Sydney Opera House Construction Project

Modified: 2nd Aug 2018
Wordcount: 2134 words

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The purpose of this assignment is to research the Sydney Opera House construction project and to prepare a report under the following headings:

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Project overview/Background

Project team/Stakeholders


Project costs

Executive summary/Conclusion

Project Overview/Background

The Sydney Opera House is one of the world’s iconic buildings and is recognized by most people universally. It is has become a global symbol of Australia.

Planning for the Sydney Opera House began in the late 1940s, when Eugene Goossens, the Director of the New South Wales (NSW) State Conservatorium of Music, lobbied for a suitable venue for large theatrical productions. The normal venue for these productions, the Sydney Town Hall, was not considered large enough. By 1954, Goossens had gained the support of NSW Premier (Prime Minister) Joseph Cahill, who called for designs for a dedicated opera house. It was also Goossens who insisted that Bennelong Point be the site for the Opera House. Joseph Cahill had originally wanted it to be on or near Wynyard Railway Station in the northwest of the CBD.

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In 1956 Joseph Cahill, announced an international competition for the design of an opera house for Sydney. The competition called for a structure that contained two theatres – a large hall for opera, ballet, and large scale symphony concerts capable of seating 3,000-3,500 people, and a smaller hall for drama, chamber music and recitals, capable of seating approx 1,200 people. A total of 233 designs were submitted for the competition. In January 1957, Jorn Utzon was announced the winner after his design had originally been rejected by three of the four judges. His design was based on the sails of a ship and gull wings using architectural concepts borrowed from the ancient Chinese. He won AUS $15000 for his design.

One of Utzons Original Sketches

The Fort Macquarie Tram Depot, occupying the site at this time, was demolished in 1958. Originally the project was scheduled for four years with a budget of AUS $7 million. The goal was to have the project completed by the end of 1962 and have the grand opening at the start of 1963. The construction of the Opera House did not begin until March 1959.

The project ended up taking 14 years to complete and cost AUS $102 million.

Project Team/Stakeholders

The project team consisted of the designer and architect Jorn Utzon as well as Ove Arup, who was in charge of the structure and the engineering. There were various other subcontractors who made up the remainder of the team.

The team was in charge of mechanics, electrics, heating and ventilating, lighting and acoustics, basically all of the design and construction. There was no project manager appointed to the job, and it was assumed that Utzon was to take the managerial role for all decisions regarding any design, construction or development. In actuality, it was Arup who was in charge of construction and development, even though Utzon usually had the final decision. So while the responsibilities should have been evenly shared between Utzon and Arup, Utzon strived for more control than he had. In addition, since Utzon was unquestionably the leading professional in the team, the other members expected that he would control the program and produce the drawings for construction.

Stakeholders are persons or organisations who will affect or be affected by the project. There were two main stakeholders at the beginning of the Sydney Opera House construction, Jorn Utzon and the state of New South Wales which encompassed the Australian Government who launched the competition for the project, especially the Labour Premier Joseph Cahill.

Jorn Utzon

When a more conservative Liberal Party won the elections in 1965 and a new government was created, Davis Hughes was appointed Minister for Public Works and became a main stakeholder as he had control over the funding for the project.

Some other stakeholders were Ove Arup and his firm as well as the other external companies and consulting firms. The construction of the project required the use of new techniques (computer-based three dimensional site positioning devices, geothermal pumps…) and it was outsourced to new consulting bodies such as Unisearch.

Finally, the public was an indirect stakeholder because they were concerned with the project’s success. And while only some citizens would be customers of the Opera

House, it would also prove to be an integral part of Sydney and the country’s history. The public also contributed to the funding of the Opera through a lottery set up by the Government.


The project was built in three stages. Stage I (1959-1963) consisted of building the upper podium. Stage II (1963-1967) saw the construction of the outer shells. Stage III (1967-1973) consisted of the interior design and construction.

Stage 1

Stage 1 commenced on 2 March 1959 by the construction firm Civil HYPERLINK “”&HYPERLINK “” Civic, monitored by the Ove Arup’s engineering firm. The government had pushed for work to begin early, fearing that funding, or public opinion, might turn against them. However, Utzon had still not completed the final designs. There were still some major structural issues that were yet to be resolved. By 23 January 1961, work was running 47 weeks behind schedule, mainly because of unexpected difficulties (inclement weather, unexpected difficulty diverting stormwater, construction beginning before proper construction drawings had been prepared, changes of original contract documents). Work on the podium was finally completed in February 1963. Construction of the podium 1962

The forced early start led to significant later problems, one of the biggest problems being the fact that the podium columns were not strong enough to support the roof structure, and had to be re-built

Stage 2

The shells of the competition entry were originally of undefined geometry. Ove Arup and his engineering firm struggled to find an acceptable solution to constructing them. The formwork for using in-situ concrete would have been prohibitively expensive, but, because there was no repetition in any of the roof forms, the construction of precast concrete for each individual section would possibly have been even more expensive.

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From 1957 to 1963, the design team went through at least twelve variations of the form of the shells trying to find an economically acceptable form before a realistic solution was agreed upon. The design work on the shells involved one of the earliest uses of computers in structural analysis, in order to understand some of forces to which the shells would be subjected. In mid-1961, the design team found a solution to the problem: the shells all being created as sections from a sphere.

The shells were constructed by Hornibrook Group Pty Ltd, who were also responsible for construction in Stage 3. Hornibrook manufactured the 2400 precast ribs and 4000 roof panels in an on-site factory and also developed the construction processes.

The achievement of this solution avoided the need for expensive formwork construction by allowing the use of precast units (it also allowed the roof tiles to be prefabricated in sheets on the ground, instead of being stuck on individually at height). Ove Arup and Partners’ site engineer supervised the construction of the shells, which used an innovative adjustable steel-trussed “erection arch” to support the different roofs before completion. On 6 April 1962, it was estimated that the Opera House would be completed between August 1964 and March 1965. Construction of the shells 1963

Stage 3

By Stage 3, the interiors, the project was taking up so much of his time that Utzon moved his entire office to Sydney in February 1963. However, there was a change of government in 1965, and the new Robert Askin government declared the project under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Public Works and put massive pressure on Utzon to finish the project. This ultimately led to his resignation in 1966. His position was taken over by Peter Hall who was mostly responsible for the interior design. At this point, the government asked for the number of seats to be increased from 2000 to 3000. The acoustic advisor, Lothar Cremer, was full of criticism of Utzon’s original design. He said this would not be possible and would be detrimental to the acoustics. Utzon’s design was coming under a significant amount of criticism at this point. Even the stage designer, Peter Jones, criticised the overall interior design. During all the criticism, work was still carried out with significant changes to Utzon’s design. The final stage was eventually completed in 1973. Sydney Opera House Interior

Project Costs

The Sydney Opera House could probably be seen as one of the most financially disastrous construction projects in history. The winning design from the competition was originally supposed to have a budget of AUS$7 million. Initially the cost of the Opera House was estimated at AUS$3.6 million from the design entry. When Utzon submitted his refined designs ‘the Red Book’, the estimates were then calculated by a quantity surveyor at AUS$4,781,200.

The NSW Government decided not to invest any money into the Opera House and decided to donate no more than AUS$100,000. They then set up the Opera House Lottery for the public, which ran through the course of the construction and generated enough funds to keep the construction going.

The Opera House was formally completed in 1973, having cost $102 million.

The following approximations were provided by the Hornibrook director in charge of the project

Stage 1: Podium Civil and Civic $5.5 million

Stage 2: Roof Shells $12.5 million

Stage 3 : Stage equipment, stage lighting and organ $9 million

Fees and other costs $16.5 million.

1974, the minister for public works announced the final bill for the project was $102 million, a total of $95 million over budget.

Executive Summary/Conclusion

The Sydney Opera House project was an unmitigated failure from a construction and project management point of view. The three major factors for a project to be successful are cost, time and quality. The project came in at a total of almost 1400% over budget and took ten years longer than expected.

There were a number of factors in the failure of the project. At the beginning of any project, goals and objectives have to be clearly defined by the client to provide a guideline for what the project must contain. The project wasn’t defined properly and the plans were changed constantly. The Australian Governments impatience and decision to start the construction before all the designs and drawings had been completed was a major factor in the project failures. This in turn made it extremely difficult for the design and construction teams as well as increasing the costs of the project.

Jorn Utzon, being the designer and architect should have attempted to minimise changes to the plans unless absolutely necessary by simply rejecting unnecessary alterations.

The lack of a project manager played a big role in the failure of the project. A project manager is absolutely essential for most construction projects and certainly a project of this size. In general, the project manager is responsible for the overall success of the project. The lack of leadership and guidance seemed to be a significant problem during the building of the Opera House. Without a project manager there was no clear leader or boss and therefore nobody for the contractors to liaise with in the event of uncertainties or concerns about any aspect of the construction except for Utzon who seemed to have his hands full with the constant design changes and updates.

Although the construction of the project is generally seen as an absolute failure, it is impossible to argue that the Sydney Opera House is anything other than an outstanding success for Sydney and for Australia as a country. It is one of the most recognisable buildings in the world and attracts millions of visitors annually.


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