The Sydney Opera House has received a $200,000 grant by the Getty Foundation to complete a comprehensive study of the building’s concrete elements and develop effective, long-term conservation protocols.

Despite being one of the world’s most iconic buildings and a “transcendent cultural symbol” of Sydney, the US philanthropic organisation notes that the Opera House still faces significant conservation challenges:

“With its iconic, nested sculptural forms, the building is famous for its innovative use of exposed steel reinforced concrete. Despite successful conservation efforts over the years, there is still insufficient knowledge about the condition of the concrete.”

Greg McTaggart , the Opera House’s director of building, development and maintenance, agrees that a lot more needs to be done to ensure the proper preservation of the world heritage-listed site, 40 years after the Jorn Utzon-designed structure was completed.

“The fact that concrete is both a structural and design component presents challenges in terms of conservation techniques, especially when balancing the treatment of a problem with the building's aesthetic qualities,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Image: Ian Waldie / Bloomberg

Results of the research will be integrated in the Sydney Opera House’s conservation management plan, and made easily accessible to building managers and maintenance staff. This is expected to set a new benchmark that can be shared with the field.

The grant is part of the Getty Foundation’s Keeping It Modern campaign, which will fund work on 10 20th century architectural designs from around the world through grants beginning from $50,000. This includes notable projects such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in Chicago, Le Corbusier’s apartment and studio in Paris, and the Ray and Charles Eames residence in Pacific Palisades.

Robie House by Frank Lloyd Wright. Image:

The program was founded to support model projects for the conservation of modern architecture, which foundation director Deborah Marrow says is one of the defining artistic expressions of the 20th century.

However, these ‘expressions’ have quite often meant that the experimental materials and novel construction techniques utilised are rarely untested, and not performed well over time. Moreover, heritage professionals do not always have the data on the nature and behaviour of the materials to develop the necessary protocols for conservation treatment.

“These are very distinguished and beautiful buildings with interesting stories. But they also have interesting conservation problems,” said Marrow.

“The grants focus on the creation of conservation management plans that guide long-term maintenance and conservation policies and comprehensive testing and analysis of modern materials.”

Le Corbusier's Studio-apartment. Image: Fondation Le Corbusier

The 10 buildings for the inaugural Keeping it Modern grant were chosen by Getty Foundation staff experts in conservation and art history, but going forward, the selection will be made through juried competitions.