Sydney Opera House: Building an Icon | The B1M
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Sydney Opera House: Building an Icon | The B1M

It’s one of the most recognisable buildings
in the world. Positioned on the water’s edge and overlooking
the famous harbour, Sydney Opera House is an iconic structure that is synonymous with
Australia. Though it now appears to float effortlessly
on water, this landmark building took some extreme engineering and over a decade of construction
works to become a reality. This is the story of how Sydney Opera House
was built. In 1955, when the New South Wales Conservatorium
of Music outgrew their home at Sydney Town Hall, premier Joseph Cahill launched an international
design competition for a dedicated opera house. After reviewing 233 entries from architects
in 32 countries, the judges declared Danish architect, Jørn Utzon as the winner of the
competition in 1957 – despite his entry comprising largely of diagrammatic drawings and simple
sketches. Following his win, Utzon proceeded to refine
the building plans. However, in order to capitalise on strong public support for the project at that time, and to ensure its funding, the New South Wales government pushed for works
to begin early, in 1959, before the scheme’s design had been finalised. With an initial budget of AUD $7M, and an
expected completion date of January 1963, the push to begin construction without a finalised
design and before solving crucial structural design challenges caused the project to be
delivered 10 years behind schedule and more than 14 times over budget. It’s final cost was AUD $102M – which is equivalent to AUD $927M today. The construction of Sydney Opera House was
planned in three distinct stages. The first would consist of the structure’s podium,
the second would see formation of the iconic outer shells, and the final stage would focus
on internal fit out of the concert halls and other open spaces. In March 1959 construction began on some 588
concrete piers to support the 1.8 hectare building. By 1961, the project was already facing delays
significant delays and work was more than 47 weeks behind schedule – partly to inclement weather but mostly due to the lack of completed proposals. To give just one example of the impact this
had, the support columns for the building’s roof were installed before the roof itself
had been designed. When the full extent of the roof structure was determined and finalised,
the columns proved too weak to support it – resulting in all of them being taken out
and replaced. Construction of the sail-like structure that
gives the opera house its iconic shape made up the bulk of the project’s second phase. While the shells of Utzon’s design were
a key part of his winning submission, no one at the time knew of a cost-effective way to
construct these large, non-repetitive forms. In an effort to find an economical solution,
the roof was redesigned at least 12 times. The project was one of the first to use computers
to run structural analysis on the designs allowing the project team to understand the complex forces that the roof shells would be subjected to. Eventually, a solution was reached that would
see the curved roof shells cast as sections of a single sphere. While the individual responsible for this
breakthrough remains unconfirmed, it is rumoured that Utzon himself came up with the solution
while peeling an orange. By treating each shell as sections of one
sphere, arches of varying lengths were able to be cast in a common mould. In total, more than 2,400 precast ribs and
4,000 roof panels were manufactured this way in an on-site factory, avoiding the need to
cast the shells in-situ and the high formwork costs this would have entailed. Once installed, the roof’s structure was
finished with more than a million white and cream tiles, giving it the appearance we see
today. As works progressed, Utzon relocated his office
to Sydney in 1963. However, when the government changed just two years later, the project was placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Public Works. The new government had long been outspoken
critics of the project and tensions around its delivery steadily began to grow. Following several threats of resignation,
Utzon finally left the project in February 1966, with more than AUD $100,000 owed to
him in unpaid fees. Despite public outrage and protests in Sydney
demanding that he be reinstated as lead architect, Utzon left Australia, never to return or see
the project completed. Departing before the internal fit-out began,
several changes to Utzon’s initial designs were undertaken. The multi-purpose “major hall”, which
was to host both concerts and opera became solely a concert venue, while opera and ballet
productions were planned to take place in the “minor hall” which became known as
the Opera Theatre until it’s renaming as the “Joan Sutherland Hall” some years
later. Utzon’s original acoustic and seating proposals
for the major hall were considered insufficient and led to a re-design which still caused
acoustic problems for performers and orchestras on completion. After 14 years of construction, Sydney Opera
House was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 20 October 1973 in a televised event
that featured fireworks and a performance of Beethoven’s, Symphony No. 9. Utzon was not present at the opening, nor
mentioned during the ceremony – and it wasn’t until the 1990’s that the Sydney Opera House
Trust appointed him as a design consultant for future works on the building. Utzon was awarded architecture’s highest
honour – the Pritzker Prize – in 2003 and works to rectify the building’s interior
have been ongoing since 2004. Works on the Joan Sutherland Theatre began
in 2017 and the concert hall will undergo renovation between 2020-2021. Despite these ongoing works – and the years
of engineering, professional and logistical challenges to bring the structure into existence
– Sydney Opera House is now synonymous with the city that surrounds it, and has become
an enduring symbol of the Australian nation. If you enjoyed this video and would like to
get more from the definitive video channel for construction, subscribe to The B1M.


  • TheCMLion

    There are a number of reasons I would like to visit Australia, but if I were told I could not visit the Sydney Opera House, I wouldn't go.

  • Bon Swarly

    yep, again another awesome video, super interesting and super fun to watch. This is rapidly becoming my favourite YouTube channel and I can definetly see it reaching critical mass in the near future, keep up the good work guys, looking forward to the next one!

  • David Bottin

    Great video! The Sydney Opera House truly is an architectural and engineering wonder of its age. 🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺

  • navsh

    For more on the engineering challenges of this beutifull building, check out this book, by one of the construction engineers, Peter Rice.

    Peter Rice

    An Engineer Imagines

  • tdyerwestfield - Ball Street OG

    Isn't there also a giant underground car park under the opera house too? That was also a major construction.

  • jar8425

    You stated that the original architect has never seen his completed structure, but then mention he's on the board for the building and is working to correct the issues with the interiors. Which is it? Or is he doing this without ever visiting the building?

  • Salad

    Awesome! I had no idea that the sails were constructed out of a semi standard form like that. Hope you do more videos about the development of other iconic buildings.

  • brickman409

    If this structure lasts thousands of years, it's going to be one of those things where archeologists and historians say "How the hell did they make that?"

  • Michael Blount

    Sounds like the construction was an absolute disaster and nightmare at the time, but the outcome I’m sure was worth it.

  • moshe gelt

    So basically it was a disaster, hard to build, over budget by 14(!) Times and not great acoustically. But it looks amazing so we should all be happy and suck it up.

  • Christian Portugal

    Wow. Its architect left during its construction and never came back to see the structure even after all the praise he received. I'm speechless.

  • Mark-Leon Thorne

    I spent my childhood wandering throughout this building. It is more familiar to me than any other place. As a child, my mother was an office worker and during school holidays, I would go to work with her in the rush hour trains. She would keep me occupied by sending me on errands but I would get bored. She trusted my knowledge of the streets and maturity and allowed me to find things to do around the city. I would go to arcades or go see a movie but I would invariably be drawn to the harbour and loved meeting tourists. I was a cute blonde haired Aussie kid so they'd buy me a burger or a milkshake and the security staff allowed me to wander through non public areas. I would have lunch in the staff room (up the side stairs) and wander through the long passages deep underneath or hang out around the stage door. I would sit at the café on the harbour side and feed the seagulls chips. I went on numerous tours and learned every aspect of this incredible building. From the origin of the tiles to the acoustic rings in the Concert Hall, the rare West Australian wood for the seats and the thickened glass imported from Italy. This was the 1970s. My life will forever be entwined in this building even though I played no part in its creation nor ever performed in it. It will always be a home to me.

  • John Kellett

    NEVER start construction before the building has been fully designed. The Sydney Opera House is just one example of the havoc that follows if you do 🙂 Any project will be completed in less time if you spend money designing it first

  • Mihail M A

    love you channel! thank you for what you are doing, can you do a video about the palace of the parliament in Romania, the second largest administrative building in the world after pentagon and it*s the heaviest building in the world, weighing in at around 4.098,500,000 kilograms,

  • namptang91

    Not much has changed in New South Wales construction… multiple projects are currently under way in Sydney that are over budget and behind schedule.

  • MrAeronuk1

    So the Bridge was designed and built buy the British and the Opera House by the Danish. That's not a good advertisement for Australian engineering.

  • Josh Stone

    The Opera House was originally going too be white but there was too much glare so they changed it to cream. Furthermore Utzon's design depicted the underside of some of the great sails to be lined with gold.

    The man himself was represented in the opening of the Opera House by his son Jan Utzon.
    “My father is too old by now to take the long flight to Australia,” Jan said of his father. “But he lives and breathes the Opera House, and as its creator he just has to close his eyes to see it.” (
    Future renovations of the house were also said to have been a reflection to the Opera House Utzon would have imagined.

    After visiting the Opera house a few years ago and being told Jorn was never to see the project finished it made me so sad ;(. Though i'd feel more sympathy for him if it weren't for the thousands of steps while i was on crouches :P.

  • Stefanus Alfredo Tedy

    While Utzon's story is quite tragic, the commonly ignored story of even more tragic Peter Hall (The guy who had the balls to pick up this project after Utzon left) remains untold again.

  • MrHeyfuckoff

    If you have any doubts about this being the worlds most beautiful modern building, google "Sydney Opera House light show" and you will see just how amazing this building truly is.

  • Eric A.

    What an incredible building! I fell in love with it when i was a kid! I still find it just as impressive now, if not more, than when i was little. Timeless in its design and beauty, this is a true icon of a proud and beautiful nation. This is truly a feat in engineering, design, form and function. Just incredible!

  • Patrick EMIN

    Incredible building, I was lucky to work nearby for a few years and it was a daily sight. See this video I did :

  • Carter McHugh

    I heard an interesting story about the design competition's jury once but I don't know if it's true… Supposedly a starchitect, Eero Saarinen I believe, arrived to the selection meeting a day late and pulled Utzon's submission out of a pile that the other jury members had already discarded and announced "gentlemen, here is your winner!"

  • FRlES

    I wonder if "Creating a defining icon of the country" was the same thought that norwegians had when also building the Oslo Opera House. But while the Opera in Oslo is a remarkable building in itself, it's nowhere close to the one in Sydney.

  • TGs Train Clips

    Well, the Opera House doesn't really tell anything about the history of Australia though, the nearby Bridge has a story and the terminal railway station with the name of Central is more iconic in my eyes and has a higher importance than of a bloody opera house.

  • Lucas Cassano

    @The B1m It would be great if you could a video on the Teatro Colon ("Colon Theatre") in Buenos Aires. A structure definitely worth a video!

  • TheRealUnconnected

    It's funny how much people get excited about this building, when you've grown up with it being an ever present figure in your life, it's just a building.

  • Robin Hodgkinson

    Yeah it had a difficult. But I’m sure there’s not a person now who would wish it gone. It is an iconic building! And for full of memory for me – I got married in one of the outer shell shells! Lol

  • rodrrico

    Hard to believe the main concert hall acoustics are not what were envisaged. Anyone who has seen a orchestral performance there raves about the audio quality no matter where you are seated.

  • mjncad

    Thanks for the back story. It's amazing this building was constructed, let alone didn't collapse from the project management clusterfuck.

  • M1co29 boii i hate last names

    a construction photo of the opera house was one of the 115 photos in the Golden Records NASA sent to Aliens

  • frosty pablo

    Why build an opera house for a nation of beer swilling football loving colonials ? Whos idea was that ? Nobody goes in there. Except on tours. Who watches Opera ? Its empty most of the time.

  • frosty pablo

    If its arts center then it should act like one. Wheres the galleries ? The museum? The workshops promoting local plays and actors. Nothing. Just a big empty stage most time. Costing a fortune to maintain and functions better as a landmark than anything else. Turn left at the opera house……and keep going.

  • frosty pablo

    Let frosty tell you. The biggest events held by this center have been on its front steps. The only real functional part of the building. It should be less stuffy , put its pearls away and open up to public use more.

  • Chong Chapman

    Those of bridge where near to opera house, built home middle of the bridge…. The most advanced technology into it….

  • dcjimr1

    It's hard to believe this building was only 15 years old when I first saw it in 1988. Thanks for this story and thanks for your fabulous channel!

  • Rich Logan

    The video about the Sydney Opera House being built is amazing. And interesting to find out more about the history of Australia. The Sydney opera house is really big. And the inside of it is huge. It's like being in a concert hall. And it's really beautiful inside of the opera house. If I ever went there I would love it. Because it's really gorgeous. I would be willing to go to Sydney, Australia. I have always heard it's beautiful in Sydney, Australia. It's a beautiful continent to visit. And the tour of the opera house would be cool.

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