National Opera House - Model Development

I started working on this project in September 2011, I had no idea how long it would take or what I was going to achieve.

How hard could it be? I was about to find that out.

In my search for suitable reference I discovered a couple of excellent books. The aptly named 'Sydney Opera House' by Philip Drew covers the project in extensive detail but my real favorite is 'Utzons Sphere' by Yuzo Mikami. This is a great account of the project as observed by Yuzo who worked in Utzons studio before moving on in 1961 to work in Arup's London office. You can find copies of Jørn Utzon's competition drawings and project submissions (The Red Book, The Gold Book and The Yellow Book) in the NSW State Records Office. The State Records Office hold a wealth of information about the project and it's easy to spend hours going through it. You will find links to all my reference material in the footnote.

Here is one of my very first photos of paper elevations as I was try in to work out what scale might be suitable. I've taken literally thousands of photos documenting my process, these aren't fancy shots but just a way of me recording my ideas and process. I often set off in one direction and quickly change tact when things don't quite go as expected, the result is I end up with countless incarnations of a structure or component. It might be that the overall concept or approach doesn't quite work out as expected or if it is working out I can spend hours modifying or adapting the various parts. This process involves cutting and re cutting a component and adjusting it by 0.1mm / 0.2mm until it fits perfectly. Depending on the component this can involve building and re building a particular structure over and over.

Finding the appropriate material for a particular component can sometimes be a challenge. I like my models to have a truth to the materials they are made from so I avoid any process that involve altering the materials natural appearance.

I like to break the buildings down in to modules or if possible geometric forms. Doing this enables me to work on the overall form before I start to develop the finer details. I try to work a bit on each element so they are all developing together, what I learn on one piece I can apply to another so they retain the same details and construction methods and all progress together.  As I work I refer back to photographs and drawings cross checking drawings with images. Counting tiles and bricks can be a tedious process but invaluable when trying to work out somethings actual size.

The Opera House has four main components, the Podium, the Opera Theater, the Concert Hall and the Restaurant. The Podium on which the building stands was the first part of the building they constructed. Why should I do it any differently.

Podium Development

I would have spent hundreds of hours resolving the shell structures. They are all the same in theory but in reality they are all subtly different. I started out thinking I could make it so the shells would simply clip together but that approach was soon abandoned. The curve of the structure and the properties of the timber proved to be a challenging combination. What was interesting to me the more I found out about the building was that I ended up solving my problems in a similar way to the architects.

Shell Development

Glazing Development

Studio Space

Packaging Development

A Crude Stop Motion Assembly

Kickstarter Campaign

Having embarked on this project I was not going to leave it until I had come to a suitable resolution. Finding suitable materials proved to be a headache. I frequently searched the web looking for plastics and timber that would fulfill my needs and regularly found my self deep in the depths of Google.

Despite my enthusiasm I was in need of some help. I was confident I could complete the model but needed some reassurance that I wasn't wasting my time. Was there a market for my product. I had heard a lot about Kickstarter and crowdfunding and I thought this might be a good way to gauge interest in my product.

I set about drafting out my campaign. Not an easy task as a video was required for the first page! That's enough to put me off, maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all.

I think it took about 3 weeks to sort everything out, and a lot of time was spent searching for suitable groups to approach. It was quite time consuming but the time invested was well worth. I pre-sold over 120 kits and raised valuable funds to enable me to complete my development process. Here is a link to my Kickstarter campaign.

It's been almost 6 years since I embarked on this journey and it's taken 18 months since the Kickstarter campaign finished to actually get a product ready to retail, longer than I had anticipated but the process has been invaluable and I have meet some wonderful people along the way.

Footnote: - links to reference material

NSW State Records Office -

Brown Book - this is the 1955 booklet for the conditions and program for the International Competition for a National Opera House.

Jørn Utzon's competition drawings.

The Red Book. - Utzon's 1958 report presented to the Premier and the Opera House Committee in order to “give … a project which realizes in practical form the vision of the competition”.

The Gold Book. - Commonly known as the “Gold Book”, was issued to accompany the “Ceremony to Commemorate the Commencement of the Sydney Opera House”.

The Yellow Book. - This 1962 report comprises plans submitted by Jørn Utzon and consultants.

A brief history of the Opera House.

A really really good blog regarding the glazing system by Ignacio Fernández Solla.