Ummm, Thanks Ken?

So, Ken Woolley reckons that the Opera House should have the opera hall removed and rebuilt on land adjacent at the start of the Botanic Gardens.

The problem of the Opera House are well known – among other issues, the Opera House was meant to be in shells that currently house the concert hall, the drama theatre was meant to be in what passes for the Opera House. And so, everyone is occupying a space that was not designed for them and they are uncomfortable.

Over the last five or so years, JPW working with Utzon, have been tinkering away at the existing building working up to the major issue of the Opera Hall and what to do about it. They have remodelled the bathrooms, refurbished the (excellent) Utzon Room, and opened the drama theatre foyers out to the Harbour with a perhaps ill conceived awning structure. The strategy for the Opera Hall has been to raise enough money to undertake the structural work involved in enlarging the volume of the Opera Hall, which, we are told is the source of its acoustic issues.

And then in the weekend papers, we read that “The architect Ken Woolley has gone one better, with a proposal that would allow the Opera House complex to stage the grandest of grand operas without remaking either the opera theatre or concert hall. His idea is to build a 1800-seat opera theatre next to the Opera House, partly over the harbour and partly into the Botanic Gardens. He says this could be done for $400 million.”


woolleys opera house

Image Source.

It is unclear whether Woolley was engaged by anyone to undertake this exercise, who the client may be or if this is in any way a serious proposal. So ultimately it all comes across as a bit of jockeying to get a Harbour-front commission. In none of the articles that we have seen do they mention the current architects actually commissioned to undertake the refurbishment of the Opera House: JPW. Especially strange given that Richard Johnson was recently awarded the RAIA Gold Medal.

I am sure that someone in Woolley’s office, Hassell, likely spent an afternoon on the model as a proof-of-concept, so we shouldn’t take it too seriously; looking as it does like Moneo’s Kursaal mashed up with the Opera House podium. Regardless it did make it onto the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald and is such, now a part of the debate. Former Prime Minister, Paul Keating is predictably outraged.

The scheme, if nothing else does a good job of cutting the Botanic Gardens off from Benneleong Point – its most active edge to the city. So, say that the only option is to house the opera company in an entirely new building. Why put it on the only piece of land connecting the forecourt to the Botanic Gardens?

Why not, if a new building is the only answer, follow the lead of the original opera house and reclaim a piece of the harbour to build on? There is plenty of it there, and it would allow the architect to respond to the language of repetition already in place. And what is more, partons could walk between the drama theatre and concert hall to the new opera theatre through underwater tunnels.

Yes! This is the kind of thing Utzon would be after.






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