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2013/66/1 Architectural model, Sydney Opera House, 1:200 scale, cast resin / metal / paint, maker unknown, Australia, 1958-1959. Click to enlarge.

Sydney Opera House architectural model

The model of the first exterior design of Sydney Opera House appears to be one of three copies made in Sydney of Jorn Utzon's first model. These models were made in 1958 or 1959 to publicise the Opera House project and help raise funds for it via a public appeal.

The model represents the first, sculptural version of the roof design, before the practicalities of construction and engineering saw the roofs redesigned over a number of years. The roofs were more than an aesthetic flourish; they …


Object No.


Object Statement

Architectural model, Sydney Opera House, 1:200 scale, cast resin / metal / paint, maker unknown, Australia, 1958-1959

Physical Description

Architectural model of the Sydney Opera House made of metal and cast resin. The roof sections of the model have been cast separately in resin and partly secured with wire. The base and podium of the model have been cast in one piece.


No marks.



300 mm


670 mm




The architectural model was made in Australia, 1958-1959.

The model appears to be made from cast resin, one of few modelling media capable of reproducing the complex curves of the Sydney Opera House roof. Cast resin is a durable material and its use produced a model more transportable and accessible than Jorn Utzon's 1957 model, which was enclosed within a transparent case.

Cast resin uses a liquid synthetic resin formed and hardened in a mold. It was used for small-scale production of industrial prototypes, dentistry, toys, models and jewelry. It is still frequently used by amateur artists although professional sculptors and jewellers also work with cast resin.

Although the maker of the model is not conclusively known, it is probably the work of Bill Lambert who had the expertise to work with a wider variety of materials than most architectural modelmakers. Harold Frederick (Bill) Lambert (1916-1988) was a draftsman and patternmaker at CSR before he branched into industrial modelmaking during the 1950s, creating transparent models as an aid to architectural and engineering design.

HF Lambert Industrial Models created models for several major projects, including the NSW State Office Block and the NSW Railway Engine workshops. From 1965 Lambert worked on a large, highly detailed model of the Opera House which was used to design electrical, water and other internal services. This model was displayed in the Australian Pavilion at the World Expo, Washington, 1974.

The history of the display model following the wind-up of Lord Mayor Jensen's fund raising committee is also unclear. By the 1970s the model was at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music; it was displayed in the library there for some years. The donor at that time was conducting her Make Up school from rooms at the Conservatorium when she learned that the model was about to be discarded along with some opera costumes and other artefacts. Ms Swane asked if she could acquire the model and has owned it since.

The model has suffered some damage and is incomplete in that the restaurant roof is missing.



Jorn Utzon visited Sydney for the first time in July 1957, six months after his success in the Sydney Opera House design competition. Utzon had ordered a 1:200 scale of the building from a Danish model maker; this model was air freighted to Sydney for the Opera House Executive Committee overseeing the project. The model was unveiled by Utzon at a presentation at Sydney Town Hall during the visit.

Utzon's original model is now held by the Sydney Opera House. Photographs of this model feature in Utzon's 'Red Book' of 1958.

In August 1957 Sydney Lord Mayor Harry Jensen formed a committee to raise $500,000 towards the project, which initially had an estimated cost of only $7 million, partly because quantity surveyors were unable to price construction of the roofs. Shortly afterwards the Opera House Lottery was launched to raise building finance.

According to David Messent's 'Sydney Opera House Act One', (p.146) three models of the Opera House were made to assist Jensen's committee in publicising the project. This model is almost certainly one of these as it appears to be a close copy of Utzon's model. Its dimensions are those of a 1:200 scale model. One of these models was displayed at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, during 1959.

Initially Utzon's model was used as a focus for the fund-raising appeal. However this model included a representation of the Harbour water surrounds of Benelong Point as well as figures and other small features and was protected by a transparent cover. During 1959 and 1960 a model identical to this one (and lacking these extras) appeared in several press photographs. The Sydney City Council Archives holds a 1960 photograph (SRC4777) of an Opera House Appeal display at the RAS Showground, featuring an apparently identical model, while the Australian Archives holds 1961 photographs (A1500, K7247) apparently of this model. In addition the model or an identical one was displayed in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1960 in an exhibition about contemporary Australia designed by Gordon Andrews (89/735-26/21/4)

The Appeal committee was relaunched during 1958 and again during 1959 after disappointing results and accusations that donations were being wasted on administration expenses. By 1960 the relaunched Appeal had raised $1 million towards the project.

The model features the first, purely sculptural version of the roof design, before Ove Arup and Utzon started to redesign the roof out of sections of parabolas, ellipses and spheres.


Credit Line

Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program by Dawn Swane, 2013

Acquisition Date

28 August 2013

Cite this Object


Sydney Opera House architectural model 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 17 October 2021, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Sydney Opera House architectural model |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=17 October 2021 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in Architecture at the Museums Discovery Centre.