The Red Book

Sydney Opera House

Featuring the first geometrical approach to the roof forms.

Within six months of the announcement of his winning design, architect Jørn Utzon was required to produce new plans, which would become the Red Book, presented in March 1958.

The Red Book, which Utzon dedicated to New South Wales Premier Joe Cahill, was not just a beautiful document.

Alongside an undeniable quality of design and aesthetics, the reports from Utzon's consultants and the overall effect of conveying a buildable structure, the Opera House moved far closer to becoming a real building.

When engineers Arup and Partners requested that Utzon define the curves of the roof, he took a plastic ruler and, holding it perpendicular to a table, made it bend, tracing the curves. He sent them to London, explaining these were the shapes he wanted.

The outcome of the first exchanges between architect and engineer produced an initial sketch of the roof in which every curvature is different – a structurally unsound form with difficult bending moments near its footings.

However, this first geometrical approach to the shells was also visually very beautiful in a distinctly different way to the drawings Utzon had submitted for the competition.

The ridge profiles were much higher and pointed now, and the end shell form of Utzon’s competition drawings no longer cantilevered, like a cliff cave over the sea.

The higher profiles allowed far more volume for the stage towers, auditoria and acoustics, all of which had been underestimated in the competition sketches.

Clearly the profile of the roof had changed considerably, but it was received by the client and the public as a transformation for the better, for both logistical and aesthetic reasons.

The 55 pages contained contributions from Utzon and his architects alongside Ove Arup and Partners, as well as Utzon's group of consultants, detailing stage machinery and acoustics.

Credits: Story

Created by Sam Doust and the
Sydney Opera House GCI Team

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Contributors:
State Records NSW

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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