Sydney Opera House Facts

When tens of millions of people around the world think of the largest city in Australia, Sydney, they have a mental image of the Sydney Opera House. This famous building is shaped like the sails of a boat.

Australia’s national opera company Opera Australia performs there, of course, but the Sydney Opera House hosts over 2,000 musical events every year, many of them for kids. 

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Sydney Opera House Facts for Kids

  • The Sydney Opera House is a “performing arts center.”
  • The opera, symphony orchestra, ballet, and theater perform there.
  • Construction of the Sydney Opera House started in 1959.
  • The Sydney Opera House took 14 years to build.
  • The Sydney Opera House covers 4-1/2 acres (1.8 hectares).
  • The highest point of the ceiling is 219 feet above the floor.

The Sydney Opera House is a huge, amazing building.

The Sydney Opera House is built from a series of 2,194 huge concrete shells that were dried out on the ground and hoisted into place with huge cranes. The concrete shells that make up the roof weigh as much as 15 tons each. The concrete shells that make up the roof rest on 588 concrete piers that are sunk as much as 82 feet (25 meters) into the ground below the level of the harbor.

The Sydney Opera House is 600 feet (183 meters) long and 394 feet (120 meters) wide. If you look up to the highest point in the roof, it is at the same height as a 22-story building. At first glance, the roof of the building looks white, but it is actually a chevron pattern composed of 1,056,006 tiles in two colors, matte cream and glossy white. The exterior of the building is covered with pink granite panels from a quarry in New South Wales. 

The opera house is so large that there are three smaller performance venues beneath the floor of the main performance hall. The Drama Theatre, the Playhouse, and the Studio were built below the giant stage of the main floor.

Everything about the size of the Sydney Opera House hasn’t worked out well. The ceilings are so tall, and the floor space is so long that echoes form and musicians sometimes can’t hear each other.

Rock concerts have to be performed on the grounds of the Sydney Opera House, not indoors, and dramatic productions have to be moved to the smaller Joan Sutherland Theatre. In recent years, since 2017, architects have tried to compensate for problem issues caused by the building’s design by rigging huge fiberglass panels to make a sonic ceiling.

Even with persistent problems, the Sydney Opera House is home to Australia’s premier performance sites. The list of performance halls includes:

  • Concert Hall. The main floor of the Sydney Opera House seats 2,769 people. It is the home of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and hosts many visiting orchestral groups. The Concert Hall has the largest mechanical tracker organ in the world, with over 10,000 pipes.
  • Joan Sutherland Theatre. This proscenium theater (theater with an arched ceiling) seats 1,507 people. It is the home stage of Opera Australia and The Australian Ballet.
  • Drama Theatre. This is another proscenium theater with seating for 544 seats. It is the performance home of the Sydney Theatre Company.
  • Playhouse. This non-proscenium end-stage theater has 398 states.
  • Studio. This performance area has 280 permanent seats and can be reconfigured to seat 400 people.
  • Utzon Room. This is a small performance area used for recitals and chamber music.
  • Outdoor Forecourt. This area uses the Monumental Steps as seating for outdoor performances, not well suited for indoor performances.

The complex also has cafés, shops, bars, retail outlets, a library, and a recording studio.

What do local kids want you to know about the Sydney Opera House?

Kids in Sydney know all about the Sydney Opera House. They see it at the fireworks show every New Year’s Eve. They go to performances at the Opera House with their families and with their classmates. They could give you a guided tour of the Opera House from what they know.

What kinds of things would kids in Sydney tell you about their Opera House?

The Sydney Opera House was built on a peninsula called Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbor. Before the Opera House was built there, it was mostly a collection of rocks that jutted out toward the Pacific Ocean.

Bennelong Point got its name from an aboriginal man named Bennelong, who built three huts on the land for himself and his wife Bangaroo in 1798. He built one hut for himself, one hut for his wife, and the third hut for visitors. When people came from England to settle in Australia, they used the rocks as a natural corral for their cows.

Before the point was excavated to make a building site, it would fill up with water during high tides. Bennelong and Bangaroo had to wade through the seawater to get to their home during high tides.

In colonial times, the authorities did not have modern sensibilities about safety issues. The royal governor commissioned the building of a round stone tower for storing 350 barrels of gunpowder.

The tower had stone walls 5 feet (one and one-half meters) thick, and the colonial authorities built a garrison for one officer and 18 men. The military installation came to be known as Fort McQuarrie.The soldiers built a drawbridge to protect their fort.

In 1902, the fort was demolished to make room for a bus station.

In 1955, the city of Sydney decided to tear down the bus station to make room for a new opera hall. They held an international contest to find the best design for the building. The winner was a Danish architect named Jørn Utzon. His shells that look like sails won the competition, but it turned out that he had made some mistakes in math about how many columns would be needed to support the roof.

During the early construction of the opera house, it became obvious that the concrete shells were in danger of collapsing, so the whole building had to be taken down. Then Utzon figured out a way to distribute the weight of the concrete by making each shell out of a section of a perfect sphere.

This major correction saved the project but added 14 years to construct and quintupling the cost of the building. The “sails” look like a single piece of concrete, but they are actually built across ribs of concrete to hold them securely in place.

Construction of the building took 14 years. It was not officially open until it was dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II in October 1973, but there were many performances in the Opera Hall before the Queen opened it. Some of these performances were as early as 13 years before the hall was dedicated.

The Queen was not offended. These performances were held for the workers doing the challenging construction needed to build the house.

The Queen also took time to congratulate the beleaguered and often-criticized architect of the Opera House in her dedication speech. “Utzon made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology, and he persevered through extraordinary malicious publicity and negative criticism to build a building that changed the image of an entire country,” Utzon said that her comments meant more to him than any professional award.

You could have seen the Sydney Opera House and not have known it.

The Sydney Opera House has hosted world-famous singers and instrumentalists for over 50 years. Most major performers make an appearance there at some point in their lives. But kids all over the world have caught a glimpse of the Sydney Opera House in movies and on TV.

In the 1996 science-fiction movie Independence Day, the Sydney Opera House is shown after a flying saucer is shot down near Sydney.

When Sydney hosted the Olympic Games in 2000, Australian swimmer Samantha Riley ended the torch relay on the roof of the Opera House.

The Sydney Opera House appeared in the 2003 animated film Finding Nemo.

In Godzilla Final Wars in 2004, Godzilla destroys the Sydney Opera House (in the movie, not in real life).

The podium Opera House appears in the closing credits of Cars 2 modeled on the front of a Holden FC.

Sim City includes the Sydney Opera House as a placable landmark.

In X-Men Apocalypse, the Sydney Opera House is destroyed by Magneto. 

Frequently Ask Questions

Kids have questions about the Sydney Opera House. Here are some of the kids’ FAQs and their answers about the Opera House.

What is the Sydney Opera House famous for?

Billions of people see the Sydney Opera House on television every New Year’s Eve. Because Australia is close to the International Date Line, the fireworks displays in Sydney to greet the New Year occur up to 22 hours before fireworks displays in cities on the other side of the line. Almost every broadcast of fireworks from Sydney Australia includes the Opera House in the frame.

Millions of people get a lot more than a quick look at the Sydney Opera House. Every year, eight million people attend performances at the Opera House, and 350 thousand people a year take guided tours of the facility.

Why was the Sydney Opera House built?

In 1954  New South Wales Premier Joseph Cahill announced the Sydney Opera House project to “help mold a better and more enlightened community.” The Opera House wasn’t built just to provide a home for the opera. It has also been used to host important international conferences as well as musical and dramatic performances.

The planners of the Opera House knew that the land where it was to be built had been sacred to the Gadigal aboriginal people for thousands of years. While their attitudes would not be shared today, they believed that the magnificent architecture of the building would make a statement about building a modern Australia on the foundations of its aboriginal peoples. The enabling legislation for building the Opera House charged the project with both the promotion of artistic taste across all art forms and also “scientific research into, and the encouragement of, new and improved forms of entertainment and methods of presentation.”

What does the Sydney Opera House symbolize?

The Sydney Opera House symbolizes the mixing of influences to create something better.

The waters in the harbor just outside the Sydney Opera House were called the Tubowgule by the Gadigal people. This was the place where salt and fresh waters mixed, and fish were abundant. For centuries, the Gadigal people came to Tubowgule to collect fish and shellfish and then to feast, dance, and sing songs. Giant middens of clamshells are evidence of centuries of feasting and celebration at Bennelong Point.

The Sydney Opera House wasn’t the first modern performance venue at this location. In 1879, entrepreneurs set up a vaudeville theater that could seat 900 people. The Opera House replaced the vaudeville theater, too, elevating the performance at the site to reach more and more people.

How much did the Sydney Opera House cost?

The original budget for the Sydney Opera House was A$7 million. The final cost of building the Sydney Opera House was A$102 million. T

he A$95 million budget shortfall was raised by starting the Australian National Lottery.

What state is the Sydney Opera House in?

The Sydney Opera House is in the state of New South Wales.

What is the Sydney Opera House used for?

The Sydney Opera House is the home of Opera Australia. It is also the home of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Its world-largest mechanical tracking organ is used for organ concerts. There are rock concerts in the courtyard outside. There are also smaller rooms for theater, political conferences, and art shows.

Who designed the Sydney Opera House?

The unique design of the Sydney Opera House was created by a Danish architect named Jørn Utzon.

There were many problems in the early construction of the Opera House and huge cost overruns, and Utzon left the project and left Australia in the middle of the project, never to return to see the complete building.

Circular Quay

The Quay is the city’s primary ferry terminus, and it’s right in the center of Sydney Cove.

It’s perfect for access to major attractions like the opera house, the Harbour Bridge, and The Rocks.

The Quay is not just used by tourists but also a vital link by Sydneysiders commuting to work on a daily basis and to the beach at weekends.