Skip Links

Sydney Opera House History 1959 -1965

1959 - 1965 History

1959 - 1965 History

1959 (2 March)

Stage 1 commences (the podium and foundations)

Utzon attends plaque-laying ceremony to celebrate the commencement of Stage 1 (the podium and foundations) by the contractors Civic & Civic.

The Hon JJ (Joe) Cahill, Premier of NSW, screws a bronze plaque into place at what would be the first step of the podium and declares the project underway.

1960 (9 November)

‘Champion of the working class’, Paul Robeson sings for workers on site

The ‘first’ unofficial concert at the Opera House was for construction workers in 1960, when American performer, political activist and human rights campaigner Paul Robeson sang songs of solidarity and protest to a spellbound crowd.

1961 (1 March)

Sydney Opera House Trust formed

The Sydney Opera House Trust was previously known as the Sydney Opera House Executive Committee.  The role of the Trust is to maintain and operate Sydney Opera House on behalf of the NSW Government.

NSW Minister of Public Works is the de jure President of the Sydney Opera House Trust until 1969 when it is restructured and Sir Philip Baxter, KBE, CMG, begins his tenure as the first Chairman. 

1962 (1 January)

Utzon presents ‘Yellow Book’

The ‘Yellow Book’ contains 38 pages of plans, sections and elevations submitted by Jørn Utzon and consultants in January 1962. It includes plans of the major and minor halls, the shells of the major hall, details of a precast lid, tiling on shells and development of shells. The cover of the ‘Yellow Book’ shows the principles of the spherical geometry determined in late 1961: the ‘Spherical Solution’, which was approved for construction in 1962.

1962 (1 March)

New spherical scheme solution presented

Utzon and Arup’s Jack Zunz present a new spherical scheme in Sydney in March. Utzon’s austere line sketches for the 1957 competition proved not to be structurally practical. Over the next five years Utzon, in conjunction with Arup, develops a ribbed shell system based on the geometry of a sphere. This system permits each rib to be built up of a number of standard segments cast at the site.

The development of the roof shell design was a difficult and lengthy process, and as with so much of the Sydney Opera House work, it extended skills and pushed technology to the limit.

1963 (1 February)

Stage 1 of construction completed: the podium

Stage 1 is completed in February 1963, two years behind schedule. The finished podium consists of a reinforced concrete monolith.

The most notable technical feature is the design of the single span concrete beams, some 49m long, which are visible under the Monumental Steps.


Stage 2 commences (construction of the shells)

Mr. Hornibrook (Baulderstone Hornibrook) commenced construction of the roof shells to modify the completed podium to accomodate the final design. The enormous challenges in construction demanded pioneering applications and many new materials as well as building and engineering practices.

Utzon wanted the shells to contrast with the dark water under the deep blue Australian sky – like clouds or sails on the water.

To achieve this look, the tiles needed to be gloss but not be so mirror-like to cause glare. Utzon found exactly what he wanted in Japan, ceramic bowls with a subtle coarseness caused by a granular texture in the clay.

Three years work by Höganäs of Sweden produced the effect Utzon wanted in what became known as the Sydney tile, 120mm square, made from clay with a small percentage of crushed stone.

The 4228 tile chevrons required to cover the shells were produced in a factory set up under the Monumental Steps. Tiles were placed face down in one of 26 chevron shaped beds each with a base shaped to match the curve of the roof.  In total, there are 1,056,006 tiles on the roof.

1964 (29 October)

Utzon made Fellow of Royal Australian Institute of Architects.


Utzon’s requests for funding for Stage 3 not met

Utzon’s requests for funding for the construction of plywood mock-ups for Stage 3 are not met.  Utzon makes repeated claims for fees owing to him.


Labor Party defeated in state elections

Davis Hughes replaces Norman Ryan as NSW Minster of Public Works.

Image credit: Arup and Fairfax

Skip Links