Designed by Danish architecture firm Henning Larsen Architects, the opera house was conceived as a beacon of light on the harbourside. Speirs + Major were engaged to express this close relationship between light and architecture.
The lighting concept
The inner foyer areas act as a lantern, where the mingling crowd can be viewed in dynamic silhouette from the outdoor plaza. There is no exterior illumination of the stone bulk of the building. Instead the window slots glow and the massive roof appears to float on a bed of light emanating from the interior space.
Inside, the main foyer is dominated by the timber-panelled auditorium box, known as the ‘conch’, lit from a slot within the rooflight. At night this rooflight is lit in blue to crown the space and contrast with the warm appearance of the timber. The general foyer lighting is from a hidden cove wrapped around the floor plates. Two colour temperatures of light are used: cool, for a fresh impression during the day, and a warm white for evening. Olafur Eliasson’s glass art chandeliers provide focus and sparkle.
In contrast to the foyer, the auditorium has a more intimate feel. The gold-leaf ceiling glows like a setting sun, an effect created by grazing it with lanterns from the technical gallery. Fibre optic points above the seating provide sparkle, while keeping potentially noisy lamps and transformers outside the acoustic box. The balcony fronts have a series of linear glowing slots – LEDs behind rose colour-corrected glass. Each can be individually controlled, allowing the house lighting to be dramatically modulated before a performance.
A special element of the project was the orchestral rehearsal room five storeys below ground level, where lack of daylight was an issue. The design creates a sense of daylight filtering in from a clerestory, achieved using concealed linear fluorescent sources.