Sydney Opera House Architects Want to Rip the Floor Out (and Lower It)

Classic Arts News   Sydney Opera House Architects Want to Rip the Floor Out (and Lower It)
In February, the Sydney Opera House celebrated the 50th anniversary of the year that Jêªrn Utzon, then a little-known Danish architect, won a competition to design an opera venue for the city. Utzon and his son Jan recently unveiled major plans to dramatically restructure the house's Opera Theatre, the latest proposal in a string of renovations they have initiated since 1999.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Utzon (now aged 88), Jan (now 62), and a team of Sydney architects have decided that the sound quality in the auditorium — the Sydney venue for Opera Australia and the Australian Ballet — could be improved if they drop the floor four meters and cut into the sandstone under the building to provide more space.

According to the Herald, the Opera Theatre has been plagued by poor accoustics and inadequate space backstage and in the orchestra pit for decades. In Copenhagen last week, Jan Utzon outlined the problems that arose when local architects took over from his father in 1966.

Jêªrn Utzon resigned that year, midway through construction (which began in 1959 and wasn't completed until 1973) after clashing with government officials over the cost and feasibility of the project. Different architects were then commissioned to finish the interior on a tighter budget; they shifted opera from the Concert Hall (now the venue for the Sydney Symphony and visiting ensembles) into what had been planned as a theater.

The paper quotes Jan as saying, "At the moment there is so little space in the wings that ballerinas coming off stage have to have someone to catch them so they don't hit the concrete walls. Some members of the orchestra are sitting up to 12 meters under the stage. Those are not the conditions we need to keep the Opera House as a world-class venue."

The Utzons and Sydney architect Richard Johnson have suggested that the whole theater floor be lowered four meters into the offices and utility rooms below and extra space for those purposes be cut into the surrounding sandstone; they believe this would improve the sound quality.

Other improvements suggested by Utzon senior and his son since 1999 that have been completed so far include an A$4.6 million renovation of the reception area and A$7 million in improvements to the colonnade. A$38 million is being spent on refurbishments to the foyer, including new escalators, according to the Herald.

Utzon senior never returned to Sydney to see the finished Opera House and is now too infirm to make the trip.

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