May 30, 2011

Around The House

Sydney's Opera House has a remarkable history as well as appearance. The city had long been in great need of a dedicated music venue before a committee was set up in 1954 to raise funds, select a site and organise an international competition to produce a design for a performing arts complex. There were few restrictions, even on cost. More than 230 entries were received from all over the world: the winner, a Dane named Jorn Utzon, was announced in 1957. It was thought that what had mistakenly come to be called the Opera House (several theatres were to cater for ballet, symphony concerts, recitals and drama, as well as opera) would be built in four years.

Construction began a couple of years later: Ove Arup and Partners had been appointed consulting engineer. Utzon, however, had produced impressionistic sketches rather than detailed designs, and progress was slow. His original concept was virtually impossible to build and he spent four years on research and alterations with a number of consultants, while Arup worked out how to construct the roofs and produced working drawings. The New South Wales government changed its mind about the specification along the way. There were many further delays, while costs spiralled, and eventually Utzon resigned (in 1966): Arup saw the project through to completion. A panel of Australian architect consultants oversaw the rest of the work on the Opera House, which finally opened in 1973.

Today there are five main auditoria in the Opera House, rehearsal studios, dressing rooms, a library, restaurants, bars and lounge areas, 26 air-conditioning plant rooms... and hundreds more statistics: there are 645km of electrical cable; the building is supported on 580 concrete piers sunk 25 metres below sea level; the highest roof vault is 67 metres above sea level; the roofs are made of 2,194 pre-cast concrete sections, each of which weighs 15.5 tonnes; there are 2,000 panes of glass; and so on. And as anyone buying a tea towel or salt and pepper set in the SOH shop will know from the bag they're in, the roof has 1,056,000 glazed white self-cleaning granite tiles from Sweden.

Views of a Bridge

• The Sydney Harbour Bridge took six years to build and opened on 19 March 1932.

• It links Sydney's CBD with the North Shore.
• The Bridge was designed and constructed by Dorman Long & Co of Middlesborough, UK.

• Seventy-nine per cent of the steel used to build the Bridge was imported from England.
• The weight of all the steelwork is 52,800 tonnes: the arch alone weighs 39,000 tonnes. The weight of the Bridge is borne by four large steel bearing pins.

• A half-arch was built out from each shore and the two were joined on 19 August 1930.

• It is the largest (from top to water level) and fifth-longest steel arch bridge in the world.
• The arch spans 503 metres and the top of the arch is 134 metres above sea level.

• There are six million hand-driven rivets.
• The four 89-metre-high pylons are made of concrete and faced with Australian granite.

• The Bridge carries eight lanes for vehicles (two used to carry trams), two rail lines, a walkway and a cycle path.

• The road that crosses the Bridge is called the Bradfield Highway and is 2.5km long.
• The Highway is a Travelling Stock Route (TSR), which means you can herd animals over the Bridge (but only between midnight and dawn and you have to give notice).

• There were plans to build a bridge as early as 1815.

• There have been Bridge-climbing tours since 1998.

• Locals call the Bridge the Coathanger.