Sydney Opera House to be ungraded on original architectural principles

Multimillion-dollar upgrades to Australia’s Sydney Opera House will make the concert hall “inside as extraordinary and as amazing as it is from the outside”, the artistic director and chief conductor has said.

David Robertson welcomed the announcement of the most substantial changes to the building since it opened in 1973, which aim to improve the acoustics, accessibility and versatility of the concert hall, and to improve disabled access to the whole building.

Chief executive Louise Herron, said technical systems and equipment which have reached the end of their working life would be replaced. The concert hall will have to be closed for almost two years.

A 3D sound system and drapes – currently put up for individual events – would be installed for amplified performances, as well as quieter air conditioning. The acoustic reflectors resembling glass doughnuts above the stage would be replaced by a concert ceiling to better contain the sound.

Herron said the upgrades were governed by the design principles of Jørn Utzon, the late Danish architect who designed the building – as evidenced by the inclusion of his son Jan, also an architect, on a panel approving the changes.

“It’s balancing our heritage and our future and that’s what we’ve tried to do with the utmost respect,” she added.

The $202m investment from the New South Wales government was essential for the building’s future, Herron said.

The upgrade was expected to be substantially completed in just over four years, although work would be staggered to allow the Opera House to remain open throughout.

New lifts and an escalator to the foyer would be installed to improve access and more of the building would be opened to the public.

A tunnel cutting through the northern foyer, beneath the stairs to the concert hall, would be “revolutionary” for people with disabilities, Herron said. Up to 26 wheelchair-accessible seating positions would be added to various parts of the concert hall.