Accessibility At The Sydney Opera House6 Jul 2010
I took a visit to the famous Sydney Opera House for a guided tour a few weeks back. It was incredibly beautiful up-close, and I am not normally impressed by architecture. The inside of the building is amazing, the Concert Hall is built the same way as the inside of a guitar to enable the best acoustics possible. There are acoustic clouds hanging from the ceiling to bounce the sound around the hall, even the chairs are designed to transfer the sound around in the most effective way.
The building of the Opera House commenced in 1959 and was completed in 1973 and opened by Queen Elizabeth II. It cost $102 million to build, and wasn't completely paid for until mid 1975.
The architect's name is Jorn Utzon, he was a Danish man who heard about a competition to design an Opera House that was to be built in Sydney's Bennelong Point. The judges were looking for something contemporary that would accentuate the beauty that was Sydney Harbour. Over 233 entries were considered and originally, Jorn's entry was discarded. On the day of judging however, one of the judges arrived late and insisted on viewing the discarded entries. It was then that Jorn Utzon's design was picked as the winner.
More than 2 million visitors a year grace the Opera House, it's not the most wheelchair accessible building in the world, but they are certainly making it a lot easier for us to enjoy. And now with Paralympian, Louise Sauvage as the Accessibility Ambassador on our side, it should only get better from here.
In one of its more recent refurbishments, the world heritage listed Opera House, had some lifts and escalators installed to help wheelchair bound and less mobile patrons access the theatres. There is a really amazing elevator that has no top on it, so when it's moving, the elevator shaft can be seen, they have a rule that you can't raise your arms, as there are sensors that will stop the elevator from moving as a safety precaution.
There are wheelchair platform lifts, including one into the renamed ‘Utzon Room' that overlooks the beautiful harbour. The ‘Utzon Room' is often used for small functions, such as weddings, because of its beautiful view. It also highlights the buildings original concrete beams and is known for its excellent acoustics. It has a bright and colourful wall length tapestry, that was designed by Utzon himself, which hangs on the wall opposite the harbour view.
There are adequate wheelchair accessible toilets throughout the Opera House. Seating has been made possible for wheelchair bound patrons to enjoy shows in the comfort of their own chair whilst still getting a great view of the performance and allowing their friends to sit next to them, which is always important.
For the sight impaired, for certain shows, headphones are provided with commentary of what is happening on the stage. There are also captions and Auslan translators that can be provided for certain shows for the hearing impaired.
There is flat access if you are walking to the Opera House from Sydney Harbour, the ground is cobblestoned, which can make for a bumpy ride, but safe nonetheless. If it's raining, there are sections closer to the Opera house where an undercover walkway can be accessed via a ramp, it will also take you to the Opera Bar, where drinks and snacks can be enjoyed before or after a show.
If you are travelling by car, there is limited disabled parking available for $15.00, you will need to ring ahead and book before you go to secure a spot.
Sadly, in November 2008, Jorn Utzon died peacefully in his sleep in Copenhagen at the ripe old age of 90. But he will always leave us with his challenging yet graceful sculpture, with its patterned tiles that glisten in the sunlight and invitingly glow in the evening.
If you would like to find out more about the history of the Opera House, or see what's on now, go to www.sydneyoperahouse.com or call +61 2 9250 7111 for general enquiries.