Opera House Named to Over-Budget Hall of Shame 4

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014
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Sydney Opera House has been named as part of a ‘Hall of Shame’ of landmark building projects for which major cost blowouts have occurred.

In a roundtable listing of what it refers to as ‘monumental budget busters’, architecture blog site Architizer has placed Australia’s most famous building second on the list, behind Montreal’s Olympic Stadium in Canada.

The Sydney Opera House, which was originally expected to cost just $7 million and open by Australia Day 1963, was eventually completed 10 years late for around $102 million – almost 14 times over budget.

The naming follows decades of criticism about the way the project was managed, though few deny its iconic value.

In a 2005 article in Harvard Design Magazine, Danish economic geographer cited the building as being literally the worst example of mega- project planning, accusing project proponents of purposely lowballing cost estimates and concluding that in terms of project management, “Sydney provides a lesson in what not to do.”

Meanwhile, legal resource site lawteacher.net said a study of the construction process  shows that “the total disregard for proper plans to be put in place from the start of the project can have disastrous consequences and having no project manager is certainly not advisable.”

Following the mooting of plans for a better venue for performing arts than the town hall where performances were being held in Sydney in the 1940s, construction of the Opera House was hurriedly started in 1959.

The start of construction came despite protests from Danish architect Jorn Utzon that his design, which had been selected as the winning entry in a competition in 1956, was not complete and represented little more than concept drawings, as well as the fact that there were no known methods by which to build the complex roof structure.

Compounding this were changing project requirements; substantial delays resulted from Utzon having to alter the blueprint after the government decided it wanted four theatres instead of two as originally specified.

Further problems emerged in 1966 as Utzon was forced to resign after the Ministry of Works stopped payment to him following the election of a new Liberal government in 1965. At that point, new architects were appointed and significant changes were made with regard to the interior design, causing more delays.

Critics also point out that there was no effective project manager at any stage and that the Sydney Opera House Executive Committee, set up by the government to oversee the development, was made up primarily of political figures with little technical experience.

over budget

Still, few commentators dispute the value of the venue and its place as a national icon, one that is recognised worldwide.

“The story of the Sydney Opera house is one that started as a fairy tale, had a tragic middle and is emerging as a tale of reconciliation and love of art and creative work”, the Opera house itself stated in 2010.

Other projects named by the site include the Scottish Parliament Building, the Sochi and London Olympics as well as the Brazil World Cup, The Shard, The Channel Tunnel and the Empire State Building.

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  1. Gabrielle

    I wonder how much it would cost to build now? Compared to those listed, it must be the most iconic monument. It put Australia on the map for national and international tourists. Who goes to Sydney for the first time and not look at the Opera House? The use of it now with the lighting show, is fantastic! What a perfect canvas.

  2. Ros Magee

    As well as focussing on the final result, any analysis of these buildings should ask the question as to why the budgets were manifestly inadequate in the first place?

  3. John Doyle

    The original Opera House budget was just a guesstimate for a project that was only in outline. It was a political amount to help make sure the building wasn't blocked before it got off the ground. Today one wouldn't be able to do that but then the Opera House was in a whole new world and costs were just unknown.
    It's far more likely the opera house has repaid Sydney 14 times it's total cost, and much more. Remember Bilbao repaid it's cost in 9 months? The Opera house is worth $billions today to Sydney.

  4. Damian Cudmore

    The story of this building and the challenges in its creation is told in a documentary poetically narrated by Bob Ellis.
    This article points out that Oetzon argued against its construction before preparation of proper details. So you could say the bureaucracy made a mess of a brilliant idea.
    Unfortunately he was made the scapegoat for the folly of others.
    A brilliant mind – not respected.