Peter Hall and the Sydney Opera House Lighting

Peter Hall attached much significance to the original lighting, both interior and exterior, of the Opera House. In a document that has recently come to light Hall writes of the ‘highly innovative’ nature of the lighting and that its ‘design matched the originality of the rest of the building’. Hall’s commentary is in response to a 1992 report, ‘Twenty Years at the Opera House’, by former Minister for Public Works, Davis Hughes. The document was given by Hall to Peter Carr-Boyd, a fellow employee at McLachlan Management Consultants in North Sydney in the early 1990s and a current member of OpusSOH. Hall’s notes are reproduced in the following link:

soh lighting_Hall


Max Dupain’s photo of ‘Hall’s Balls’ and concealed balustrade lighting, c.1973 (State Library NSW)

Bennelong Restaurant, 1973, Max Dupain (SLNSW)


Sir Jack Zunz 1923-2018

The death of Sir Jack Zunz on 11 December 2018 was deservedly marked by many obituaries in the media, all paying tribute to his long career as a civil engineer with Ove Arup & Partners. Zunz was responsible for many landmark projects, none more high profile than the Sydney Opera House; in the late 1950s and early 60s he led the team that, working with Jorn Utzon, developed the final roof design for the Opera House. Over four years 12 different geometrical configurations for the ‘shells’ were explored in the Arup office in London, stretching the boundaries of engineering expertise, and pioneering new computer applications.

Dr Anne Watson, author of The Poisoned Chalice: Peter Hall and the Sydney Opera House, first met Sir Jack when working on the book Building a Masterpiece: the Sydney Opera House (Powerhouse, 2006). He was always generous with his knowledge and a genial and gracious conversationalist. In 2014, aged 90, he spoke eloquently and at length at the opening of the exhibition on the engineering of the Sydney Opera House at the Arup Gallery, London. Sir Jack’s personal and professional legacy is immeasurable: the world has lost a great engineer.


‘Curtain of the Sun’ Tapestry

On Friday 16 March 2018 several members of opusSOH were lucky enough to attend a ‘test hang’ of the newly-restored ‘Curtain of the Sun’ tapestry in the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House. Designed by Sydney artist John Coburn in 1969 as the proscenium curtain for the Opera Theatre, the huge 8 x 14-metre tapestry – with its counterpart ‘Curtain of the Moon’ used in the Drama Theatre – was woven in Australian wool at the Pinton Freres workshops near Aubusson, France over the next two years. The tapestries were commissioned from Coburn by Peter Hall and their restoration and planned public display at SOH pays tribute to the significance of the post-Utzon legacy.

Despite their importance the tapestries have had a chequered history. Due to concerns about their condition – and perception by some theatre producers that they conflicted visually and physically with the staging requirements of performances – they were removed and stored during the 1980s. In the mid 1990s they were repaired at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop and, more recently, have been fully conserved and prepared for hanging by International Conservation Services, Sydney.

The Opera House plans to publicly display the tapestries on a temporary basis in the future, but as recommended in the 2017 Conservation Management Plan (Alan Croker, p 179) the curtains should, ideally, be ‘re-hung in their original locations’. Let’s hope these stunning examples of the work of one of Australia’s best-known artists of the 1960s and 70s for the country’s best-known building can be eventually returned to the theatre interiors that Hall and his team so carefully created.


The Poisoned Chalice: Reviews, Interviews, Links

Review by Andrew Montana, Australian Book Review, November, 2017

Review by Michael Baume, Spectator, December 2017

Linda Cheng, ArchitectureAU, 6 October 2017.

Blueprint for Living, ABC Radio National, 25 November 2017.

James McCarthy, review, Limelight Magazine, Jan/Feb 2018, p 110.

Christine Yeats, review, Independent Scholars of Australia Bulletin (NSW), March 2018.

‘On 28 February 1966 Jørn Utzon, the architect of the Sydney Opera House, resigned from his position and two months later he flew out of Sydney – never to return to Australia. Anne Watson’s book deals with the period following Utzon’s departure, culminating in the completion of the Opera House. The book is the result of “an almost ten-year journey of research and writing”. Originally a doctoral thesis, it has metamorphosed into a highly readable publication that will appeal to all who have marvelled at the beauty and grandeur of the World Heritage listed Sydney Opera House.

Peter Hall stepped into what Watson describes as ‘the perilous void’ created by Utzon’s departure in April 1966. He was part of the consortium of Hall, Todd and Littlemore, appointed by the Government to finish the building. The inclusion of Peter Hall’s name in the book’s title is quite deliberate on the part of Watson. The book is a well-informed analysis of the challenges that the consortium overcame to complete the building and, most importantly, a tribute to the late Peter Hall.

While the Opera House project may have been a poisoned chalice for both Utzon and Hall, Utzon emerged as the “misunderstood creative genius” but the same cannot be said of Hall. The role he played in bringing the Opera House project to fruition brought him little recognition in his later career. Rather, he became the target of “continuing vilification”, making it indeed a poisoned chalice.

Despite the attention Watson gives to Hall, and his treatment by those both inside and outside the profession, she provides a balanced account of the post Utzon construction phase of the Sydney Opera House. The book offers an informed insight into the history of this extraordinary building. The well-chosen images help in understanding the solutions developed to overcome the challenges posed by the original design. Each chapter has endnotes and, there is a substantial bibliography as well as an index and list of the image credits.

Anne Watson is to be congratulated for The Poisoned Chalice: Peter Hall and the Sydney Opera House. It is a landmark publication.’