1959: Sydney Opera House – Sydney, Australia
Innovation: Sydney Opera House
Location: Sydney, Australia
Architect: Jorn Utzon
Structural Engineer: Ronald Jenkins with Ove Arup and Partners
Construction Managers: Civil & Civic
Since the Sydney Opera House was completed in 1973, it has become one of the twentieth centuries most distinctive buildings, earning Utzon the Pritzker Prize in 2003. The distinctive silhouette of the building was Utzon’s interpretation of sailboats over the water and was therefore originally designed as a composition of many unrelated shapes. However, it was soon realized that building individual casts for each concrete shell would be extremely expensive, so the design team was forced to come up with a more economical solution. After a period of uncertainty, Utzon came up with the idea of giving each shell the same curvature, meaning that the dimensions of each large shell had to be derived from the same circle. This method would require only one mold for all of the panels. These panels could then be manipulated by adjusting their angles to accomodate the design. Once this decision was made, 2400 precast ribs (used to support the roof) and 4000 roof panels came together with the help of an innovative adjustable steel truss system to form the iconic roofline.
The solution to the roof challenge probably would not have been found if this team hadn’t propositioned the use of a computer for one of the first times in the field of structural engineering. They also designed a very complex glass curtain wall and achieved huge spans by designing intricate beams that changed their cross-sectional shape along their length.