UNSW partners with Opera Australia on Eighth Wonder

More than 150 architecture students have contributed their visual and design expertise to Opera Australia’s latest production Eighth Wonder, which celebrates the construction of Sydney’s Opera House.

More than 150 architecture students have contributed their visual and design expertise to Opera Australia’s latest production Eighth Wonder, which celebrates the construction of Sydney’s Opera House.

UNSW Built Environment has partnered with Australia’s national opera company to curate three projects for The Eighth Wonder, an outdoor opera to be staged on the forecourt of Sydney’s most iconic building.

Each night, 3000 people will gather outside the Opera House where the 100-metre wide steps will be turned into an opera stage for the first time in the building’s history.

UNSW academics Dr Hank Haeusler, Dr Peter Kohane and Ainslie Murray led the student projects which include a video installation, and 3D-printed sculptural bar at which VIP audience members can gather during intermission.


Sydney Opera House by Architecture student Li Chan

The video installation is made up of architectural drawings created by students during a series of field studios at the Opera House. The students were invited to “restore a sense of wonder” to the building by “drawing deeply and darkly, with conviction and with voice”.

The resulting charcoal, graphite and ink sketches were incorporated into a video of recent Opera House footage shot by Built Environment students that will be displayed on the Tarpeian Wall at the edge of the Botanic Gardens during each performance.


Concepts for the Sydney Opera Bar VIP Centrepiece by students Emily Leung and Narissa Bungbrakearti.

"Our Architecture and Interior Architecture students were already familiar with the Sydney Opera House but they each recovered a connection with this astonishing building through drawing,” said Murray, an Architecture Studies lecturer.

“In putting their cameras aside and spending a substantial amount of time observing and interpreting the building, they were able to instil a sense of wonder and discovery in their drawings."

Haeusler, director of the Computational Design degree, guided 25 students through a two-week workshop to develop designs for the sculptural bar. The final design was selected after the students presented their ideas to Opera Australia.

Emily Leung and Narissa Bungbrakearti designed the final Sydney Opera Bar VIP Centrepiece, which was inspired by the form of the building, the waves on the harbour and the sound waves of the opera itself.


Emily Leung and Narissa Bungbrakearti look through the structure of the Sydney Opera Bar VIP Centrepiece.

Leung said numerous design iterations involving collaborations with engineers, architects and manufacturers were experimented with before the final product was realised.

“Even though new methods of modelling and manufacturing have great potential in creating complex geometries much faster, continuous adjustments, simulations and prototyping led to realising the need for contingency,” said Leung.

The geometric bar table is constructed with timber, acrylic and 3D-printed nodes which were designed by Bungbrakearti .

“A lot of time went into optimising the nodes in order to increase the strength of the table which is required to accommodate about 400kg,” she said.

Both students said the production of the table reflects the construction of the Opera House.

“Without collaboration and computational methods of design, such incredible projects could never be realised,” Leung said.

The partnership between UNSW and Opera Australia was project managed by Marie Caccamo, UNSW Built Environment's Project Director and Marketing and Communications Manager.

"It has been very exciting leading this project and seeing the students’ involvement, skills, passion and talent come to life,” she said.

Sydney Opera House – The Opera: The Eighth Wonder opens today and runs until 5 November.