The Sydney Opera House, in Australia, is one of the most famous works of 20th-century architecture. It hosts events, concerts, ballets, operas, and plays. Located on a strip of land surrounded on three sides by the sea, it dominates the port and bay of Sydney. In 1956 the Australian government launched an international competition to build a major theater. Over 200 architects from 23 different nations participated in the competition. The winner was Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who presented a strikingly original project. The foundation was modeled on Mayan temples. The roof was conceived as a single sphere with a 75 m diameter, broken down into curved sections. Held together by steel cables, these sections are made of cement and covered with over 1,056,000 white tiles. The tallest section measures 67 m. The overall visual effect is reminiscent of a galleon in full sail. The Opera House revolutionized the traditional concept of a theater, becoming the first multipurpose culture and leisure center. It has five halls. The auditorium, or Concert Hall, is the largest, and can seat over 2,600 people. The smaller Opera Theater seats 1,500. Other halls include the Playhouse, used as a cinema, the Drama Theater, and the Studio Theater. The smallest hall is the Studio, used for small-scale productions.
The complex also includes two main lobbies, restaurants, and a number of stores.
Construction began in 1959, but the complex structure proved difficult to build. The high costs, doubts concerning the feasibility of its innovative roof, and limits in engineering forced Utzon to suspend construction work in 1966. The building was completed in 1973 by a group of Australian architects, including Peter Hall, David Littlemore, and Lionel Todd. They made several changes to the original plan, including the addition of three secondary halls. Queen Elizabeth II of England officially inaugurated the Concert Hall in October 1973, with a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The event was televised and celebrated with a fireworks display. In 2004 the Utzon Hall was inaugurated, the only space within the Opera House built in full compliance with the plans laid down by the original architect. The building’s bold, distinctive form has made such an impression on the collective imagination that the Opera House has come to symbolize not only Sydney, but Australia as a whole. In June 2007 Unesco proclaimed the Sydney Opera House a World Heritage site.