Sydney Opera House: Start of the Concert Hall acoustic upgrade

After four years of intensive planning, renovation works have started and acoustic measures will be implemented

The Sydney Opera House is one of the most important and most famous buildings worldwide. It is both a World Heritage and iconic landmark of modern Australia. Since its opening in 1973, however, a lot has changed: our contemporary world of art is much more diverse and the requirements of principals, artists and the public on this venue, its facilities and acoustics have increased. Technical possibilities and structural requirements have evolved so that the existing facilities need to be renewed after more than 45 years. Moreover, contemporary accessibility as well as improved stage and backstage areas are required. For these reasons, a major upgrade became indispensable for ensuring that the Sydney Opera House continues to meet all expectations of artists and the public alike on a modern venue.

© Müller-BBM | Sydney Opera House.

About 18 months and a budget of AUD 165 million (approx. € 100 million) have been allocated for the comprehensive renovation of the largest hall in the Sydney Opera House, the Concert Hall seating an audience of 2,700. At the end of 2015, the Sydney Opera House commissioned MÜLLER-BBM to plan the acoustic upgrade of the Concert Hall – in parallel with the acoustic refurbishment of the Opera Hall, i.e. the Joan Sutherland Theatre, which was festively re-opened on New Year’s Eve 2017.

The refurbishment works in the Concert Hall primarily focus on renewing the stage machinery, installing a new ventilation system, and improving the room acoustics. For this purpose, the acoustic experts at MÜLLER-BBM developed an overall room acoustic concept in compliance with the strict heritage requirements, which includes modified wall and box front surfaces for improving the sound reflections towards the audience and the artists. Acoustic elements which are integrated in the walls as well as newly designed over-stage reflectors – which will replace the previous, not very effective donut reflectors – ensure an optimized sound distribution.

© Müller-BBM | Sydney Opera House, Concert Hall.

New mechanical stage risers, which are arranged in a semicircle, further improve the acoustic conditions for the musicians and the audience. Moreover, above the podium and in front of the walls, large acoustic banners can be activated to cover sound reflecting surfaces, thus reducing the reverberation in the Concert Hall substantially. In the future, these variable absorber surfaces will be used for events with sound reinforcement, whereas they will be completely retracted during classical music concerts.

In advance, prototypes of the reflectors and stage risers were built and extensively tested in the Concert Hall with conductors and musicians of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra – the response of both artists and listeners in the Concert Hall was excellent. Important findings from these tests were then taken into account for the final design.

The effect of the acoustic banners was also tested and optimized in advance, both in a computer model and in the real hall, so that the complex requirements in terms of acoustics, architectural design and stage machinery were all successfully combined and met.

Renovation works in the Concert Hall have begun and are due for completion in mid-2021.

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