Like many great cultural institutions the world over, the Sydney Opera House is currently closed to the public as the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) brings life in major population centers to a standstill.
The closure of the iconic Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall, however, was a pre-planned and long-awaited maneuver to accommodate a much-needed rehabilitation of the acoustically challenged, accessibility-plagued venue. Renovation work first kicked off in February, marking the first time in its history that the Concert Hall has gone dark for an extended period. Per the New York Times, the gall and the surrounding Opera House complex are normally open to the public 363 days a year.
A January 31 performance by Solange was the last held there for at least the next two years.
Pending any delays, the 2,500-seat venue is expected to reopen in mid-2021, ahead of the Opera House’s 50th anniversary in 2023. (Other performances and gatherings held in other venues at the concrete sail-topped Opera House complex that were to remain open during the revamp have since been postponed as a proactive measure against the spread of COVID-19.)
Sporting a price tag of $200 million that’s being covered by the New South Wales government, the Concert Hall refurbishment is a major endeavor that, after years of planning, will correct numerous shortcomings of the famous—and famously flawed—venue. The upgrades will tackle not-so-insignificant issues with sound quality, performance logistics, and guest accessibility that have vexed Opera House officials, performers, and the general public alike for decades.
As the Times and others have noted, the UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed structure is one of the world’s most distinctive and instantly recognizable works of modern architecture. But its construction was a notoriously troubled one, complete with ballooning costs, scheduling overruns, technical missteps, bureaucratic in-fighting, a workers’ strike, and the resignation of its architect, Jørn Utzon, long before it was completed. While the interiors are visually ravishing thanks in large part to Utzon’s successor, Australian architect Peter Hall, the Concert Hall has long been regarded as subpar when it comes to its aural qualities—kind of important for a world-renowned concert venue.
Writes The Guardian:
“The actor John Malkovich once said the acoustics in the Concert Hall ‘would do an aeroplane hangar a disservice.’ Members of the resident Sydney Symphony Orchestra have long complained that they cannot hear their fellow musicians on stage. And the rise of the rock concert has further challenged the venue, with amplified music and electronic sets being precisely the opposite of what the hall’s infrastructure was built to accommodate.”
As The Guardian explains, these issues largely arise from the fact that the Concert Hall was initially designed to be more of a multipurpose space complete with overhead theatrical rigging that could accommodate opera and plays. But following Utzon’s departure, these types of performances were reassigned to a more intimate venue at the Opera House, the Joan Sutherland Theatre, and the grand hall was redesigned to exclusively accommodate classical music performances. While symphonies continue to dominate the space, it’s also now heavily—and imperfectly—used for rock, pop, and dance acts as well.
In addition to issues of bad acoustics, “more basic matters,” as the Times puts it, have long begged for fixing. This includes replacing antiquated electrical wiring and modernizing a rather inconvenient HVAC system.
“The air conditioning system is hopeless,” Rory Jeffes, the leader of Opera Australia and former managing director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, told the Times.“It blows out of cannon ports up above, and then falls onto the stage, and very often turns the pages of the musicians as they play.”
Improving accessibility for the million-plus visitors that the Opera House receives every year is also a top priority. While it's a pressing matter today, how patrons with mobility issues traversed the sprawling, stair-heavy space wasn’t a main concern in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the building was being designed and constructed. Opening up the space to visitors of all ages and physical abilities has been a challenge, however, considering its designation as a historic landmark.
A major aspect of improving accessibility at the Concert Hall tasked to ARM Architecture, the Melbourne- and Sydney-based firm overseeing the project, has been installing elevators, something that didn’t exist before.
In addition to elevators and code-compliant accessibility tweaks, other upgrades include: a new acoustic ceiling, specially designed acoustic reflectors, new acoustic panels to be placed over the stage and elsewhere, an automatic drape system, automatic stage risers, a modernized theatrical grid system, revamped backstage areas, and more.
“The number and diversity of shows being staged in the Concert Hall, as well as their performance requirements, have increased enormously over the decades since the building first opened.
It is vital the Opera House invests in new technology and systems to ensure the venue continues to meet orchestral and contemporary performance needs and the expectations of staff, resident companies, performers, and audiences now and in the future.”
In executing the overhaul, ARM is working closely alongside a team of acousticians as well as engineering firms Arup and Steensen Varming to better “understand the building’s existing structural condition” before carrying out more complex aspects of the renovation. All upgrades and refurbishments are being carried out in accordance with the Opera House’s Conservation Management Plan and will respect Utzon’s original design principles.
“We need to not only maintain our fabulous heritage but we need to be as prepared as we possibly can be for the next 50 years,” Louise Herron, chief executive of the Sydney Opera House, told The Guardian. “What is it that audiences of now and the future are going to want and how can we best prepare the Concert Hall for that? That’s been the driving force behind our approach.”
Off the southern coast of Japan is a small island town named Naoshima, hailed as the country’s “art island” for hosting Tadao Ando-designed museums and large outdoor sculptures by artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Walter De Maria, and George Rickey. Since adopting its recent cultural status in the last decade, the quaint island town of 3,000 permanent residents now receives more than 700,000 visitors annually.
Australia nearly has a ‘Naoshima’ of its own in Cockatoo Island, an even smaller body of land off the coast of Sydney that UNESCO proclaimed as a World Heritage Site in 2010 and, in coordination with the Biennale of Sydney, has temporarily hosted large-scale installations by artists including Ai Weiwei and Cai Guo-Qiang within its historic industrial buildings. In an attempt to solidify the island’s new-found cultural role, the Cockatoo Island Foundation Limited was established last year to transform Cockatoo Island into a permanent art site. Like Naoshima, the group envisioned Cockatoo Island as a site of multiple indoor and outdoor works of art with plenty of landscaping left over to benefit native biodiversity.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the group contains prominent art world figures, including Danny Goldberg and Tony Berg, that have guaranteed to put $80 million towards the project if the federal government would chip in another $190 million. “There is absolutely no personal commercial benefit in this,” Berg told the Herald. “We have this vision for something really fantastic to happen on Cockatoo Island, make it a place of excitement, but if at the end of the day, the review and the government say that is not the way they want to go, we will pack up our stuff and go away.”
The proposal, however, was recently rejected by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, the organization that currently owns the island, stating that the move could negatively affect the site's historical presence. “When we were set up 20 years ago,” Joseph Carrozzi, chairman of the trust, told the Art Newspaper, “the concept of the trust was to protect, rehabilitate and preserve the historical sites. We want the government to say the trust should have an ongoing role in managing these sites because they are unique. We want all the assets to be fundamentally community assets, and (used) for the purpose of telling the story of Australia in a very specific way[...] rather than a commercialized enterprise.”
The island is currently locked in an ongoing tension between its historic past and its potential future as a haven for contemporary art. At the very least, Cockatoo Island will continue its participation in the Biennale of Sydney, including its 22nd iteration taking place throughout the city starting March 14.
David Adjaye and contemporary Aboriginal artist Daniel Boyd have unveiled their design for a new public plaza in Sydney’s Central Business District. Adjaye Associates’ first project in Sydney, the new building and plaza will be located at 180 George Street, the site of Lendlease’s Circular Quay Tower designed by Foster + Partners. Following a competitive expression of interest process, the City of Sydney announced Adjaye and Boyd will design the public square, a community building, and a public work of art, all three of which will be built by Lendlease and then handed over to the city as a public asset. “Rooted in lost history, the new Sydney Plaza is about the meaning of place, heritage, and identity,” stated a recent press release. “An attempt to uncover, layer, and celebrate the Eora origins of this part of coastal Sydney, the project is about reconciliation of cultures...and aims to articulate dialogue around the complex relationship colonizers have to their indigenous communities.” Referencing the dwellings of Australia’s early European settlers, the new public building will take the form of a pitched roof house with fluted exterior cladding, a symbol of shelter and respite in the context of the city’s busy streetscape. It is expected to be used as a flexible, multipurpose space with room for an open plan cafe, meeting spaces, gallery, and garden terrace. Adjaye stated that he hoped the space would become a “place for people to connect, recharge, reflect and take a pause from the rhythm of a fast-transforming city,” according to The Sydney Morning Herald. Boyd’s monumental perforated steel sculpture will jut out above the building and adjacent plaza, filtering light onto the public space below through multiple-sized apertures inspired by Aboriginal dot paintings. 65 feet tall with only minimal support, Boyd’s structure visually appears as a ceiling to an outdoor living room. Sydney’s Director of City Planning, Graham Jahn stated, according to ArchitectureAU, that “This is an incredibly powerful work because it’s so unusual. It’s a public square but it’s also a room within the city. It has wonderful ambiguity and the potential for an incredible presence in the evening.” The project is anticipated to be completed by 2022.
Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) and COX Architecture are slated to officially design a new airport in Western Sydney, Australia. After winning an international design competition featuring 40 firms, the London-based practice and local Sydney studio will together lead the charge in creating a sustainable transportation hub for the burgeoning region surrounding Parkland City.Known officially as the Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport (WSA), the $5.3 billion project is expected to become a catalyst for growth in Western Parkland City, one of the capitol’s new three urban centers (Greater Sydney is officially broken up into three cities). It will be built out in four expansion stages, the first of which will be completed by 2026 and will serve 10 million passengers annually. According to the design team, the vision for the upcoming terminal takes cues from the lush Australian bush: WSA will be a low-lying greenfield airport with nature-filled interiors. Vertical gardens featuring local flora will line the walls, slatted timber ceilings will undulate overhead, and ample daylight will spill in from outside during the day. David Holm, project director at COX, and Cristiano Ceccato of ZHA explained the 4,398-acre site will have an “unmistakable regional identity.”“The design is an evolution of Australian architecture past, present, and future,” said Ceccato in a press release. “It draws inspiration from both traditional architectural features such as the veranda, as well as the natural beauty of the surrounding bushland.” ZHA/COX beat out five other shortlisted teams in the competition for the airport bid. Among them were Foster + Partners, Gensler, Hassell, Pascall+Watson, and Woods Bagot. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, it wasn’t just the highly-localized design that won over the jury, it was the way ZHA/COX presented the importance of the customer’s experience as they journey through the terminal. As the airport expands using modular-based construction, it’s expected that the facility will be able to accommodate up to 82 million passengers a year by 2060—outpacing every other airport in Australia. These numbers coincide with the increased population of Sydney’s greater metropolis as well. In the next 20 years, it’s estimated that Greater Sydney will likely become home to 9 million people. By the time all of the sections of the airport are complete, Parkland City itself will boast well over 1.5 million, according to the Greater Sydney Commission.Construction is slated to begin in 2022.
Sydney-based designer and self-professed foodie Matt Woods is known for his unbridled aesthetic. Motifs of his oeuvre include beautifully repurposed objects, attention to a material, and a conceptual design approach, all of which show up again and again in his significant body of work—a plethora of cafes, restaurants, bars, and retail spaces. His designs don’t hit you over the head with historic references or millennial stylistic nuances. Rather, the overall effect stems from a pleasantly unexpected aesthetic; where if you were to take all furniture, wall coverings, light fixtures, and all other elements apart and separate them into a collected pile, it would look like those things wouldn't normally go together—and yet somehow, they do and to an impressive degree. Enter the otherworldly atmosphere of the Messenger Cafe, a sweeping space swathed in terrazzo. The materiality of the aggregate-manufactured tiles that clad most of the space has become a metaphor for the scheme: beauty found in irregularly and seeming lack of uniformity. The walls, floors, countertops, and caramel leather cushioned banquettes seating are also anchored by terrazzo slabs produced by Fibonacci Stone. Woods are implemented in steeple-like triangle planes, placed in the foreground of the cafe's curtain walls.Read the full article on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
Nestled into a small inner-city suburb of Sydney sits a new business school facility for the University of Sydney. The building, designed by Woods Bagot across three of their fifteen global offices, consolidates facilities that were once scattered across nine buildings on campus while supporting a student body of over 6,000 students. The massing of the building weaves into the context of the neighborhood, unified by a terra-cotta cladding system with carefully selected coloration that help to blend in with surrounding Victorian-era worker’s terraces.
Gosford Quarries; Stane Industries
ArchitectsWoods Bagot; Kannfinch; Carr Design Group (interiors)
Taylor Thomson Whitting (structural engineering)
Date of Completion
Systemterra-cotta screen over IMP/window wall assembly
GALVABOND® steel supplied by BlueScope Sheet Metal Supplies
The building envelope of the University of Sydney's Abercrombie Business School is composed of three components: an all-glass undulating base level, a window wall enclosing classrooms and offices, and an exterior screen assembly composed of terra-cotta baguettes.Matt Stephenson, senior associate at Woods Bagot, said a primary focus of the design team was developing a project that was contextually sensitive. “With the enclosure, the challenge was to maintain a singular identity and dynamic expression for the overall academic building.” The team conducted color theory research, arriving at a scheme that balances “background” coloration of insulated metal panels on the building envelope with “foreground” terra cotta screen colors. A color palette of unglazed and white glazed terra cotta was selected which allows the two facade layers to visually merge, creating a texture inspired by sandstone local to the area. The terra-cotta screen is composed of repetitive baguettes, dynamically arranged in response to program and solar orientation. The architects “unfolded” each elevation, designing orthogonally by setting up a series of operations that began with a uniform screen density. They overlaid a solar analysis and a programmatic analysis of the base building skin that differentiated between room type and activity level. This zoning of the elevation helped inform where baguettes could be eliminated within each facade. In active zones, the architects deleted over 35 percent of the baguettes to allow light and air into the active program spaces. Additional baguettes were culled in response to eye-height views, localized areas of seating, and areas of the facade that were obstructed by adjacent buildings. The last step was to rotate the baguettes on elevations that received the most severe sunlight in order to increase their ability to act as a sunshade while maintaining visual porosity. The result was a dynamic system assembled from standard componentry.
The project evolved between Woods Bagot’s Sydney office, located 30 minutes from the site, and their New York and San Francisco offices. The project teams would share design models on a daily basis, which, thanks to time zone differences, allowed for nearly continuous project development. Stephenson said firm benefits from expertise in multiple offices around the world, and that in the years since the early design phases of USBS, cloud-based model sharing has significantly improved, enabling for more streamlined workflows.
A plethora of big names are gunning for a $1.1 billion tower in Sydney, Australia. From the U.S., HOK, SOM, and KPF are vying for the commission. A stellar list of firms in their own right, British firms Foster + Partners and David Chipperfield Architects are also in running, alongside Australia’s BVN and Hassell.
The lucrative project is an office skyscraper backed by developer Lendlease and located on 182 George Street. Nestled within Sydney's, Circular Quay—a prime piece of real estate—the office, according to the Architect's Journal, would climb to 813 feet. Tenants look set to gain access to vistas over the waterfront that look onto the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge and Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House. If built, the tower would be the tallest in the country. A masterplan is also said to be accompanying the scheme. On their website, Lendlease said that the scheme will "promote connectivity from George Street to Pitt Street, through to Circular Quay and maximise integration with transport infrastructure."
In the statement, the developer goes on to say:
The project will deliver new quality commercial premises and new urban places in an environmentally sustainable way. A vibrant public place will be created with new urban amenity, including a public bike hub and public plazas with dining options, shopping, entertainment and leisure, delivering a new destination in Circular Quay for residents, visitors and workers.This will help to affirm Sydney's position as a globally relevant, intelligent, and innovative metropolis. It is also in alignment with the City of Sydney's vision to create activated areas and new public spaces.
The development is one of many touted/in the works for the area. Danish studio 3XN Architects is currently designing Quay Quarter Tower—a 49-storey office tower in the area of which they beat Japanese firm SANAA and MVRDV for the right to design. Meanwhile, the Sydney Opera House is undergoing a massive renovation courtesy of Australian firm ARM.
Unlike his compatriots, Japanese architect Kengo Kuma won the commission for two high-rise residential towers earlier on this year. That project is due to cost $742 million and will offer two towers rising to 57 and 28 storeys, set for completion in 2018.
The government of the Australia's Southeastern state of New South Wales (NSW) has released images of an upgrade to the Sydney Opera House. Designed by Pritzker Prize winning Danish architect Jørn Utzon and built in 1973, the opera venue is listed as a World Heritage Site. The interior refurbishment will be the building's biggest upgrade in its 43-year history.
Carried out by "controversial" Australian studio ARM, the work is part of a $155 million (USD) Cultural Infrastructure Fund scheme put forward by NSW state authorities. This year, ARM were awarded the Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal, the country's highest architecture award. NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for the Arts Troy Grant said the work represents the "biggest upgrade to the Opera House since it opened 43 years ago.”
As for the upgrades themselves, extensive changes will be made to enhance the hall's acoustic performance. According to a survey from 2011, the Sydney Opera House was named as the third worst classical music venue in Australia in a list of 20. Changes then will see automatic drapes installed along with bespoke acoustic reflectors and in the concert hall. New automated stage risers will also improve acoustical performance meanwhile, for performances using amplified sound, a 3D surround-sound system will be put in place. In addition to this, a new, quieter air-conditioning system will be installed in a bid to reduce background noise.
"For the first time the Concert Hall will deliver the true ambitions of the original creators of this incredible building,” said Sydney Symphony Orchestra Managing Director Rory Jeffes. The building's acoustic properties however, while a primary focus, aren't the only changes in line. Accessibility will be greatly improved thanks to the addition of 26 wheelchair seating options inside the concert hall along with numerous elevators installed throughout the building.
“The Opera House, a ‘masterpiece of human creative genius,’ belongs to us all and is central to our identity as Australians,” said Louise Herron, CEO of the opera house. “These renewal projects are designed to ensure the Opera House continues to evolve, welcoming and inspiring people in as many ways as possible.”
Meanwhile, Sydney resident Graham Sachse commented how it was "remarkable the opera house was being refurbished. "Sydney-siders tend to take the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House for granted," he said speaking to AN. "They sort of just blend into the cityscape in the day to day rush. The NSW State Government does not have a great track record with historic building conservation or public works especially in the 1960s and '70s. The Queen Vitoria Building was saved minutes away from the wrecking ball and we lost iconic hotels like the Australia Hotel and the Adams Hotel and all but one of the grand old picture theaters." Sachse went on to add: "Let's hope that whoever is designing the refit [ARM] gets it right."
Construction for the upgrades is expected to begin in 2019 with the building being opened and available for use again in 2021 two years before its 50th anniversary in 2023.
Indian artist Arunkumar HG has created a somewhat tongue-in-cheek calling out of our throwaway, waste-producing lifestyles with a shoreline sculpture made from nearly 70,000 bottle screw caps. The artist amassed the collection from his neighborhood over the course of a year, carefully stacked the caps, and connected them in vertical configurations using steel filaments.
An undulating, horseshoe-like form resulted, resembling, from afar, a mosaic that is pleasant to behold courtesy of the various colors. “There is a huge imbalance in between our sustainable ecology and our contemporary living practices,” the artist told Designboom.
Titled Droppings and the Dam(n), the sculpture is made from bottle caps sourced from Arunkumar’s town of Gurgaon, India, to “map the consumption pattern of the society at the time” and show the scale of waste produced within a limited time period.
The sculpture was built for the most recent edition of "Sculpture by the Sea" in Aarhus, Denmark, a government-funded public arts project originating on Sydney’s world-famous Bondi beach.
“I have always loved large community arts events like 'Opera in the Park' and 'Symphony Under the Stars', especially the way total strangers sit next to each other listening to music while enjoying a picnic dinner and a few glasses of wine,” David Handley, founding director of Sculpture by the Sea, wrote in a post on the official website explaining the reason he started the initiative. “To me this sense of community is too rarely displayed or available in the modern world.” The month-long public art exhibition is Denmark’s largest visual arts event and typically attracts half a million visitors.
When it comes to a famous landmark, to what extent does locale add to its majesty? An inventive design competition posted to Australian virtual design studio DesignCrowd explored this question with a challenge to designers to reposition the world’s most hyped monuments in all-new locations using high-resolution images.
Designers were tasked with making the extrication of the Big Ben look believable, inserting in its place the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, or the Great Wall of China. The first-place accolade went to a Photoshop-aholic who had supplanted Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral in place of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
Snagging second place was a seamless overlay of the Roman Colosseum where the Sydney Opera House had once stood. Meanwhile, another designer made the Sydney Opera House seem a natural addition to the Thames riverfront overlooked by the London Eye.
Another creative effort saw the Hollywood sign superimposed on the hills along which the Great Wall of China undulates. The design brief, posted to the crowdsourced graphic design bidding site, received 92 designs from 25 designers.
Tokyo-based architecture firm SANAA has won an international competition to design a new modern wing for the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. The firm beat out the likes of David Chipperfield, Renzo Piano, and Herzog & de Meuron for the commission, know as the "Sydney Modern Project."
The $450 million scheme includes the creation of an entirely new building comprising three grass-topped pavilions set on existing parkland. This will double the size of the existing gallery.
“We proposed making a number of plates, each containing a gallery,” SANAA's Kazuyo Sejima told ArchitectureAU. “The plates sit along the topography. So every plate has a slightly different relationship to nature.”
SANAA will also be implementing strategies to increase daylight within the gallery's current 19th century home. Those involved in the selection process praised SANAA's scheme for the way it subtly adds to the gallery without dominating its existing building or the adjacent open space.
SANAA's design will be refined over the next year, and is slated to be completed in 2021—just in time for the gallery's 150th birthday.
The most famous architect in the world agrees that his latest building kind of looks like a crumpled brown paper bag. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, said Frank Gehry, the creator of the very wavy, very paper bag-y Dr. Chau Chak Wing Building at the University of Technology, Sydney. "It is a container, maybe it is a brown paper bag," said the starchitect at the building's recent opening. "But it is flexible on the inside; there is a lot of room for change and movement which I think in the world today is essential."
The structure has been so universally compared to the disposable sacks used to carry a child's lunch because of its waving brown brick facade, which certainly looks like crinkled paper—especially from a distance.
To allow light into the 11-story bag—sorry, building—there are prominent, rectangular windows punched through the rippling facade. There are also large expanses of glass tucked behind the paper—sorry, brick. Taken altogether, the starchitect’s first completed project in Australia looks like a throwback to some of his early work with its heavy use of masonry. An interior staircase that is sheathed in a warped metallic skin is more in line with Gehry's recent projects.
Since Gehry said the design was inspired by a tree house, the paper bag comparison is not ideal. When he was was recently asked if he was happy with the final product, he reportedly replied: "Oh boy, I’m Jewish and I feel guilty about everything." Hey, chin up, Gehry. It's not all bad news, Australia’s Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove said the building looked like “the most beautiful squashed brown paper bag” he had even seen. So, at the very least, it beat the competition.
You can watch a timelapse video of the building's construction below.