The Fifth Facade: From tram depot to icon
Before construction began on the Opera House in 1959 it was the site of the disused Fort Macquarie Tram Depot.
The Sydney Opera House was built at Bennelong Point on the land of the Gadigal clan of the Eora nation.
Danish architect Jørn Utzon says that although he designed the plans without ever visiting Sydney he was inspired by Sydney's stunning headlands.
...One could not design a building for such an exposed position without paying attention to the roof. One could not have a flat roof filled with ventilation pipes. In fact one must have a fifth facade which is just as important as the other facades.
An excerpt from the Film Australia Collection's The Fifth Facade, 1971, Film Australia Collection © NFSA.
Full title available for purchase from the NFSA Shop.
The Sydney Opera House is one of the most identifiable of Australia’s icons and is considered by many to be among the great architectural masterpieces. Its entire construction period was recorded on film. The Fifth Facade documents the history of this striking and imaginative building, from the selection of the site at Bennelong Point to the official opening.
The commentary of Jørn Utzon, the Danish architect who won the worldwide competition for the original building design, offers insights into the unique structural and aesthetic problems that had to be solved to make his vision a reality.
On 20 October 1973, the Sydney Opera House was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II. From conception to completion, it had taken more than 15 years and over $100 million.
A remarkable feat of engineering skill and innovation, this striking and imaginative building captured the world’s interest and is considered by many to be among the great architectural achievements of the 20th century.
In the years since its completion, the Sydney Opera House has become one of the most identifiable of Australia’s icons – ranking with the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Uluru, the koala and kangaroo.
Voice-over: In 1954 the government of NSW decided to build a music centre on the site of a disused tram depot at Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour. An international architectural competition was commissioned by the government for the building to be known as the Sydney Opera House and 223 entries were received. The winning design - number 218 was submitted by architect Jørn Utzon of Denmark.
Jørn Utzon voice-over: I made the project here in Hellebæk but could study plans and maps from Sydney and fell in love with the Sydney headlands. Also what inspired me was Kronborg Castle lying on a peninsular in the sea in a similar manner to Bennelong Point and I was close all the time to big ship yards and was familiar with big, curved shapes. The Sydney Opera House is a house which when seen from a bow one will sail around because it sits in on a point, sticking up into the Harbour - a very beautiful harbour. A fjord with lots of inlets. This point is in the middle of the city and the city rises on both sides of the fjord, so the Opera House is the focal point. This means that one could not design a building for such an exposed position without paying attention to the roof. One could not have a flat roof filled with ventilation pipes. In fact one must have a fifth facade which is just as important as the other facades.