Why is the Sydney Opera House a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

by | Nov 16, 2017 | Asia, Australia | 1 comment

The Sydney Opera House is a World Heritage Site because it is absolutely magnificent!


The Sydney Opera House was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007


Outstanding Universal Value

The Sydney Opera House constitutes a masterpiece of 20th century architecture. Its significance is based on its unparalleled design and construction; its exceptional engineering achievements and technological innovation and its position as a world-famous icon of architecture. It is a daring and visionary experiment that has had an enduring influence on the emergent architecture of the late 20th century.


The building is a great artistic monument and an icon, accessible to society at large.


The Sydney Opera House, as we know it, was almost not built. An international design competition for an opera house on Sydney Harbour drew 233 entries. A young Danish architect, Jørn Utzon, sent his concept drawings to Sydney just before the competition closed.

Eero Saarinen, an American architect, was one of the four judges. He arrived late in Sydney, after the preliminary judging had already taken place. Saarinen was underwhelmed by the shortlist so he started rummaging through the reject pile. He rescued Utzon’s drawings and announced that it was the winning design.


The Sydney Opera House is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world.

This is my first view of the Sydney Opera House


We were in Sydney for the annual International Bar Association conference. On the opening night, we boarded a boat in Darling Harbour for a short trip to Luna Park, a 1950s style amusement park in the heart of Sydney.


Everyone on the boat wanted to get a picture of Australia’s number one tourist destination.

We had perfect views of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge

We arrived at Luna Park for a full evening of fun at an old-fashioned amusement park.

On my first full day in Sydney, I set out to see the Sydney Opera House


I had a beautiful stroll through the Botanic Gardens to the Harbour. There is a broad pedestrian road that runs along the harbour. As I came around the corner, there stood the magnificent Opera House.

The Opera House stands on a finger of land that juts out into Sydney Harbour. It is surrounded on three sides by water.

Utzon created a vision of billowing white sails in Sydney Harbour, catching the early morning light. His design was a radical departure from the cubes and rectangles of modern architecture.

Utzon created a sculpture in a building.

Utzon’s design earned him the Pritzker Prize in 2003, the Nobel for architects. The Pritzker Prize citation reads:

There is no doubt that the Sydney Opera House is Utzon’s masterpiece. It is one of the great iconic buildings of the 20th century, an image of great beauty that has become known throughout the world – a symbol for not only a city, but a whole country and continent.

Utzon’s road to the Pritzker was long and difficult.

There was a public outcry when the design of the Sydney Opera House was awarded to a foreigner. From the beginning, Utzon was under pressure to complete the building before any new government could change its mind on the whole idea. Utzon was forced to start construction before plans were finalized. He really didn’t know how he was going to construct the white shell. He had to work it out as he went along. As the years passed and costs escalated, tensions mounted between Utzon and the government. He was forced out before the building was finished. He left Australia, never to return.

Construction of the Sydney Opera House started in 1958. Utzon was driven out in 1966. The Sydney Opera House finally opened in 1973, 10 years late and 1,400% over budget. The original budget of $7 million ballooned to $102 million.

Were the cost overruns on the Sydney Opera House worth it?


The Sydney Opera House attracts 8 million visitors a year.



Mayan temples in Mexico were the inspiration for the Sydney Opera House


The Mayan temples in Mexico were the inspiration for the staircase to the Sydney Opera House. Utzon wanted visitors to walk up, into a world of light.

Utzon wanted visitors to experience the magnificent height and presence of his structure, reminiscent of the great cathedrals in Europe.


Stand at the base of the steps to the Sydney Opera House, stare up and feel what Utzon created

The billowing white sails of the Sydney Opera House are made of white ceramic tiles


The ceramic tiles catch and reflect the Australian sunlight

Utzon was inspired by boats and light


The curved ceramic shells of the Sydney Opera House are reminiscent of the ribs and sails of a boat

There is no shade at the Sydney Opera House


There is nothing to obscure the view of the Sydney Opera House. That was great for me on a beautiful spring day. However, Sydney has a very hot summer. There is no respite from the sun on a hot day (well, except for a bar, and there are lots of bars near the Opera House)


A huge cruise ship was in the harbour on the day that I visited the Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Harbour Bridge offers fabulous aerial views of the Sydney Opera House


Can you spot the bridge climbers in this photo?

I debated doing the bridge climb of Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is a popular tourist activity. However, it takes at least 4 hours. As the name suggests, it involves a lot of climbing. And it is expensive, ranging from $163 for a lite climb to $393 for the full climb.


Utzon designed the Sydney Opera House to be magnificent from all angles and vantages.


Should I have spent the time and money on this climb?


I am not in this photo

If you look closely, you can see the extreme climbers who made it to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

If you really want a great view, get a job as a window washer at the Sydney Opera House


Would you do this job?

This is a closeup of the window washers at the Sydney Opera House

This is the view of the Sydney Opera House from the water


We took a ferry to Manly Beach, just for the views of Sydney Harbour and the Sydney Opera House. Our original intention was to stay on the ferry for the round trip. However, it was a beautiful day so we got off the ferry to explore Manly Beach … and we are so glad that we did!


Next week, take a walk on Manly Beach.

Rose Ann MacGillivray

Rose Ann MacGillivray

World Heritage Traveller at BoomerVoice.ca
I love visiting World Heritage Sites, celebrating the world’s most fascinating places and cultures, and most of all, having fun on a trip. Join me on the road to fun and fascinating places. Thanks for reading – and remember to add your e-mail below for updates!
Rose Ann MacGillivray