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Media Releases - Building Program

Issued Thursday, 23 February 2006


From a distance, Sydney Opera House doesn’t look much different than it did just over a year ago, before construction commenced on the new Colonnade.

But to the architectural team, led by Sydney Opera House’s original architect Jørn Utzon, that was the whole point – to make the new addition merge into the existing façade and to seem like it has always been there.

The Colonnade, completed this week, is the first change to the exterior of Sydney Opera House since it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 20th October 1973.

The 45 metre long and five metre wide Colonnade runs along the Harbour Bridge side of Sydney Opera House. Nine openings have been created into the Playhouse and Studio foyers – six new large deep set windows and three glass doors. The foyers are now flooded with natural light and for the first time patrons enjoy harbour and city views.

Sydney Opera House Chief Executive, Dr Norman Gillespie, said, “Previously when patrons were in these foyers, they could have been anywhere, rather than looking out onto one of the most beautiful harbours in the world.”

“Now Playhouse and Studio patrons can enjoy the same views as the spectacular vistas from the Concert Hall and Opera Theatre,” he said.

Jørn Utzon said when announcing the designs in 2004 that for the first time “you see the beautiful view of the harbour and … this gives you a marvellous place for walking in intermissions and for serving drinks.”

The Drama Theatre, Studio and Playhouse were not part of the original brief given to Utzon and were not included in his plans. They were added after he left the project in 1966. As a result they did not fulfil his design principle that Sydney Opera House venues should have a sense of the building’s harbour setting.

When Utzon was re-engaged as Sydney Opera House Architect, he was asked to consider how to provide these theatres with a greater connection to their harbour surround. This is the second project completed since his re-engagement, the first – the Utzon Room, opening in 2004 is also the only authentic Utzon interior at Sydney Opera House.

As with the rest of Sydney Opera House, the Colonnade is an example of the highest level of workmanship. In a statement from Denmark, Jørn Utzon said this week; “the craftsmanship of the Colonnade and niches is absolutely first class, and certainly up to the standard of the craftsmanship expected in Sydney Opera House”.

Utzon has continued the practice of testing design elements through a series of prototypes or life scale models to ensure the desired effect is achieved.

Project Director, Greg McTaggart said in particular “the pre-cast concrete elements demonstrate how the design and constructions teams have worked together to deliver something special.”

“Whilst on the face of it, the Colonnade is a very simple structure, its appearance belies the amount of care and effort that has gone into its design and construction,” he said.

This is the case with the pre-cast concrete elements where a series of test moulds and methods were undertaken to achieve a highly polished finish and what is considered to be the ‘best concrete produced in Australia’. The final mould was set upright with the concrete pushed up from below to minimise bubbles, with a slow consistent stirring of the concrete from above to further disperse any air.

Work on the Colonnade was undertaken in two phases with the foundations program completed in 2004 and the Colonnade and openings work starting in March 2005. This allowed the three venues to remain operating and to minimise effects on major events such as New Year’s Eve and Australia Day.

To celebrate the opening of the Colonnade, an exhibition of photographs taken over the construction period; Breakthrough: creating Utzon’s Colonnade will go on display in the Western Foyers from 14 March.



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