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SOH BUILD Conversation Night“The Originals” + VR Experience

30 November 2023

In the Centre for Creativity


With “The Originals” John Kuner, Wilf Deck,  Michael Elfick, Ron Bergin 
& Dr Paolo Stracchi and Dr Luciano Cardellicchio

Join the SOH BUILD team in a night of conversation with ‘The Originals’ – a group of original engineers and builders who built Sydney Opera House. For one night only, also deep dive into a virtual realty experience imagining you are onsite pouring concrete for the famous Spherical solution.

Go back in time with “The Originals”

They have become known as “The Originals”, a group of the original engineers and builders who worked on the completion of the Opera House.

For one night the SOH BUILD program will present a public in conversation event with “The Originals”, along with a VR experience transporting you back in time to the construction site of the 1960’s and the innovative design solutions that were developed.

The panel discussion will provide a unique opportunity to hear the untold stories about what the final phases of the design and construction were really like when the engineering companies Ove ARUP and Hornibrook were racing to complete the seemingly unrealisable vision of the Sydney Opera House. It also offers an insight into the social and political conditions of the time.

The panel discussion features our Originals - John Kuner, Michael Elfick, Wilf Deck, and Ron Bergin.

Before and after the Conversation audiences can experience the hands on Virtual Reality Experience experience designed by the research team of Dr Paolo Stracchi (Sydney University) and Luciano Cardellicchio (UNSW). This dynamic experience puts viewers on the top of the Sydney Opera House sails to witness up close the construction techniques that built the magnificent sail structure.

The Virtual Reality Experience 

The “Digital Heritage Construction project” is a collaborative research initiative focusing on the use of Digital Interactive Environments to assess the cultural significance of construction documentation and processes related to historically important buildings. The project showcases immersive VR experiences that recreate the construction site of the Sydney Opera House, offering a vivid representation of the building process as it originally occurred. These experiences aim to bring to life the documents, moments, and stories associated with the construction of this iconic architectural landmark.

This evening is being offered as part of the SOH BUILD Tertiary Built Environment Creative Lab in partnership with the Ove Arup Foundation.

Presented by Sydney Opera House


Meet the artists

John Kuner

Commenced work in the Construction and Building Industry in 1960 with M. R. Hornibrook Pty Ltd which led to senior roles in the building of Stage II of the Sydney Opera House. After leaving the Sydney Opera House project he worked in Senior management roles in O’Brien Glass, Pilkington, Hornibrook, Boral and finally as CEO of Penrith Lakes Development Corporation . Kuner wrote the book about his involvement with SOH 'Raising The Sails'.

Wilf Deck

Work with Arup in Peter Rice's Design Office in London from on 6 Jan 1963 until he was transferred to Sydney in the spring of 1964 as Peter Rice's assistant . He worked on erecting the shell roofs and in 1967 and worked for Dr. John Nutt on the design of two stage three items; the window walls and a carpark.

Michael Elfick

At the age of 16, Michael started as an articled pupil to a local surveyor. He then worked as a surveyor before joining Over Arup and partners for the Opera House Project. After the Opera House, he was recruited by Tony Cram (who wrote the surveying program for the Opera House) to help set up Engineering Computer Services, a company which specialised in computer techniques for geophysical and surveying applications.

Dr Paolo Stracchi Senior Lecturer in Architectural Technology, School of Architecture, Design and Planning, The University of Sydney

Paolo is an Architectural Engineer who holds a PhD in Architecture and Construction. Beyond historical analysis, Paolo’s research interests span the exploration of the capabilities of cutting-edge technologies in enhancing heritage conservation, particularly in relation to construction documentation and practices, and the development of advanced construction training practices. Since 2020, Paolo has been serving as the Program Director for the Master of Architecture program at the University of Sydney.

Dr Luciano Cardellicchio Senior Lecturer in Architectural Construction School of Built Environment, Faculty of Arts Design and Architecture. University of New South Wales

Trained as a Building Engineer, Luciano is a researcher and educator who holds a doctoral degree in Architecture and Construction. His research interests revolve around knowledge creation in the design development and construction processes of buildings. Currently, he is actively involved in various research projects, with a specific emphasis on three key areas: the Australian contribution to the design and construction of the Sydney Opera House, accelerated aging patterns and defects in non-standard iconic buildings, the role of construction culture and documentation in the assessment of heritage values.


Program partner: Ove Arup Foundation

The Ove Arup Foundation and Sydney Opera House are working in partnership to enable BUILD over three years from 2021 through the Opera House’s 50th anniversary year in 2023. 

“An independent UK charity, the Ove Arup Foundation honours the memory of engineer, designer and philosopher, Sir Ove Arup. By funding educational programmes and initiatives, the foundation drives values of innovation and inclusive design, with a strong emphasis on sustainability and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Sir Ove Arup was involved in the original design of Sydney Opera House, which began in the 1950s, and his firm Arup continues to play a pivotal role in the building’s long-term development and preservation plan.

Danish architect Jørn Utzon won an international competition for the project in 1957. As the industry’s eminent concrete designer, Sir Ove Arup’s contribution was sought early on, and he began to turn Utzon’s freeform sketches into an architectural reality. Sir Ove Arup’s team confronted an engineering challenge that has since become one of the profession’s epic tales – the design and construction of the building’s enormous, precast concrete shells.”


Other information

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