13 Jun 19

Outdoor events on the Opera House forecourt such as last year’s Crowded House concert have angered nearby residents. Photo: Mark Metcalfe Opera House chief executive Louise Herron Photo: Rob Homer
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A marquee erected outside the Opera House for Day festivities. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Opera House management have been criticised for violating the vision of the building’s architect Jorn Utzon. Photo: Jessica Hromas

The City of Sydney has joined the growing chorus of disapproval about plans to create a new function centre at the Sydney Opera House and convert a ballet rehearsal room into a kitchen.

Graham Jahn​, the council’s head of planning, development and transport, said the Opera House’s building plans would have an “unacceptable heritage impact”.

“It is in direct contradiction with Jorn Utzon’svision for the Opera House,” he said in the council’s submission objecting to the proposal.

The plans are part of the Opera House’s renewal program and include removing a marquee and building a larger function space on the northern broadwalk of the Opera House that will require the partial removal of curved walls and the permanent loss of the original restaurant.

“This is a loss to the community and to the significance of the place,” Jahn said.

He also said the function centre was a “clear violation” of Utzon’s design principles, which caution against introducing additional functions into the building beyond its original purpose.

The Opera House also wants to convert the ballet rehearsal room located beneath the Joan Sutherland Theatre into a kitchen for the function centre.

A temporary rehearsal room would be provided 150 metres away.

Jahn warns this proposal would also have an “adverse heritage impact”.

“Worse, it prioritises the function centre use over … the performing arts,” he said.

The new rehearsal room would be “remote” from performers’ dressing room and other facilities, Jahn added.

He described the relocation of the ballet rehearsal room as “unacceptable” given the Opera House’s world heritage listing and incompatible with its status as a world class performing arts centre.

Jahn also said the Opera House had “understated” the heritage impacts of moving the rehearsal room.

The City of Sydney’s concerns add to mounting criticism of Opera House management.

A proposal for sleepovers was described as “crass commercial exploitation” that would affect the reputation of the Opera House.

The staging of outdoor events such as last week’s Day concert has drawn the anger of residents of the nearby Toaster building.

Jorn Utzon’s architect son Jan has also expressed concern about outdoor events and “intrusive structures” erected on the forecourt of the Opera House.

Jahn’s submission to the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, which is assessing the Opera House’s building plans, argues that Utzon’s intention that people could move freely around the building has been eroded over the years.

He also warns of a risk the Opera House’s “significance will be diminished by an accumulation of adverse impacts” caused by its various building plans under the renewal program, which received $202 million from the NSW government.

The Heritage Council of NSW’s Katrina Stankowski​ also criticised the relocation of the ballet rehearsal room, and noted the Opera House’s heritage consultant had not endorsed some of the proposed building works.

She said the removal of two walls that are significant structural elements of the Opera House’s podium would have an “unacceptable impact”.

The harshest criticism of the proposal came from a Kirribilli resident who said they could not use their lounge room or bedroom because of the noise of functions and events at the Opera House.

“This is already an extremely uncomfortable situation for me, and the Opera House’s request to assault my senses from a greater number of venues and with what will probably be greater frequency seems to me to be highly unfair,” the resident, whose name was redacted, said.

The resident also expressed concern about the building plans affecting Utzon’s architecture.

“To have that magnificent building’s lines ruined by vulgar commerciality would surely have Utzon turning in his grave,” the resident said. “While this is not the primary basis of my objection, I do believe that the City would be a lot better served by not further bastardizing such an iconic symbol.”

The Opera House will be given an opportunity to respond to submissions, with final approval of the project in the hands of the Planning Minister.

Opera House spokeswoman Jessica Gooch said there had been limited objections to the building plans given the number of people affected.

She said the Opera House’s eminent architects panel and conservation council supported the new function centre.

“The Opera House considers that it has addressed several of the City’s key concerns,” she said.

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