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19 Facts About Sydney Opera House That'll Make You Go "Huh"

Google Cultural Institute reveals Australia's icon as you've never seen it before.

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This is Sydney Opera House. It's one of the most instantly recognisable buildings on Earth.

(The Opera House and Google Cultural Institute just launched a collection of more than 1,000 digital artefacts, including a Google Cardboard 360° tour)
Chris McGrath / Getty Images

(The Opera House and Google Cultural Institute just launched a collection of more than 1,000 digital artefacts, including a Google Cardboard 360° tour)

1. Danish architect Jørn Utzon won the design competition (and £5,000 prize) on 29 January 1957.

State Records NSW / Via gallery.records.nsw.gov.au

2. Nature inspired much of the Opera House's geometry, from breaking waves to the beech forest near Utzon's home in Denmark.

Sydney Opera House / Via google.com

3. Utzon’s design almost didn’t make the cut: it was pulled out of the judges' reject pile by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen when he spotted Utzon's sketch for the monumental steps.

State Records NSW / Via gallery.records.nsw.gov.au

4. Utzon said his design was inspired by peeling an orange: the Opera House's 14 outer shells form a perfect sphere.

V Ryan / Via technologystudent.com

5. Utzon had never visited Australia when he won the competition – he used naval charts of the harbour to assess the site.

State Records NSW / Via gallery.records.nsw.gov.au

6. Engineers Ove Arup and Partners worked with Utzon to realise his design, creating perfectly interlocking concrete shell tiles – "developed on the geometry of a sphere" – to cover the roof.

V & A Museum

7. Long before the site – named after Eora man Woollarawarre Bennelong – was chosen for the Opera House, it had been a tidal island that was a special gathering place for the Gadigal people for thousands of years.

Painting of a Gadigal man in Port Jackson, circa 1788–97, artist unknown.
Natural History Museum, UK

Painting of a Gadigal man in Port Jackson, circa 1788–97, artist unknown.

8. The Eora called the island “Tubowgule”, a fertile place sometimes described as "knowledge waters", where salt and fresh waters mixed, making it a perfect place to meet and celebrate.

Torsten Blackwood / Getty Images

9. Kisses funded some of the Opera House: singer Joan Hammond sold smooches for £50 during the public fundraising, and kisses were sold at fundraising parties across Sydney.

Sydney Opera House / Via google.com

10. Before construction began, the site housed a tram shed.

11. The Opera House was designed in a tiny rented house in Hellebæk, Denmark, that housed Utzon's architectural practice.

State Library of NSW / Via google.com

12. Construction work began in 1959, and was not completed until 1973, ten years after the building was due to open.

J. R. T. Richardson / Getty Images

13. Bass singer and actor Paul "champion of the working class" Robeson sang for Opera House workers in 1960 – the first performance on the site.

14. Increasing delays in the Opera House's construction led students to create satirical fake lottery tickets to the opening.

Sydney Opera House / Via google.com

15. The Opera House's sails were constructed with specially-made cranes imported from France.

Keystone / Getty Images

16. Originally estimated to cost $7 million, the final cost of construction was $102m, 1457% over budget.

17. Jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald once tagged up the Opera House.

Sydney Opera House / Via google.com

18. The Concert Hall's Grand Organ is the world's largest, containing 10,244 pipes.

Sydney Opera House / Via google.com

19. The roof of the Opera House is covered in 1,056,006 tiles.

Greg Wood / AFP / Getty Images

Explore Sydney Opera House on Google Cultural Institute.

Sydney Opera House / Via google.com