What Is the Sydney Opera House?

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  • Written By: Mark Wollacott
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
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  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2019
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The Sydney Opera House is an iconic landmark in the New South Wales city of Sydney in Australia. The building was first opened in 1973 and was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world heritage site in 2007. Situated on Bennelong Point next to the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Sydney Opera House boasts five performance halls, shops, restaurants. It is renowned for its innovative architecture. About 2,000,000 people attend performances there each year.

In 1956, the government of New South Wales created an international competition to design two halls: one for a symphony orchestra and one for an opera house. The competition was won by Danish designer Jorn Utzon with his use of shells, or "sails," as he called them. The local government funded the project through a lottery and was quick to begin construction.

The problem for Utzon, however, was that the technology that was needed to build the Sydney Opera House had not been developed by then. Regardless, construction started in 1959 and was promptly delayed as Utzon and his team developed the technologies needed to keep the massive shells in place. The shell roofs consist of about 1,000,000 glazed tiles made from Swedish white granite. These tiles are self-cleaning but still require occasional maintenance.


Utzon resigned from the project in 1966 and never saw the completed building in person. Australian architect Peter Hall finished the project. Hall added three underground theaters to the main design. Queen Elizabeth II opened the hall on 20 October 1973.

In 1999, Utzon returned to the project — although remotely from his Majorca home — to oversee a series of guiding principles. These principles were designed to help future generations maintain the Sydney Opera House. The design led to Utzon winning architecture’s highest award, the Pritzker Prize, in 2003. In 2004, the main reception room was refurbished and renamed the Utzon Room. Utzon died in 2008 at age 90.

The Sydney Opera House consists of 1,000 rooms. This includes five theaters, two main halls, four restaurants and six bars. It also includes a number of souvenir shops for tourists and theatergoers.

The building's concert hall is the largest venue, with seating for more than 2,600 people. It hosted the building's first performance, Sergei Prokofiev’s War and Peace. The concert hall also houses the 10,000-pipe grand organ, which was considered to be the largest in the world when installed.

The opera theater has seating for more than 1,500 people, the drama theater seats more than 500, and the studio theater seats almost 400. A 1999 addition to the Sydney Opera House, the play house, also seats almost 400. The various theaters host a variety of forms of entertainment, such as rock concerts, circus performances, plays and stand-up comedy.

Areas of the venue are also available for rent. They can be used for a wide range of events, including corporate dinners, conferences, galas and celebrations. The house also runs a wide range of educational programs, including tours and teaching resources.


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