Our history is deeply interconnected with the Sydney Opera House, and we continue to shape this World Heritage-listed masterpiece for future generations.
Project in numbers
year relationship with the Opera House
In the early 1950’s, our founder, Ove Arup, was engaged to undertake the structural design of the Sydney Opera House alongside Danish architect Jørn Utzon, establishing our presence in Australasia with our first office on the Opera House site.
Since then, we have contributed to over 300 projects, spanning 60 years, from repairs to refurbishments through our many different services, including acoustics, civil engineering, structural engineering, theatre planning, security, building diagnostics, façade engineering, fire engineering and pedestrian planning.
Today, the Opera House is Australia’s most popular tourist destination welcoming more than 10 million visitors annually. It provides a welcoming space for people to gather, share ideas, tell stories through art and music, and connect to the rich cultural landscape where Aboriginal people have gathered on Country for thousands of years.
We work in partnership with the Opera House to preserve this icon and continue its ever-evolving legacy. Our aligned pursuit of excellence and sustainable development makes our partnership even stronger than it was 60 years ago.
Arup played a central role in bringing the Opera House to life and continue to show their deep understanding of the building and care for its fabric and values.Louise Herron, CEO, Sydney Opera House
A brief history of our work preserving and evolving the Sydney Opera House for future generations of visitors, artists and performers, so everyone can enjoy this global icon.
Ove Arup and Partners engaged to undertake the structural design of the Sydney Opera House alongside Danish architect Jørn Utzon
Construction begins at Bennelong Point, known to the Traditional Owners as Tubowgule
On 20 October, the Sydney Opera House opens
A ‘Decade of Renewal’ begins to improve amenity, safety, strengthen capacity and enhance performance spaces to open to more of the community
We are a founding partner of MADE by the Opera House – an extra-curricular program offered to Australian and Danish students of architecture, engineering and design
We begin work on accessibility and safety upgrades for the Joan Sutherland Theatre
Concert Hall Renewal project begins. We are appointed to work with ARM Architecture to upgrade the Concert Hall to offer world-leading acoustic performance for artists and audiences
We partner with Sydney Opera House, Scott Carver architects and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer architects to improve the building’s accessibility and safety
The Opera House digitises building management using Arup Inspect 3D
‘From the Sails: Light Years’ – a film projected onto the Opera House sails – celebrates the past, present and people of the Sydney Opera House, including Ove Arup
From start to completion, we provided engineering services for building elements, including the foundation, the roof’s iconic sails, the concourse, and the glass walls.
Considered at the time to be unbuildable, the Opera House’s complex design presented a unique opportunity for close collaboration between engineering and architecture. The crowning achievement of this collaboration is the Opera House’s most recognisable design component – the concrete roof sails.
It also pushed many engineering boundaries, creating technical innovation and changing traditional design conventions we still use today. These include Ove Arup’s folded pre-stressed concrete beam design, the first large-scale example of using glass as a structural load-bearing material, and the pioneering use of wind tunnel testing and computers.
The human spirit must sometimes take wings or sails and create something that is not just utilitarian or commonplace. Queen Elizabeth II
A decade of renewal
Ahead of its 50th anniversary, the Sydney Opera House completed a decade of renewal to improve access, amenity and safety, strengthen capacity and enhance performance spaces.
The most ambitious project was the renewal of its largest internal venue, the Concert Hall, designed by architect Peter Hall, a world-renowned space and one of the most architecturally significant interiors of the Opera House.
We enabled a significant load increase for the Concert Hall ceiling structure to meet the weight of modern theatre equipment global performers use today. To do this, we adopted a combination of site research and 3D structural mapping linked to parametric design, using a unique transfer structure to unlock sufficient capacity within the existing frame.
We also redesigned and lowered the stage to accommodate an an automated system transforming the stage from flat to orchestral mode in less than 20 minutes; this previously took six people over a day.
Using creative structural engineering design, we created a tunnel for two new lift shafts within the limits of heritage building constraints. The lifts, made from glass, are tucked away in the Northern Foyer’s corner, providing uncrowded access and maintaining a visual connection as people travel through the building.
The renewal of spaces also required a rethink of the building’s fire safety strategy. We created simple and practical design elements putting people’s safety first and maximising use of space. Using our digital pedestrian simulation software, MassMotion, our team modelled complex scenarios to test safe evacuation procedures.
Resilience powered by digital technology
Digital solutions have always been at the heart of the Opera House. The creation of the pre-cast shells required pioneering use of early computers; ones so big they filled whole rooms.
Today, technology continues to help us shape the future of the Opera House, to extend its 250-year design life and manage the building’s performance in an ever-changing climate.
Using Arup Inspect 3D, a digital asset integrity tool, we have digitised the Opera House’s maintenance regime, transforming pen and paper and photographs into a 3D user interface controllable by tablet.
The application allows us to map data points such as a chipped tile or damaged panel and stores maintenance details, including data, photos, dates and recommended actions. When a task is closed, the data is stored and analysed to study trends and predict maintenance. This approach helps manage reactive maintenance and assists with future planning and overall building resilience.
The Sydney Opera house is Australia’s busiest arts and culture institution. Arup Inspect 3D keeps the venue operating 365 days per year. Dean Jakubowski Building Operations Manager, Sydney Opera House
Partnering for social value
Like the Sydney Opera House, we believe arts and culture are always a catalyst to create opportunities for a more equitable and inclusive society. Together, we partner to support the next generation of designers and their ideas to solve future climate resilience, biodiversity and social challenges.
MADE, the Multidisciplinary Australian Danish Exchange, is an extra-curricular programme offered to Australian and Danish students of architecture, engineering and design. As a programme partner, we help develop students’ knowledge and promote exchange between different disciplines.
BUILD is a creative learning programme celebrating the collaboration between architects, engineers and artists. It has three learning streams: a design challenge for high school students, a creative lab for tertiary students and a conversation series for the public. Each stream aims to inspire people to become the next generation of leaders in the built environment by helping them engage in science, technology, engineering, architecture and mathematics (STEAM) and express their ideas and consider different perspectives.
Since the start of my career, as a façade engineer, I have been in awe of the Sydney Opera House’s technical brilliance. Today, as a leader, I am proud to see this icon inspiring our members to be bold and creative. Kerryn Coker,Australasia Co-Chair, Arup