Controversial Opera House design revealed

Niki May Young
Thursday 22 Jan 2009

Kenneth Woolley reveals design proposals for a new Sydney opera theatre

In March last year WAN revealed the controversy surrounding new design plans for the Sydney Opera House. A long-standing architectural centrepiece of Sydney Harbour since its opening in 1973, the Opera House has been the focus of heated debate with various proposals suggested to reconcile its current design with the original specifications laid out by its architect, the late Jorn Utzon. In more recent times the need for acoustics more suited to operatic performance and a wider variety of performance types have only exacerbated the need for redevelopment and encouraged architectural thinkers into action.

One of the most recent, and most controversial, proposals suggested has been that of Kenneth Woolley, a respected member of Sydney’s architectural fraternity. Here Wooley shares his designs with WAN. His suggestion is to develop a separate opera theatre, adjacent to the existing building and integrated with the botanic gardens, which would not only allow for a more acoustically suitable venue but also increase the capacity of the opera house by an extra 1800 seats. Wooley, who originally proposed the idea in an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald in March 2008, decided to develop the idea into a conceptual design after his original article was met with strong reactions, both positive and negative.

To integrate the proposed theatre with the botanic gardens Wooley proposes melding it into the existing landform and running lawns and landscaping over its roof, which would not only help integrate the development with its surroundings but also have many large-scale cost and sustainability benefits. Despite these benefits, the proposal has been met with outrage by Paul Keating, the former Australian Prime Minister, and the Sydney Opera House Trust who propose to demolish and redevelop the existing opera theatre at an estimated cost of around $700 million, which would also result in the closure of the theatre for up to three years. Other proposals too have been put forward, including redeveloping the existing Opera House internally, and demolishing the theatre altogether and relocating it elsewhere.

Despite the various proposals and suggestions, it is evident that all the concerned parties have the same ends in mind – to bring the Opera House up to modern standards and in line with Utzon’s original vision, whilst remaining financially viable – but where they differ is in the means to achieve this goal. Woolley himself expresses as much “It’s a building of the highest importance and public interest… all proposals and development possibilities should be examined openly in the light of informed, rational, expert assessment.”

John Edwards

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