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10 Oct 2022

After Extensive Renovations, the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House Reopens

After Extensive Renovations, the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House Reopens

The iconic Sydney Opera House's concert hall has reopened after undergoing a long-awaited makeover to improve its aged acoustics, functionality, and accessibility.

The renovation was the last phase of a more thorough makeover of the entire structure, which was carried out by a team led by Australian studio ARM Architecture and engineering company Arup.

The work was finished in time for the structure's 50th birthday in 2023.

"In 2012 Louise Herron, Sydney Opera House CEO, announced that the Sydney Opera House would undertake a 'decade of renewal'," said ARM Architecture principal Andrew Hayne. "The concert hall was the last and biggest of a series of projects," he told Dezeen.

A multi-venue performing arts structure, the Sydney Opera House, was created by the Danish architect Jrn Utzon and finished by the Australian architect Peter Hall in 1973.

It is recognised as one of the most iconic structures of the 20th century and is distinguished by its vaulted tile-clad shells.

For the renovation of its concert hall, ARM Architecture was chosen as the primary architect and consultant in 2015.

On the project, the studio collaborated with Arup, heritage experts Design 5, theatre consultants Theatreplan, building services engineers Steensen Varming, acousticians Müller-BBM, and the opera house's in-house project team, in addition to theatre machinery contractor Waagner Biro.

The acoustics and accessibility issues that the concert hall had, according to principal Hayne, "plagued" the structure, were the subject of ARM Architecture's plan for the renovation.

"At nearly 50 years old, the concert hall was faced with end-of-life theatre machinery above the ceiling, a poor reputation for acoustics and mobility issues that plagued the whole of the building with significant spaces only accessible by imposing staircases," Hayne explained.

"We were appointed in mid-2015 and have spent the past seven years carefully working with the SOH and the consultant team to ensure the right design solutions to improve the acoustics, functionality and accessibility were implemented into this iconic building."

The crew installed 18 petal-shaped fibreglass hanging reflectors in lieu of the concert hall's original hanging reflectors to improve the acoustics for both the artists and the audience members. These also pay homage to the venue's original Hall-designed seating, which is magenta in colour.

The petals complement a number of other new acoustic elements, including carved timber panels that enclose the stage and stalls and a number of moveable wall reflectors.

These precautions, according to Hayne, are essential since the venue's high ceilings and the fact that it is "at least one-third longer than what an ideal music hall should be" cause terrible acoustics.

"These two factors meant that acoustic energy from the orchestra was getting lost in the upper reaches of the ceiling and would also not make its way to the very back of the hall," Hayne explained.

"The acoustic enhancements also bring an equity to the listening experience for those attending shows," he continued. "[It is] no longer a room with a differing acoustic depending on where you sat, there is a consistency and vibrancy to all seats in the house."

Modern theatre equipment was also added as part of the renovation by ARM Architecture, which will enable more ambitious and diverse performances in the hall and speed up changeover times. Backstage and rehearsal spaces have also been improved.

In order to enhance sightlines, the main stage has been lowered. Additionally, automatic stage risers have been installed, enabling a tiered setup to be easily put up for orchestral concerts.

Lastly, a new walkway through the eastern foyer and elevators that connect all floors of the northern foyer, the circle, and the top circle have improved circulation.

Wheelchair users may now enter these areas thanks to the new elevators. This was crucial in the northern entryway since it had a view of Sydney Harbour, according to Hayne.

"This brings equity in access to what is one of the most picturesque spots in the Sydney Opera House with a fantastic view out over the harbour," he explained.

To guarantee that the original architects' intent was respected, Hayne said it was "a fraught process" to renovate the building's "much-loved heritage fabric."

Additionally, the studio closely collaborated with Concept 5 and the opera house's own Design Advisory Panel (DAP), who independently evaluated each design to assure its compatibility.

"We dove deep into the history of the place, getting to know and understand Utzon's original design approach, but also importantly, the work of Peter Hall who took over once Utzon left and has been unfairly maligned over the years," reflected Hayne.

"It was primarily his work that we were interacting with and so understanding the background and design intent of his elements was critical to the success of the new interventions we have made."

The Centre Pompidou, designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers in Paris, France, is another landmark structure from the 20th century that is undergoing extensive repairs.

It will be closed for four years starting in 2023 to replace and repair ageing equipment including the heating and cooling system, escalators, and elevators.


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