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The Sydney Opera House Story: 2006-2007

In response to visitor demand, this chronology has been compiled by Paul Bentley to record the story of the Dennis Wolanski Library of the Performing Arts and associated projects within the context of the Sydney Opera House story, theatrical associations with the Bennelong Point site, Jørn Utzon’s involvement with the House and changes to the building.  It draws on and updates Philip Drew’s extensive chronology Utzon and the Sydney Opera House and a number of other sources. See also Sydney Opera House: an annotated list of sources

1606-1956 | 1957-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2005 | 2006-2007 | 2008 | 2009-2010 | 2011-2013 | 2014-


Jan 16 Sydney Opera House nominated for World Heritage listing. After more than a decade of inter-government negotiations, the Australian and NSW Governments nominate the Sydney Opera House for World Heritage listing. The governments have signed a joint nomination to be sent to the World Heritage Centre in Paris, pending a decision mid-2007. [ABC Online] 


Jan 21 The Sydney Morning Herald, in its editorial Getting Our House in Order, urges the federal government and NSW Government "to realise Utzon's vision and to lay down long term plans to maintain the Opera House for future generations." The call is based on $700 million plans, said to have been submitted by Utzon but not yet published, to increase the volume of the Opera Theatre, improve the stage, orchestra pit, seating capacity, acoustics and site lines, and overhaul the theatre's air conditioning and electrics, a proposal that will involve excavation and cutting through a beam that holds the structure together.


Feb The Sydney Opera House heralds the opening of the new Colonnade. Jørn Utzon, it says, envisaged the 45m x 5m structure, with 20 columns in front of three glass doors and six large windows, as an attraction to people during the daytime and "a marvellous entrance for the spectators during the evening...The possibility of making holes in the only possible because of the colonnade [which does not destroy] the feeling of the heavy wall...The elegant combination of architectural forms, the fine rhythm of the columns and the heavy forms of the walls and staircases...will absolutely support the building and make it a friendly, open part." Utzon is now working on new designs for the interior of the western foyer. [Sydney Opera House Events March-April 2006].  


Feb 24 Architectural historian and Utzon biographer, Philip Drew criticises the Colonnade. In a short article headed, That's No Way to Treat a Masterpiece - The Great Reconciliations has Backfired: the Addition to the Sydney Opera House is a Disaster, published in The Australian,  Drew says that, although it is premature to assess how the loggia is aesthetically, it is "the most lacklustre and dispirited thing to claim Utzon as an architect". After questioning  some of the function aspects, he concludes: "What we have is a muddle of architectural ideas: the primary and secondary functions of the Opera House have been tossed together without thought and the very ideals Utzon sought to protect by withdrawing his services in 1966 are corrupted...Bringing back Utzon should have been a masterstroke. But somehow it has backfired and we can be certain Utzon will never see what has been done. Perhaps the lesson of all this is you don't go around making unnecessary changes to a masterpiece. In Australia, there are so few great works of architecture, the country simply cannot afford to wreck our greatest."  


Mar 13 Queen Elizabeth 11 officially opens the Colonnade. Elizabeth Farrelly, in If They Find the Money, It's Curtains for the Opera House [SMH 14.3.06], says the Colonnade is the result of a guilt trip. She questions the ambiguities of Utzon's involvement and the spin associated with the project. It is a banal addition - "a rain shelter for smokers...Visually...its square-griddedness owes more to Richard Johnson's early work than Utzon's...It's a she'll-be-right-mate pragmatism to make Davis Hughes proud...The next stages, should they eventuate, will take the same thinking further...simply in order to weaken Utzon's central idea still further."


Mar 18 Geraldine Brooks, in Unfinished Business, reports on a "sort of" interview with Jørn Utzon, reflecting on the history of the building, the background on Utzon's re-engagement, and the processes used for the new work on the Opera House. Jan Utzon translates his father's ideas and sketches into detailed drawings. Jørn Utzon's judgment is sought on details large and small. Samples of finishes and materials are sent to Denmark for his consideration. Former chairman Joe Skrzynski comments: "We have $5 million to spend on the design work while Utzon is around -we've got that approved - to warehouse his intellect, his thinking." [SMH Good Weekend].


Jun 29 Peter Hall awarded the NSW Royal Australian Institute of Architect's 25-Year Award for his work on the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, reigniting deep divisions in the local architectural community. The Sydney Morning Herald in its leader column on 1-2 July commented: "The honour bestowed this week on the late Mr Hall...seems in appropriate and poorly timed."


Aug 10 Building a Masterpiece, published by the Powerhouse Museum, launched in the Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House. In a forward to the book, Jørn Utzon comments: "My successors, who completed the building, did a tremendous job. They virtually had to start from scratch, learning all the disciplines and absorbing all the complicated information my team and I had spent nine years developing. This was further fraught by the fact that the brief for the building was changed by the new client." Speaking at the launch, former Prime Minister Paul Keating said: "Utzon's passage from his artistic conception to his spherical solution is as impressive and as real as architectural history's old journey from the primeval hut to the stylish, mathematical purity of the Parthenon. Utzon's Opera House does not belong to any historical age, but is timeless, earthy and utopian all at once." [Powerline summer 06/07]


Aug 18 Bill Lambert's Sydney Opera House model goes on display at the University of Sydney's faculty of architecture August- December 2006. The model, measuring 4.5 metres long, 3 metres wide and 1.8 metres high, was constructed in perspex to show air conditioning and other services. After languishing, unassembled, for 24 years, the Sydney Opera House Trust organised its reassembly by Porter Models in 1997, a task that took 2000 hours. [SMH 15.8.06]


Aug 25 NSW Premier Morris Iemma announces a $38 million upgrade to remodel the entrance and foyer and improve access for the elderly and disabled. The scheme involves the installation of lifts and escalators.


Oct 14

Jørn Utzon gives credit to Sir Davis Hughes for completing the Opera House. In a Sydney Morning Herald piece, Steve Meecham reports an alleged  reconciliation between the architect and Sir Davis Hughes, conveyed through author and photographer David Messent in March 2003, three years after Sir Davis's death. "I'm so grateful the building had his enormous force behind the project and he finished it: it was because of him that the complicated building was nearly finished," Utzon is reported to have said.


Nov 11

Joyce Morgan, in It's Reno Time for the City's Grandest House, highlights perennial concerns about deficiencies of the Opera Theatre - the orchestra pit, wing and storage space, ageing stage machinery and auditorium - in the context of the apparently fading likelihood that an additional $700 million will be provided to make improvements. {SMH 11-12 Nov]


  Elizabeth Farrelly, in the same paper, says "There is nothing wrong with the building, we just misnamed it" and suggests "we could fix its faults by admitting it is not an opera house at all, never will be."


Nov 13 The articles prompt two correspondents (Lloyd Capps and Michael Rolfe) to suggest that we leave the 'Opera House' alone and build a new opera house.


Dec 02 Death of former trustee Hedley Yelland (1906-2006) reported in Sydney Morning Herald. Mr Yelland was appointed to the Trust in 1969. His Report on the Objectives of the Educational Programme Committee in 1972 was instrumental on the establishment of the Dennis Wolanski Library in 1973. [SMH 2-3 December]


Dec 14 Jan Utzon interviewed in the article House Proud by Steve Meacham. Recalls growing up in Sydney during the construction of the House, the experience of living through the controversy in 1966, his involvement in new work on Bennelong Point, and the role of Jørn Utzon in recent design and construction work, despite failing eyesight and other ailments. [The Sydney magazine December]


Feb 06 Opera House at odds over boss, reports Jennifer Sexton in The Bulletin. According to the article, the Sydney Opera House Trust has decided to advertise the position of CEO Norman Gillespie when his contract expires in September 2007 as a result of dissatisfaction over his performance and leadership in part arising from his relationship with a member of his staff and her appointment to the executive team.  


Feb 15 A foyer exhibition Photo Journal is presented in the Opera House western foyers to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jørn Utzon's win in the Sydney Opera House architectural competition. The exhibition, running until 28 February, explores the genesis of Utzon's vision and features some of the losing designs.


Mar 20 Utzon is losing his sight from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and is living in an aged care facility in Denmark reports Matthew Westwood in The Australian. He cannot see television or read without great effort and with a magnifying glass. Architectural historian Philip Drew says the extent of Utzon's continuing involvement has to be questioned, given his impaired vision. The Boston Herald on 26 March says: "The building's custodians and Utzon's family have denied recent charges that [the] degenerative eye condition has left the Danish architect unable to contribute fully to renovations under way...and that his name is being used to push through substandard work." In the International Herald Tribute on 29 March, the Trust denies claims that it is being too secretive about planned construction work and was putting Utzon's name ahead of the integrity of the building.


Mar 28 Utzon wants to tear up the floor of the Opera House, reports Matthew Benns in the Sun Herald and subsequently in The Age on 8 April. Plans developed by the Utzons and architect Richard Johnson involve dropping the floor of the Opera Theatre by 4 metres and cutting into surrounding sandstone to allow the backstage area to be enlarged and the sound quality improved. The architects' blueprint is being examined by building experts before it is given approval..


May 12

CEO Norman Gillespie announces he will quit his job when his five year contract expires in September, "just months before the Sydney Opera House Trust is due to reveal a $500 million-plus overhaul of the building." Valerie Lawson reports in the Sydney Morning Herald that his departure is "understood to relate to several issues, among them his staff relations and his manner of communicating with some of his staff and trustees."


May 19 Joyce Morgan and David Marr in We Need to Start Again (SMH 19-20 May), comment on the resignation of Dr Gillespie and the challenges facing his successor. The challenges, they assert, are compounded by an error of judgment by Sir Eugene Goossens in promoting a multi-purpose building at the outset, the consequences of a rapprochement with Utzon engineered by Joe Skrzynski in 1998, the political ramifications of a state building that has gained status as a national icon, and the logistics of operating the performing arts companies during protracted re-construction.  


May 30 Elizabeth Farrelly, in It Might Rhyme with Kangaroo But This MishMash Just Won't Do, refers to "the bastardised Opera House" in an article about the propensity for politicians and bureaucrats to mismanage planning of cities, precincts and buildings and produce committee-designed camels. [SMH].


Jun 06 Philip Drew says the installation of two escalators from the box office foyer to the Concert Hall and Opera Theatre foyers are an act of vandalism in his review of Peter Jones' book Ove Arup Masterbuilder of the Twentieth Century. The book, he says, fills a crucial gap in the history of the Opera House and provides an important context for reassessing changes currently underway on Bennelong Point. It paints a portrait of Arup as an engineer who "preferred open uncertainty to false certainty, inquiry to faith, exploration and discovery to absolutes". It reflects on the devastation felt by Arup following Utzon's departure from the project in 1966. Drew compares Arup's opposition to Davis Hughes' proposed incorporation in the ceremonial staircase in 1970 to similar plans in 2007. "If there is one clear message from Jones's warts and all life of Arup," he says, "it is that Utzon must take a much larger share of the blame for the crisis of 1966. He made many mistakes of judgment. In Arup he had an exceptional engineer who delivered engineering solutions tailored to Utzon's vision." [Depth of a Sails Man, The Australian Literary Review 6 June 2007]


Jun 12 Sydney Opera House website is found to be distributing Trojan software to unsuspecting Internet users according to Patrick Gray in the SMH. Director of Information Systems, Claire Swaffield, said she became aware the website had been hacked and the main page modified to contain the code in late May. The Opera House has removed the offending code, she said, has had its website tested for security vulnerabilities by a specialist firm, and reported the matter to the police.


Jun 26

Philip Drew calls for a plan of sustained critical research, including the publication of a catalogue raisonée of Utzon's drawings with commentary, before any more work is done on the building, and for details of proposed improvements to be made public. Although the production of design principles was an excellent idea, he says, "as executed, it is insubtantial, repetitious and replete with contradictions, leaving it open to a wide range of interpretations...The World Heritage nomination document cherry-picked the critical literature and censored comment of analysis. There has been a failure to meaningfully engage the public in debate about the future of the building...Whether or not it achieves the coveted status of World Heritage listing, we should treasure and protect this monument to human creativity." [The Australian]


Jun 29

Sydney Opera house declared a World Heritage site by the United National Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). The assessment document published by Unesco —Sydney Opera House (Australia) no 166rev —includes a brief description of the building, a select list of literature consulted, an assessment of outstanding universal value, integrity and authenticity, factors affecting the property, issues relating to its protection, conservation and management, and concludes that the "Sydney Opera House constitutes a masterpiece of the 20th century architecture. Its significance is based on its unparalleled design and construction; its exceptional engineering achievements and technological innovation and its position as a world-famous icon of architecture. It is a daring and visionary experiment that has had an enduring influence on the emergent architecture of the late 20th century. Utzon’s original design concept and his unique approach to building gave impetus to a collective creativity including architects, engineers and builders. The design represents an extraordinary interpretation and response to the setting in Sydney Harbour. The Sydney Opera House is of outstanding universal value for its achievements in structural engineering and building technology. The building is a great artistic monument and an icon, accessible at society as large." The report notes that "initiatives under consideration include the provision of a visitor’s centre and an information booth" and that the Australian Government "may provide financial assistance for the identification, promotion, protection or conservation of a National Heritage place through initiative or incentive programs". ICOMOS  recommends that the State Government give consideration to the following action  to ensure the optimisation of the management system for the property and its buffer zone: (1) define and implement construction regulations for the buffer zone, especially in relation to the conservation of the current skyline of the shore landscape of Sydney Harbour; (2) consider how to reconcile the increase of visitor numbers with the proper functioning of the performing arts centre and with the preservation of the property’s outstanding universal values, integrity and authenticity. Management of the property could be further enhanced by increased interpretation of its values to visitors; and (3) the interior spaces and material components should be considered as important as the exterior form and materials. They bear testimony of the specific history and process of design and construction of the building. It is thus recommended that conservation measures include original interior components as well as the consideration of different stages of construction and interior design as a part of the history of the property.     


  ABC Arts and Entertainment news reports that supporters of the $700 million proposal for the redesign of the interior of the Opera Theatre are hoping that the heritage listing will help the NSW and federal governments come up with the money need for the drastic change. Elias Duek-Cohen, in supporting the proposed modifications, says that the Opera Theatre is "the worst opera theatre of all capital cities in Australia now...It's functionally very inadequate, something has to be done and I understand they are looking all over the world about raising funds."


Jul 03 Joyce Morgan speculates on the appointment of a new Sydney Opera House CEO to replace Dr Norman Gillespie, listing the main contenders as The Australian Ballet's Richard Evans, former Sydney Symphony managing director Mary Vallentine, Wales Millennium Centre's Judith Isherwood and CarriageWorks' Sue Hunt. 


Jul 08 60 Minutes declares that the Opera House "is really a dud". In an interview with Norman Gillespie, Adrian Collette (Opera Australia), ballet dancer Lucinda Dunn, Jørn and Jan Utzon, laced with hyperbole and loosely interpreted historical facts, it asserts that the House ranks as "one of the very poorest opera houses in the world", urgently needs a major overhaul, and "many are worried that unless some big changes are made, [it] could cease to function." The program gives a "first glimpse" of "closely guarded designs." Liz Hayes reports that "the Concert Hall was built where the Opera Theatre was to be", truncating a more complicated set of facts about the the location of the two major halls in the mis-named Opera House.


Aug 04 Valerie Lawson, in Does the Buck Stop Here?, reports and comments on the departure of Norman Gillespie as CEO on August 3, following "controversy over his relations with staff and a personal relationship with a member of the Opera House's executive team, Claire Swaffield," the appointment of trustee Sue Natress as interim CEO, and the challenges to be faced by the new CEO, whose appointment is expected to be announced within the next few weeks.


Aug 16 The Australian Jockey Club announces the appointment of Norman Gillespie as its new CEO.


Sep 03 Sydney Opera House used as principal venue for APEC meeting Sep 3-9


Sep 07 Philip Drew, in article When Public Buildings Don't Work, compares proposed   National Gallery of Australia changes to the changes underway at the Sydney Opera House: "Andersons' critics want Madigan to be appointed as a senior design consultant, much like Jørn Utzon was at the Sydney Opera House in 1998. That experiment has hardly been a brilliant success, as the elderly Utzon has ignored his own design guidelines. The results are decidedly inferior and lacklustre compared with his earlier contribution." [The Australian]


Sep 14 Sydney Opera House Trust announces the appointment of Richard Evans as the seventh CEO of the Opera House. Mr Evans, 39, moved from New Zealand 15 years ago and forged a career through the Deckchair Theatre Company of Western Australia, State Theatre Company of South Australia, Bell Shakespeare Company, and Australian Ballet, where he served as executive director. 


Dec 07 The Australian Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker beamed through the Australian Film Commission's regional digital screen network to cinemas in Port Augusta (SA), Yarram (Vic), Katherine (NT), Wagga Wagga (NSW), Singleton and Albany (WA), Hervey Bay (Qld) and to the Sydney Opera House forecourt.


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