The Yellow Book

Sydney Opera House

The final form of the roof features vaulted shells created from spherical geometry.

Title page, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
The Spherical Solution
The Yellow Book was presented to the Sydney Opera House Executive Committee in March of 1962. While more than another year of design and preparation ensued to finalise the geometry and prepare the construction schedule, the Yellow Book represented a defining moment in the building's character, the beautifully presented solution to its hardest problem – the vaulted shells of the roof.
Page 1, Site plan, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House

Late in 1961, a letter to the Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Sydney, Professor Harry Ashworth, reflects Utzon's optimism for the new design:

"We were riding two horses for a long time. The last six months the real solution for everything technically and aesthetically was developed and it was even the cheapest way of making it you could dream of ... Of course, all the work during the past three years has been the background for arriving at this magnificent solution."

Page 2, South elevation, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 3, East elevation, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 4, North elevation, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 5, West elevation, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House

In 1962 – more or less five years since the winning design was announced – the finished form of the roof scheme of Sydney Opera House was revealed to the public for the first time.

Despite minor adjustments until the start of construction, the iconic profile of the Sydney Opera House is instantly recognisable in these drawings.

Page 6, Longitudinal section through Minor Hall, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House

The unity of architect Jørn Utzon's vision is apparent in these drawings, this cross-section articulating the relationship between the shells and the form of the Minor Hall.

Page 7, Plan of Minor Hall, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 8, Longitudinal section through Minor Hall showing elevation of auditorium and stage wall, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 9, Roof plan of Minor Hall, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 10, Cross sections of Minor Hall, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 11, North elevation of Minor Hall, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 12, Elevation of southern glass wall, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 13, Elevation of glass walls, Major Hall, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 14, Glass walls, Major Hall, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 15, Glass walls, Major Hall, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House

Utzon had designed the form of the glass walls based upon the iterative natural form of the movement of an eagle's wing. This idea became the basis for the curtained form seen here.

Utzon's designs for the glass walls were, however, never realised. The glass work seen today is a result of interpretation and collaboration between architect Peter Hall and the engineers of Arup.

Page 16, Longitudinal section through Major Hall, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House

This cross section of the Major Hall again illustrates Utzon's design ideals, based on natural forms. The architect likened this cross-section to opening a walnut and being both surprised and delighted by the coherence of difference in form.

The tessellated ceiling scheme of the Major Hall was never realised. It was instead abandoned for a design based upon a motif of breaking waves that reflected Utzon’s ill-fated attempt to accommodate adjustments to seating numbers at the insistence of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation late in the project.

The stage machinery indicated here was installed but then demolished and removed from the building after Utzon was compelled to leave the project in 1966; he was replaced by a committee of architects led by Peter Hall.

Page 17, Plan of Major Hall, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 18, Cross section of Major Hall auditorium, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 19, Cross section of major Hall auditorium, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 20, Grid system, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House

The unique point of intersection of the axes of the halls is seen in this elevation and can be precisely stood upon to this day.

The point is singular in the overall geometry of the building, an intersection of the axes of both the halls and the overall grid system for the site.

From this point, one can look directly down the centre lines of both halls.

The position is marked by the Inaugural Plaque, laid in 1958 at a ceremony to commemorate the beginning of construction of the podium.

If you visit the site, be sure to seek it out, set into the first set of the Monumental Steps.

Page 21, Geometrical construction showing the shells of the Major Hall (elevation), Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House

This exquisite drawing of the spherical geometry was completed at the end of 1961 in Hellebæk, Denmark, by resident architect Rafael Moneo, who later became one of Spain's most famous architects and winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize in 1996.

Page 22, Geometrical construction for Shell 3, Major Hall, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 23, Precast spheroidal lid element, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House

Almost 1 million tiles adorn the roof of the Sydney Opera House, their uneven glazed surfaces scattering light across the patterned array and effortlessly narrating the geometry of the roof, communicating its grand complexity in a beautiful and deliberate finish.

These tiles are adhered to so-called tile lids, pre-cast chevron forms with spheroidal curvature to continue the curved surface of the roof.

Page 24, Tiling on shells, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 25, Elevation of shells, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 26, Spherical solution roof profile in contrast with original sketch, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 27, Development of shells, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 28, South and east elevations and Major Hall, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 29, Competition scheme, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 30, Plan of halls, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 31, Lounge balcony plan, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 32, Second floor, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 33, First floor, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 34, Ground floor, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 35, Plan of basement, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Page 36, Longitudinal section through Major Hall, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
Back Cover, Jørn Utzon, 1962, From the collection of: Sydney Opera House
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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