Building an Icon

For Listening Skill

Audio Transcript

Topic: Sydney Opera House: Building an Icon

It’s one of the most recognisable buildings in the world. Positioned on the water’s edge and overlooking the famous harbour, Sydney Opera House is an iconic structure that is synonymous with Australia.

This is the story of how Sydney Opera House was built.

In 1955, when the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music outgrew their home at Sydney Town

Hall, premier Joseph Cahill launched an international design competition for a dedicated opera house.

After reviewing 233 entries from architects in 32 countries, the judges declared Danish architect, Jorn Utzon as the winner of the competition in 1957 – despite his entry comprising largely of diagrammatic drawings and simple sketches. Following his win, Utzon proceeded to refine the building plans.

The New South Wales government pushed for works to begin early, in 1959, before the scheme’s design had been finalised.

With an initial budget of AUD $7M, and an expected completion date of January 1963, the push to begin construction without a finalised design and before solving crucial structural design challenges caused the project to be delivered 10 years behind schedule and more than 14 times over budget. Its final cost was AUD $102M – which is equivalent to AUD $927M today.

The construction of Sydney Opera House was planned in three distinct stages. The first would consist of the structure’s podium, the second would see formation of the iconic outer shells, and the final stage would focus on internal fit out of the concert halls and other open spaces.

In March 1959 construction began on some 588 concrete piers to support the 1.8-hectare building.

By 1961, the project was already facing delays significant delays and work was more than 47 weeks behind schedule. However, when the government changed just two years later, the project was placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Public Works.

After 14 years of construction, Sydney Opera House was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 20 October 1973 in a televised event that featured fireworks and a performance of Beethoven’s, Symphony No. 9. In 2003 Jorn Utzon was awarded architecture’s highest honour – the Pritzker Prize – in 2003




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