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Sydney Opera House Construction Project

Project Overview/Background

“The story of the Sydney Opera house is one that started as a fairy tale, had a tragic middle and is emerging as a tale of reconciliation and love of art and creative work". (Sydney Opera House, 2010)

Before the construction of the Sydney opera house there was no adequate music venue in Sydney to host opera and orchestral performances. Most concerts were held in the town hall of which did not have an appropriate stage area for the shows. This however would not be the case forever and with the appointment of Eugene Gossens as chief executive of Sydney symphony orchestra and director of the New South Wales conservatorium of music 1947 brought with it a focal point in Sydney’s music life to build a much needed better venue for all performing arts. Description: Description: op_plan

Upon accepting his new positions Gossens revealed his plans for the construction of such a venue to the media. Unfortunately for Gossens bare the odd public announcement for such a project nothing much happened for the next 7 years. (Google Pictures, 2010)

Late in 1954 the govt of NSW became involved because it became very embarrassing for them that after 7 years nothing had materialized. The premier of the day, Joseph Cahill set up a committee to get the project underway. In 1957 a Danish architect by the name of Jorn Utzon won an architectural competition set out by the govt for the building. Construction did not commence for a further 2 years and began in 1959. (The Sydney Opera House, 2009)

The original time scale of 4 years and $7 million budget set out for the project turned into 14 years and $102 million. Problems would arise from the very start of the project such as the design drawings not being finished as construction began and the government would also change the blueprint requirements for the building from the original 2 theatre design to 4 theatres. Utzon was forced to resign in 1966 after a new govt were appointed to NSW in 1965 of which held payments for the project because they opposed his building methods. After Utzon’s resignation a team of Australian architects were hired to finish the job. (The Sydney Opera House, 2009

Stakeholders/Project Team


The Main Project stakeholder throughout this project was the client who was the state of New South Wales. The state of New South Wales was in fact the Australian Govt. and the premier of the day Joe Cahill. They launched the competition for the project and would eventually become an obstacle in the timely completion of the project by demanding changes to the existing plans thus the project incurring many delays and overrun in costs expenses.


The Sydney Opera House Executive Committee known as the SOHEC were set up by the client to oversee the project. The committee was made up of mainly political figures of who had very little technical experience.

Jorn Utzon

Jorn Utzon was the Danish architect behind the design of the opera house. Utzon worked on the project from 1957 – 1966 was more interested in the design and architectural aspects of the building than with time and costs of the project. Utzon collaborated with Ove Arup who was in charge of the structural and civil engineering aspects of the project. Utzon would eventually resign his position in 1966 because he could no longer pay his staff due to problems with the client over issues of his capability, his designs and costs of the project.

Hall Todd & Littlemore

Hall Todd & littlemore were a group of Australian architects assigned by the govt to take over the project after the resignation of Jorn Utzon in 1966. They would oversee the completion of the project which finished in 1973. It will be seen later in this report that upon their arrival to the project the project costs would sky rocket, this however may be argued that they took over the project in 1966 at a time when building costs were ever increasing.

Ove Arup & Partners

Ove Arup & Partners were the structural and civil engineers assigned to the project. They collaborated with Utzon throughout his time on the project. They were in charge of aspects such as the lighting, electrics, mechanics, heating and ventilation and the acoustics of the building.

Public & Lottery

The public would be classed as indirect stakeholders in the project. The public had a vested interest in seeing the project completed and being successful. Many of the public would later become customers of the Opera House. A lottery was set up by the govt which was to be funded by the public. This lottery would pay for the completion of the opera house. The public also wanted Utzon reinstated when he resigned because he had become iconic to the project through the public’s eyes.


The first contractor on the project was a company called Civic & Civic. They were hired to complete stage 1 of the project which was the installation of the podium and started its construction in 1959. They were monitored by Ove Arup & Partners until its completion in February 1963.

Stage 2 and 3 of the project were completed by a company called Hornibrook Group Pyt Ltd. They were contracted to build the shells of the building in stage 2 and also the interior in stage 3 of the project. They commenced work in March 1963.

External Companies & Consulting Firms

Much of the work had to be outsourced due to the professional nature and new techniques of the building which Utzen and Arup could not complete. Some of the Consulting firms that work were subcontracted to consist of quantity surveyors, acoustic consultants, engineers, electrical engineering services and theatre techniques. (The Sydney Opera House, 2009)

Project Construction

The site chosen for the Sydney Opera House was a location known as Bellelong point. Up until this point it was used mainly as a wharfing area and had a tram storage barn inhabiting the site location. Construction was originally estimated at 4 years for the entire project but in effect would slowly drag on for a total of 14 years. Construction began in March 1959.

Utzon argued with the govt at the start of the project that he did not have the design structure completed but the govt insisted that the project get underway. Utzon’s job was made even harder by the govt because they changed the requirements for the building after construction had started. The construction was to be split into 3 different stages. The stages consisted of




Stage 1: Podium (1959 – 1963)

Stage 1 of the project was the construction of the podiums. The work was contracted to a company by the name of civic & civic under the supervision of Ove Arup and Partners. By January 1961 work on the podium was behind by 47 weeks due to a number of different issues. Major structural issues were still unresolved and bad weather also contributed to the delays. Another major issue was trying to divert storm water away from the site.

There were no proper drawings when construction started which would eventually come back to plague the project with delays further down the line. The podiums were completed in February 1963. Although the podiums had been completed the rush to get the project started would have grave consequences when it was discovered at a later date the podium columns were not strong enough to hold the weight of the roof and had to be rebuilt. In April 1962, it was estimated that the Opera House would be completed between August 1964 and March 1965.

Stage 2: Roof (1963 – 1967)

This stage of the construction was the manufacturing and installation of the iconic roof shells that have given the building its very own individual look which is recognised throughout the world. The construction team giving this job were known as Hornibrook Pyt Ltd.

(Google Pictures, 2010)

Construction began on the roof shells in 1963. From 1957 – 1963 the design team went through many different forms of shells until they finally arrived at a workable solution. The design of the shells used the earliest form of computers in which structural analysis of the roof could designed in order to allow team understand the different kinds of stresses and complications such a design would endure.

The design chosen was to create the shells as sections of a sphere. Hornibrook constructed 2400 pre-cast ribs and 4000 roof panels which were made on site in a specially built manufacturing plant.

Stage 3: Interior (1967 – 1973)

Stage 3 of the project was the construction of the interior. Utzon moved his office to Sydney in 1963 where he worked on the completion of the designs for the interior. In 1965 Sydney had a change of government which in turn saw disastrous consequences for Utzon. With the opera house now becoming increasingly iconic feature in Australia the govt led by Robert Askin declared the project be put under the control of the ministry for works.

(Google Pictures, 2010)

This ultimately led to the resignation of Utzen in 1966. When Utzen resigned his position was filled by a number of different people. Firstly Peter Hall took over from him but then he became largely responsible for the interior design of the building. E.H Farmer also replaced Utzon as the main architect and then followed D.S littlemore and Lionel Todd.

After Utzon’s resignation major changes were implemented into the interior design. A few of which were the major hall was created in Utzon’s brief as a multipurpose opera and concert hall was changed to just a concert hall. The minor hall initially planned for stage productions now had an added function to it to host ballet and opera. This meant that it was derisory to host large scale opera or ballet

Project Costs

The project costs would be considered to be the most controversial aspect of the entire project. A pie chart was created on page 10 labelled Sydney opera house construction costs to show the exact amount each stage of the project cost.

The govt of New South Wales decided to only invest $100,000 in the project because it felt it had an obligation to the public to sort out current affairs. Instead they were to set up a lottery system that ran for the entire length of the project and this covered the cost and generated the funds needed to keep the project going.

Figure 1: Sydney Opera House Construction costs

Stage 1 of the project cost an estimated $5.5 million. The initial cost of stage 1 was estimated at about 1.3 million dollars but this then rose to $2.5 million. By the time stage 1 was completed the works were 47 weeks behind schedule and way over budget. The increase in the expenditure could be blamed on the plans being changed and not completed on time and also the delay in the finish date.

Stage 2 of the project is classed as the most controversial aspect of the entire expenditure. As the ever increasing cost of the project raised the govt were forced to take action. They began monitoring all payments. By the end of stage 1 Utzon’s estimate on the project had rose to $12.5 million dollars and then by early 1964 they had risen to an estimated $17.4 million. At this stage the govt told Utzon to reduce his cost to the original $12.5 million. The govt began holding payment from Utzon as they could not see any progress being made. Utzon felt like he was forces to resign from the project as he could no longer pay his staff because of the payments being held. He resigned his position in 1966 and the project was then taken over by Hall, Todd and littlemore. Stage 2 was completed in 1967 at an estimated cost of $12.5 million.

Stage 3 of the project had an estimated cost of $80.4 million. This is mainly due to the fact that when Utzon resigned he took all the plans and sketches and architectural drawings in the likelihood that he would be called back to finish the job of for the govt because they had no drawings. This however was not the case. The govt hired new architects and with their help they totally redesigned the interior of the building. There were many unforeseen problem’s encountered using this process and for this reason the prices of stage 3 escalated to nearly 5 times of the entire project at this stage.

This came as a total shock to Utzon who had tried to keep the cost to a minimum for the govt. In May of 1974 the public of works issued a statement declaring the total cost of the project at $102 million. By 1975 the total cost of the opera house had been paid in full and this was due to the lottery system the govt had set up to fund the project.

Executive Summary

There are many factors that can be attributed to the success/failure of the construction Sydney opera house. From the research gathered throughout this report the project is seen to be a major failure from a project management prospective although there were other factors that did affect the total outcome of the project.

The endeavour had no real project manager which for a job of this size or any project is a major disaster. There was no definite plan put in place and from the initial timeframe for cost and duration of the project this was a major failure. One major failure was the premature start of the project because the designs had not been completed. This is one aspect that could have been totally avoided but unfortunately with pressure from the govt on Utzon to start he had no real choice. This major failure would come back to haunt Utzon when he realized that the podium columns that had been installed in stage 1 had to be demolished and rebuilt because they could not support the roof.

Although Utzon had a definite plan of what direction he wanted the project to go another major failure of his was that while stage 1 of the project was underway he was still designing stage 2. All architectural aspects of the project should have been completed and approved by the client before any construction work had ever taken place. Had this happened then many of the major problems that arouse during the construction process could have been totally avoided or in a cases where that wasn’t possible proper measures could have been put in place to minimise the problem from an early stage.

The initial time of 4 years and cost of $7 million actually turned out to be 14 years and over budget by 14 times. Although at the time of Utzon’s resignation in 1966 the project was only at $18 million this escalated due to stage 3 of the project for which Utzon had no hand in. although Utzon was a major part of the total failure of the project he cannot be singled out as the only contributing party. The govt of New South Wales had a lot to do with the failure as well because of their unwillingness to wait till all the designs had been finalized and also their failure in stopping Utzon from resigning and taking all his designs and drawing with him meant that a whole new architectural plan needed to be drawn up for the interior design which made stage 3 of the project the most expensive.

From this assignment it was shown that the total disregard for proper plans to be put in place from the start of the project can have disastrous consequences and having no project manager is certainly not advisable. It must be said that although the construction of the opera house was a total failure the building itself is an iconic feature in Australian history that is known around the world. It generates huge amounts of income for the state of New South Wales with tourists coming to visit and performances being held in the building.

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