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Peter Hall with glass model. Image: R.L. Stewart/Fairfax Syndication

The Interiors

Peter Hall appointed as the new architect

Peter Hall was one of Australia's brightest young architects at the time he took up the daunting role of design architect to complete Stage Three of Sydney’s new Opera House.

Hall had been a scholarship student at Sydney's prestigious Cranbrook School before completing  a combined architecture and arts degree at the University of Sydney. At the end of his studies he was awarded a generous travel scholarship that afforded him a year in Europe, during which time he had visited Jørn Utzon in Hellebæk.

On returning to Australia, Hall went to work for the NSW Government Architect Ted Farmer at the Department of Public Works, where he helped design the Goldstein College Dining Hall at the University of New South Wales, which was awarded the prestigious Sulman Medal.

Having resigned  from the Department in early 1966 to pursue his own practice, Hall was  approached by Farmer with the offer of the Opera House project. He initially declined. Asked again, however, he said he would be willing to accept the role on the condition that there was no possibility of Utzon returning. After speaking with Utzon by telephone, Hall accepted the position. 

“I’m overwhelmed but I think I can finish the Opera House.”
Peter Hall, 1966

“I'm overwhelmed but I think I can finish the Opera House,” Hall said in an interview with The Daily Mirror. Even so, his appointment was too much for many of his fellow architects, who insisted that no one but Utzon should complete the Sydney Opera House.

With Utzon's departure from the project confirmed, Hall and his partners worked through the requirements to establish a new brief for Stage Three of construction. Hall had been under the impression he would be following Utzon's plans. It came as a shock to discover that the the work required would be on a much larger scale.

Instead of the documentation they were expecting to find, all that Utzon had left were sketches and designs. There were no working drawings, nor were there the crucial drawings illustrating Utzon's most recent thinking. They were all missing, along with about 5000 sketches and drawings that had been placed in storage by Utzon's office assistant, Bill Wheatland, where they would remain, largely unseen, until 1972.

Hall spent the following months overseas visiting Utzon's consultants, including engineers Ove Arup and Jack Zunz, acousticians Cremer and Gabler, and Willem Jordan, with whom he collaborated on the halls. He also visited various concert halls in Japan, Europe and the United States.

A year after Utzon and his family departed Australia, Hall received a letter that would lead, over the following months, to Hall and others exploring the possibility of Utzon's return to collaborate with the government-appointed committee of architects.

Utzon insisted that Hall keep their conversations away from engineers Povl Ahm and Ove Arup, and friends and associates of Utzon. Hall noted that Utzon felt he could not trust Stan Havilland of the Sydney Opera House Executive Committee and that he was no friend of the Minister for Public Works, Davis Hughes, who had all but overtly engineered Utzon's departure from the project.

But nothing came of the backchannel discussions.

On 17 January 1967 the installation of the last (2,194th) precast shell segment effectively marked completion of Stage Two and work on the interiors could begin.

Read ‘A Grand Opening’

The Sydney Opera House captures the imagination of the world

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Opening of the Sydney Opera House. Image: Leo Davies Collection