignment will outline the various stakeholders which influenced the project and their relationship to one another.

Construction - this section presents the facts from the construction of the Sydney Opera House, and is subdivided further into three parts in line with the actual construction of the Sydney Opera House (stages 1, 2, and 3).

Project Costs - a breakdown of the financial cost of the construction of Sydney Opera House and the cost of construction projects to upgrade the Opera House after its opening in 1973 will be represented by two bar charts and one pie chart.

Executive Summary - this section summarises the financial legacy of the Sydney Opera House.

Conclusion - A conclusion will be made based on the facts presented in the executive summary section of this assignment and also on the overall story of the Sydney Opera House.

Figure 1. Jorn Utzon gives a press conference (1963).

Project Overview / Background

During the years preceding 1957, the city of Sydney, Australia had no main music/cultural venue. After his appointment as Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, in 1947, Sir Eugene Goosens told reporters about his plans for the creation of a hall suitable for opera as well as orchestral performances. However, there was no movement on the issue, until 1954 when the Australian premier of the day, Joseph Cahill, set up a committee to raise funds for the project. A competition was launched to see who would design the building, which would encompass a structure that contained two theatres within it, - a symphony concert hall capable of seating three to five thousand people and a smaller hall for drama, chamber and music recitals, and capable of seating up to twelve hundred people.

After two hundred and thirty three entries, Jorn Utzon, a thirty eight year old Danish Architect, unexpectedly won the competition. Although he had won architectural competitions previously, it was his first non domestic project. Utzon designed a building that when built would make an iconic architectural statement, a one off and completely original, giving the appearance of distinctive white sales. It was considered genius by the judges (Sir Leslie Martin, Professor of Architecture Cambridge University, and Eero Saarinen, American architect), as nothing like it had been designed before.

Cahill's government was so eager to commence the project that they arranged for the engineers, Ove Arup and Partners, to put out tenders for the podiums, without adequate working drawings. When construction actually began in 1959, Utzon was still working on the final plans. The construction of this project would represent major problems, as it was still unknown whether the design was structurally feasible. The Australian government would also heap further pressure on the project by changing requirements for the building after construction had commenced. The government required that the design be altered to incorporate four theatres into the design, which would eventually and more recently become five. Government fundraising was done through Opera House lotteries, to meet the original estimate of seven million dollars, which it was thought would be enough to bring this iconic building to completion. This sum was to be outrageously exceeded along with the original project time frame of four years, which will be discussed during the course of this assignment. A 5.5 acre site, which was previously used as an unsightly tram storage barn and which juts northward into Sydney Harbours port Jackson, was allocated for what would become Australia's most famous structure (Sydney Opera House Construction 2010).

Project Team / Stakeholders

For any project to be considered successful, the project must meet all the stakeholder expectations. All the important decisions during the initiating, planning and executive stages are made by these stakeholders. Stakeholders in any large project would include:

The project customer - person or group whose needs and requirements drive the project and provides the necessary funding for the project.

The project leader - head of the project, designs, plans, controls and leads the project.

The sponsor - oversees the project, acts as liaison between the various management teams and the project leader, and maintains project priority.

Project team members - participate in the project management process, contribute skills and effort as required.

The main individuals and organisations actively involved in the construction of the Sydney Opera House were as follows:

Project Stakeholders


Australian Government

New South Wales (NSW)

Project Team Members

Sydney Opera House

Executive Committee


Project Team Members

Public Works

Department (PWD)

Project Sponsor/Team member

Ove Arup & Partners

Main Engineering Contractor

Project Leader

Utzon and his Architectural & Design team

Project Leaders

Hall, Todd & Littlemore

Architectural Consortium replaced Utzon (1966)

Project Team Members

Building Contractor

Hornibrook Ltd.

Project Team Members

Various Consultants

Australian government NSW (New South Wales) were the project customer/sponsors and hence the main stakeholder in the project. The construction of the Opera House would take ten additional years than originally forecast, and there would many political changes during this time. These politicians would view and influence the projects construction in different ways. They would include:

Joe Cahill - NSW Labour Premier 1952 - 1959.

Robert J Hefron - NSW Labour Premier 1959 - 1964.

John B Renshaw - NSW Labour Premier 1964 - 1965.

Norman Ryan - Labour Minister of Public Works 1959 - 1965.

Robert J Askin - NSW Liberal Premier 1965 -1975.

Davis Hughes - Liberal Minister of Public Works 1965 - 1975.

Robert Carr - NSW Labour Premier 1995.

Ove Arup and Partners were the engineering firm employed as the main project overseers and coordinators (1959-1973).

Jorn Utzon the project leader (1959-1966), employed a large architectural team, which included the architects Hall Todd and Littlemore who would later replace him.

Hall Todd and Littlemore replaced Utzon as project leader after his resignation in 1966.

The Sydney Opera House Executive Commitee (SOHEC) which included representatives from Sydney University, Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO).

The Contractor Dundas Corbet Gore - Director of Construction, Hornibrook Limited.

The Consultants employed during the opera houses construction included the following:

Rider Hunt and Partners - Quantity Surveyors. Villhelm Lassen Jordon - acoustics (Denmark). Lothar Cremer, Werner Gabler - Accoustics (Berlin).

Balslev and Partners, Julius Poole and Gibson - Electrical Services Engineering.

Steenson and Varming - Mechanical Services.

The Public Works Department employed three main architects during the period of construction who were each involved during the construction by representing the governments interests. They included:

Cobden Parks (during the competition period 1935 - 1958), Ted Farmer (successor to Parks 1958 - 1973) and Bill Wood liaison architect. (The Saga of the Sydney Opera House 2010).


After the initial conception of the Sydney Opera House the original time frame given to the project would be four years. The construction of the Sydney Opera House would in actual fact take fourteen years to complete. These fourteen years would encompass three stages:

Stage 1 - Construction of the podium.

Stage 2 - Construction of the roof.

Stage 3 - Interiors.

Stage 1

Despite reservations from Utzon construction begin in March 1959. Ove Arup and partners acting on behalf of the Australian government, as the main contractor, employed the construction company Civil and Civic to deliver stage one of the construction project, the podium. The early start to the project, which was forced upon Utzon would have consequences, even at this early stage. The podium columns would prove too weak to support the roof structure, as the method of construction for the roof was yet to be conceived and mastered. It would in fact take until February 1963 to complete this problematic first stage of construction, with projected costs now rising to $29.5 million.

Figure 2. An aerial view of Sydney Harbours Port Jackson, during the early stages of construction.

Stage 2

Utzon's early design for the roof incorporated the idea of using a plane curve formed by the intersection of a right circular cone and a plane parallel to an element of the curve (Web definition of a parabola, 2010). In other words the shells, would take on the form of a series of parabolas, supported by concrete ribs. The solution to the problem of the roofs construction came aided through the first use of computers, which were used to analyse the forces and pressures the roof would be subjected to.

The answer would be to construct the shells as sections of a sphere. These sections would combine to make the precast hollow ribbed vault. In total the roof would require 2,194 precast concrete sections, with each weighing up to 15.5 tonnes, held together by 350 km of tensioned steel cable. Although some controversy still remains as to who came up with the final solution for the roofs construction, it is widely believed that it was achieved through the ingenious collaboration of both Utzon and Ove Arup and partners. The shells were constructed by Hornibrook Ltd who would also construct stage 3 of the project. With the year 1965 coming to a close, estimated costs had now spiralled to $49.4 million (Sydney Opera House Construction 2010).

Figure 3. A precast section of the roof is guided into position.

Stage 3

As the solution to the method of the roofs construction was mastered, it became clear the podium could not support the roofs weight and would have to be demolished and rebuilt. The delays suffered at this stage of the project lead to mounting pressure on Utzon and the project. This major delay and several other setbacks led to Utzon and the project receiving bad press. With public fears growing as to the final cost, newly elected Premier Robert Askin attempted to force Utzon to resign by withholding payments. Furthermore, Askin moved the project under the jurisdiction of the office of public works, increasing pressure on Utzon. In 1966 Utzon could no longer pay his staff. He resigned, and Hall Todd and Littlemore, replaced Utzon, and took on the task of completing the final stage of the project (A View on all Cities 2010).

At this stage, the project had cost $22.9 million dollars, which was a far cry from the original and total projection of $7 million. However, the total cost of $102 million means that at this stage the project was still only at a quarter of its final cost. With Utzon gone changes were made to his internal design. Utzon had designed the main hall to stage opera and concerts, and his minor hall would be for stage productions only. This idea was now scrapped and the main hall became solely the Concert Hall, and the minor hall, known as the Opera Theatre, would facilitate both opera and ballet. The result of this decision was that the Opera Theatre was too small to stage large scale opera and ballet. Utzons design for 2,000 seats was also deemed too little and now became 3,000, while his plywood corridors were also discounted. Furthermore, a library and cinema were also added. Sydney Opera House would take a further seven years to be completed and finally opened on the 20th October 1973.

Project Costs

The project costs are represented below by two bar charts. The first table and bar chart represent a breakdown for the cost of construction between the years (1959 - 1973). The second table and bar chart give an overview of cost for additional work completed on the Opera House after its opening in October 1973. A pie chart will show the combined costs of the project under Utzon (stage 1&2), after Utzon (stage 3) and the various stages which commenced after 1988.

Table 1. Total Expenditure (Construction 1959-1973)

Project Breakdown

$ in Millions

Original Estimate


Costs Under Utzon (Stage 1 & 2)


Costs After Utzon (Stage 3)


Total Cost


Table 2. Total Expenditure (Construction 1988 - 1998)

Project Breakdown

$ in Millions

Forecourt Refurbishment


Upgrade 1 Exterior /I interior


Underground Car park


Theatre Works


Upgrade 2 Exterior / Interior


Total Cost


(The Wolanski Foundation 2010).

Executive Summary

The facts presented in the expenditure section of this assignment, allow the project with all its financial shortcomings to be viewed with clarity. The following facts will also enable a conclusion to be drawn:

The original completion date set by the government was 26th January 1963 (Australia Day).

Hence, the project was completed ten years late.

The project came in fourteen times over budget.

The following facts should also be considered, the Sydney Opera House:

Is an iconic structure, famous the world over, and included on the UNESCO world heritage list.

Provides guided tours to 200,000 people each year.

Has an annual audience of 2 million for its performers each year.

Was paid for by the Australian public who purchased $10 tickets in a series of lotteries (Australian Government, Sydney Opera House 2010).


A successful project will be brought in on time and under budget. Under these strict criteria it can be viewed that the construction of the Sydney Opera House was a spectacular failure. The facts, as discussed provide this evidence in black and white. However, the story of the Sydney Opera House is anything but black and white. The Sydney Opera House is a stunning piece of architecture, a one off and complete original and it can be argued it is for these reasons that Utzons sketches were selected as the competition winner in the first place. Moreover, it was the Australian governments eagerness to commence the project, which ultimately lead to the first major stumbling block - construction began on the podium that would support a roof (a structure that had never before been attempted ),which Utzon had not been given adequate time to complete.

Through advancements in project management practices, it is now known the first stage in any major project is to assess the project at hand. This process should take place well in advance of the first stages of construction. Vital considerations at this stage should be, is the project tangible - can it be delivered on time?, what are the risks involved?, are the necessary financial resources available?, the constraints of the project must be considered, - what is the job specification?, and what are the potential pitfalls? On examining these questions it can be said that the construction of the Sydney Opera House was doomed to financial failure right from the start.

There are two sides to every story and in this particular case it is possible to interpret this project as successful. The Sydney Opera House has come to represent Australia, in the same way that the pyramids represent Egypt. Sydney and Australia have benefited from the Opera House as a venue and as a symbol. It is a working building which earns an income from the estimated 200,000 guided tours every year and from its annual audience of two million people who pay to see performances. In fact, it is possible to argue that a project can be delivered on time, under budget, deliver 100% of its scope and still be a failure. In the case of a building such as the Sydney Opera House, it is people who define success or failure and from this it can be argued that this building is a success based solely on its popularity with visitors coming from all over the world (World Heritage 2010).

In March 2003, Utzon was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Sydney for his work on the Sydney Opera House and he also received the Pritzker Prize, Architectures highest honour that same year. Utzon had finally received recognition for his achievements as an architect. The financial failure of the Sydney Opera House was a complex issue involving many failures which took root right at the beginning, through lack of adequate project planning definition and foresight. Utzon was employed as the project architect which is a separate discipline to project management.