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Search for Sydney Opera House designs

edited October 2006 in notices

05 October 2006

Worldwide search for Sydney Opera House designs

It feels like Sydney Opera House has always been there, sitting grandly at the end of Bennelong Point. But it is only 50 years since its billowing white sails were just an idea in one man’s imagination – a young Danish architect, Jørn Utzon.

In 1956, the then New South Wales Premier, Joe Cahill, announced an international competition for the design of an Opera House for Sydney. More than 200 entries were received from around the world, including the UK, USA, Germany and Japan.

Sydney Opera House is now launching a worldwide appeal to find as many of these designs as possible.

The story goes that one of the judges, renowned American architect, Eero Saarinen, arrived in Sydney after the other three judges had started assessing the entries. He decided to look through their rejected entries, and stopped at the Utzon design declaring it to be outstanding. The announcement was made on January 29, 1957, and the designs displayed at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Following the design competition, only the 17 short-listed designs appear to have been photographed while a few other entries were printed in local newspapers. All but Utzon’s entry were returned to the architects. In fact, says Anne Watson, Powerhouse Museum Curator and editor of a new book; Building a Masterpiece: the Sydney Opera House, a complete list of all the architects who entered does not even appear to have survived.

“I don’t think anyone realised how important Sydney Opera House would become and what a historic moment this was for the future of Sydney. In my research for the book, I was surprised that I could only find 25 or so designs. That leaves around 200 entries for which we have no record. A good number of these are going to be by architects all over the world who would now be in their eighties,” Anne Watson continued.

“While Australian architects submitted 61 schemes, the bulk of the remainder came in the form of 51 entries from the UK, 24 from the USA and 23 from Germany. Entries were submitted from as far as French Morocco, Japan and Israel.”

Sydney Opera House Chief Executive, Dr Norman Gillespie, said the organisation was keen to source as many of these designs as possible. “These designs are part of Sydney Opera House’s story, they are an important historic record and should not be lost”, Dr Gillespie said.

“In launching this appeal, we are hoping that many architects or architectural firms have kept their competition entries. We would really like to one day recreate the original exhibition and display as many of these original designs as we can find.

“This would be a fitting celebration for the 50th anniversary of the genesis of Sydney Opera House”, Dr Gillespie continued.

Construction of Sydney Opera House commenced in 1959 and the building was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 20th October, 1973.

Designs can be emailed to designs AT sydneyoperahouse DOT com or photocopies sent Attn: Sarah Grigg, Sydney Opera House.

For more information, images or interviews with Anne Watson or Dr Norman Gillespie, please contact Sarah Grigg on sgrigg AT sydneyoperahouse DOT com or on 0011 61 2 9250 7822.

Theatre designer Bill Constable’s watercolour or an opera house on Bennelong Point, based on Eugene Goossens’ own dramatic vision for the building. While not actually submitted in the competition, the design included an outdoor ‘music bowl’ – a commendable idea but perhaps not terribly practical in Sydney’s variable winds. Image courtesy Sydney Opera House.



  • edited January 1970
    Caught my eye, this many hidden secrets lie behind these sort of projects...great ideas sullied by politics...??

    Have a sculptor friend in his 70's who was engaged privately by Utzon to design a water level/prominade frieze to run from the Quay around the OperaHouse to Farm Cove.

    I couldn't believe the 3 x 20m (not a miss-print) scale drawings I first saw of a "dream" lost to political expedency and ego.

    Unfortunately the Sydney Opera House will never be what it could have been...once the crystal is broken and expertly repaired, never rings the same.

    I'm trying to convince the artist to save these marquettes for posterity, but once hurt by philistines the attitude of "f..k'em" takes over.

    I sit and watch.
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