Models: Coda

Sydney Opera House

Completed just before Jørn Utzon's withdrawal from the project of the Sydney Opera House in 1966, this model expresses the architect’s intentions for the interiors, which contrast dramatically with those completed in 1973.

This design for the Major Hall illustrates a period of the project when the hall was designed for the dual purpose of hosting both grand operas and concerts.

In opera mode the hall was to feature a proscenium stage and orchestra pit and seating for an audience of about 2000 people. In concert mode the orchestra pit was to be used for seating, allowing for 2800 people.

Utzon, who was greatly influenced by natural form, described the overall design rationale using a metaphor drawn from nature: “We wanted to create a relationship between the shells and the interior halls so it would be in harmony, like when you opened a walnut.”

After Utzon withdrew from the project, the function of the Major Hall was revised to cater only to concerts and was no longer required for the dual purpose that had been stipulated throughout the rest of the project.

This model displays features, including the original stage machinery, that were installed then demolished after Utzon's withdrawal from the project.

The machinery reaches up into the largest of the vaulted roof shells, A2.

When he heard of the decision to abandon Utzon's design for the Major Hall, resulting in the scrapping of the already-installed stage machinery, engineer Ove Arup wrote to the then New South Wales minister for public works, Davis Hughes, on 28 March 1967:

“I understand that your Government has now finally decided to abandon the idea of using the Major Hall for opera. It is a very dramatic – almost one might say, tragic – decision because it makes a nonsense of the whole form of the shells, which were meant to house the stage tower.”

The acoustically designed shapes and finish of the plywood ceilings can be seen here in their intended finish of red and gold.

Arup engineers would reject Utzon’s scheme for this suspended roof, and this proved a critical blow to Utzon. He resigned from the project in 1966 as this model was completed.

Also displayed is Utzon’s design for the glass walls, an approach abandoned in the finished building. In Utzon’s 2002 Design Principles for the Sydney Opera House he observed:

“Another item that had taken considerable time was the glass walls enclosing the ends of the shells. We worked with ideas of various kinds, as had Ove Arup’s office. We worked for a long time with a solution where the mullions were plywood laminated with bronze but it turned out to be somewhat complicated ... The glass wall, which has been built, is in family with the glass wall we arrived at with its feeling of hanging from the shell, but the old solution was not splaying it out, as it has been done.”

“The model is an important record of the design potential and history of the Sydney Opera House,” says Charles Pickett, curator, design and built environment at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, 1990-2014. “Having been displayed in exhibitions celebrating Utzon’s Opera House design, the model has helped ensure that the design of the building remains an ongoing controversy.”

Cross-sectional architectural model of the Sydney Opera House in a 1:128 scale. The model is made from white, red, purple and black painted wood and plastic and is mounted on a black base.

Production: 1964 - 1966
Height: 760 mm
Width: 630 mm

Constructed by Finecraft Scale Models Pty Ltd, Sydney, Australia, 1964-66.

Credits: Story

Created by Sam Doust and the
Sydney Opera House GCI Team


State Library of New South Wales

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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