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Sydney Opera House opens

This Day in World History

October 20, 1973

Sydney Opera House opens

One of the twentieth century’s most recognizable buildings, the Sydney Opera House, officially opened on October 20, 1973. The Opera House, situated on the shores of Sydney Harbor and with a striking roof line, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the comment that the building “brings together multiple strands of creativity and innovation in both architectural form and structural design.”

In the late 1950s, the government of New South Wales, one of Australia’s states, decided it was time to build an opera house to add stature to the city of Sydney. Officials announced a worldwide competition for a design for two performance spaces, one for opera and one for symphonies, on a site on a peninsula that juts into Sydney Harbor. Young Danish architect Jørn Utzon won with his innovative design that featured a surrounding terrace, an expansive entrance staircase, and—most famously—a roof composed of three angled concrete shells. The decision was controversial, as Utzon submitted a design without consulting a structural engineer or calculating the full costs of construction. It took several years to work out how to construct the shells that are the structure’s chief features.

In the end, though, the problems were solved, and construction was completed. Queen Elizabeth II was on hand to dedicate the building at its opening. The structure, called “magnificent” by UNESCO, quickly became an icon of world architecture and one of the most distinctive symbols of modernity.

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