A design strategy based on interpretation was employed for the new Bennelong Restaurant, whereby the Utzon and Sydney Opera House design principles have been distilled to create relevant contemporary use and expression. A set of intimate and sophisticated dining spaces sit beneath the vast and dramatic Bennelong shells, looking out at Sydney’s most magnificent urban panorama.
The iconic Opera House podium informs the geometry of the new restaurant, leading to a harmonious relationship between the interiors and overall monolithic structure, whilst simultaneously avoiding visual clashes between the interior and the shells’ spectacular geometry.
The restaurant has been ordered across three levels, based on the changing levels of the podium, and marks out three different dining moods: “The Restaurant” on the lower level, the “Cured, and Cultured” Bar on the mid-level, and the “The Circle” on the upper level. This strategy has allowed the restaurant operator to develop a broader range of patronage within one space, for those who want a quick preshow supper to the all-evening diners.
The new rectilinear forms that embrace each dining area are made up of visual layers, like the precast concrete podium steps. Beyond this expressive function, the forms are made of acoustically absorbent grey felt that softens the acoustics and optimises conditions for dinner conversation. The forms are trimmed with aged brass, echoing the original brass used throughout the Opera House.
The original Peter Hall designed ‘Fountain’ lights have been reinterpreted as lighting constellations made with Tom Dixon ‘Melt’ glass lamps. The five constellations respond to the vast scale of the restaurant space and make a visual connection to the night lights of the city.
The golden glow of the lamps complements the new brass tones throughout the interior detailing and set the ambiance for the restaurant whilst concealed up-lighting highlights the dramatic ribs of the concrete shells.
The Bennelong restaurant has evolved over its 40 years in parallel with the expectations of Sydney-siders. It is therefore highly likely that this restaurant will be remodelled in the future. To that end, all construction has been thought of as ‘reversible’ and can easily be removed. All existing precast concrete has been retained and the new fit-out structures have strategically been kept to a minimum. The existing kitchen services and restaurant air conditioning plant and ducts work have been reused.
The redesign has enabled the space to cater for double the previous capacity and, for the first time, to accommodate wheel-chair guests.
The new Bennelong restaurant takes its place in the dramatic architectural continuum of the Sydney Opera House. Embedded in the history of this legendary icon, the Bennelong reaches out to contemporary Sydney.