Tour / Opera House: Sails, Octopuses, and Telescopic Cranes


Building the Sydney Opera House

Discover the Sydney Opera House as a triumph of pure (technical) imagination that seamlessly bridges architectural design and the practicalities of construction. Through a talk, panel discussion and virtual reality experience, we’ll explore shop drawings, concrete castings, formworks, telescopic arches and moving cranes. You’ll also have an opportunity to view the exhibition The People’s House: Sydney Opera House at 50.

Even after 50 years, the World Heritage–listed Sydney Opera House is renowned for its ‘unparalleled and seminal design and construction’, and the building remains one of the most ingenious and fascinating, yet obscure, architectural works of the 20th century.

Thanks to recently discovered documents and 5,000 shop drawings produced by Hornibrook – the Australian contractor responsible for realising the Opera House’s iconic sails – held in the collections of Museums of History NSW, it’s now possible to illuminate the exact procedures and awe-inspiring methods employed in the prodigious construction of the sails, built 1963–67.

This event has emerged from a multi-year research project led by Paolo Stracchi at the University of Sydney, Luciano Cardellicchio at the University of New South Wales, and Paolo Tombesi at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. Through new three-dimensional animations and virtual reality simulations, you’ll be transported back to the Sydney Opera House construction site. Here, architects, engineers, builders and carpenters from all around the world joined forces to transform Jørn Utzon’s vision into a built masterpiece.

Where: Sydney Opera House
When: December 7th, 5.30pm – 8pm
TIckets: General: $15 / MHVSW Members $12
Booking: MHVSW website


Drinks | 5.30pm–6pm

Talk | 6pm–6.45pm

Talk on Sydney Opera House construction, with emphasis on the Museums of History NSW collection and original drawings.

Paolo Stracchi and Luciano Cardellicchio

Panel | 6.45pm –7.05pm

Jennifer Whyte, Ian Travers, Luciano Cardellicchio and Paolo Stracchi

Legacy |7.05pm –7.25pm

Paolo Stracchi and University of Sydney Master of Architecture students

Virtual Reality Experience |7.25pm –8pm

Through two virtual reality simulations, attendees of the event will have the opportunity to experience two key scenes of the Sydney Opera House’s construction.

The first simulation is a 360-degree immersive experience of the formwork systems adopted for the casting of the 2,400 concrete segments that form the spherical sails.

The second simulation takes the user on top of the sails to witness the movement of the legendary telescopic arch and the installation of one of the concrete segments within the three-dimensional monumental giant puzzle forming the spherical roof.

The People’s House: Sydney Opera House at 50

Explore the exhibition The People’s House: Sydney Opera House at 50 after hours at the Museum of Sydney. The exhibition celebrates five decades of extraordinary performances and unforgettable moments at the Sydney Opera House. This year, we commemorate 50 incredible years of this architectural marvel that has become Sydney’s great civic space and ‘the people’s house’.

Paolo Stracchi

Paolo Stracchi is a senior lecturer in Architectural Technology in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning, University of Sydney.

Since 2020, he’s been conducting research on the technical documentation produced for the Sydney Opera House. This research has been published internationally and is the subject of his lecture in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the building.

Stracchi’s academic research on construction history has brought attention to the work in Australia of Italian master engineer Pier Luigi Nervi in collaboration with Harry Seidler, and the construction history of the Sydney Opera House. Stracchi received the prestigious Dr AM Hertzberg AO Fellowship in 2022 from the State Library of New South Wales for his research on the role of modern architecture in the development of NSW’s construction industry (1950–80).

Since 2020, Stracchi has also assumed the role of Program Director for the Master of Architecture program at the University of Sydney.