Phantoms of the opera: the bizarre world of Sydney Opera House knock-offs

This rip-off of the Sydney Opera House opened in China in 2010. Photo: China Daily.

The clue is in the name – the Sydney Opera House is located in Sydney. Or is it? In fact, our beloved icon can be found in various guises all over the world, writes Peter Hackney.

Critics of the Sydney Opera House might say it looks like a bunch of nuns in a rugby scrum – but few would deny it’s one of the most famous landmarks in the world and surely the most recognisable building constructed anywhere during the 20th Century.

So iconic is the Opera House that it has inspired replicas, tributes and shameless knock-offs the world over. Lots of them.

Some, like the replicas on display in miniature parks – where landmarks are recreated as small models of the real thing – are to be expected.

Other large-scale rip-offs are audacious beyond belief, shamelessly copying Australia’s best-known performing arts centre.

Allow the Sentinel to take you on a trip around the world, checking into Sydney Opera House doppelgängers along the way …

Glasgow, United Kingdom

The SEC Armadillo in Glasgow. Photo: Sue Blandford/Pinterest.

The SEC Armadillo, a 3,000-seat auditorium on the River Clyde in Glasgow, is not an exact copy of the Sydney Opera House. But look at its profile, check out its ‘sails’ and consider that front wall of glass. Surely the architects can’t deny taking a little … inspiration … from our very own landmark on Sydney Harbour?

Actually, yes, they can. Architects Forster & Parners – headed by the renowned Sir Normal Forster – claim the Sydney landmark was not an inspiration for the Armadillo, which opened in 1997. Instead, the building is meant to rememble an interlocking series of ships’ hulls, referencing the shipbuilding heritage of the Clyde.

If you say so, Sir Norman …

Klagenfurt, Austria

An Austrian take on the Sydney Opera House. Photo: Minimundus Miniature Park.

The city of Klagenfurt does a good line in chocolate box architecture – the kind of handsome, historic Central European buildings you might see depicted on a chocolate box or biscuit tin.

They also make a damn good replica of the Sydney Opera House.

One of 150 miniature buildings from all over the world located at the Minimundus Miniature Park, Klagenfurt’s take on the Sydney Opera House is a fine tribute to the original, with excellent attention to detail. Well done, Klagenfurt!

Huaxi Village, China

The Huaxi Sports Centre. Photo: Imaginechina.

Huaxi Village, located in Jiangsu Province, is reputed to be the richest village in China. And what do they do with all that money? Make replicas of famous buildings, of course. Like this one, the Huaxi Sports Centre, built to evoke our Opera House.

But don’t feel too special, Sydney. As well as a Sydney Opera House knock-off, the good burghers of Huaxi Village have also duplicated the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the US Capitol in Washington DC and the Great Wall of China.

Is it just us or is this reproduction a little less than convincing?

Shenzen, China

The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Shenzen-style. Photo: Easy Tour China.

Shenzen’s Window of the World theme park is home to 130 models of some of the most famous tourist attractions on Earth – including a creditable replica of the Sydney Opera House.

But wait, there’s more – a nearby pedestrian bridge has also been fashioned into an imitation Sydney Harbour Bridge. Cute!

Inwald, Poland

Stained and misshapen: Poland’s replica of the Sydney Opera House. Photo: Świat Marzeń.

This model of the Sydney Opera House is located in the Polish village of Inwald, in a miniature park called Świat Marzeń. We don’t mean to be mean, but … well, we’re not sure about this one. Sorry, Inwald.

Haian, China

This building is said to be inspired by flowers, not the Sydney Opera House. Photo: Imaginechina.

The Sydney Opera House has played host to some of the world’s most renowned performers since it opened in 1973. And this more recent rip-off in Haian … is used to store grain.

The architectural oddity came into being after local councillors in Haian received a grant to transform some vacant land into an ecological park. As part of the project, this building – meant to be a greenhouse – was constructed.

But instead of being used for its intended purpose, the building sat empty until local farmers started using it to store grain over the winter months.

While it has been widely described by Chinese media as a replica of the Sydney Opera House, in 2013 park spokesperson Jian Tien said: “We built it to look like a booming flower, and not as a copycat of the Sydney Opera House.” 

Delhi, India

The Lotus Temple in Delhi. Photo: Jeremy Vandel/Flickr, published under Creative Commons 2.0.

Sure, like the SEC Armadillo in Glasgow, the Lotus Temple in Delhi isn’t an exact replica of Sydney’s icon – but you can’t tell us those sails and white tiles don’t scream ‘Sydney’.

Said sails are officially referred to as ‘petals’ (of the lotus flower, you see) and there are 27 of them, as opposed to the ten sails on our Opera House.

A Baháʼí House of Worship, the Lotus Temple has won numerous awards since it opened in 1986 and has become a major tourist attraction in India. CNN reporter Manpreet Brar has described it as “the most visited building in the world”.

Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong’s answer to the Sydney Opera House. Sort of. Photo: edwin.11/Wikimedia Commons, published under Creative Commons 2.0.

Alright, alright, it’s not a dead ringer for the Sydney Opera House – but many people say the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre bears a passing resemblance. And as a large arts and entertainment centre jutting out into the water, with a huge glass frontage and a hint of the famous Opera House ‘sails’ – backed by a bunch of skyscrapers – we’ll pay it.

Adelaide, Australia

The Adelaide Festival Centre shares some similarities with the Sydney Opera House. File photo.

We know we’re reaching by including the Adelaide Festival Centre on this list. But look, it’s a performing arts centre, it’s on the waterfront and it’s white, so here it is.

The Festival Centre opened in 1973, the same year as its more famous Sydney cousin – which would appear to kill off any suggestion it could have been influenced by our Opera House.

But Jørn Utzon’s winning design for the Sydney Opera House was selected in 1956 and construction commenced in 1959. They started building the Festival Centre in 1970. Just saying …

Jiujiang, China

A superfluity of Sydney Opera Houses in Jiujiang, China. Photo: Brian Yap/Flickr, published under Creative Commons 2.0.

In December 1992, when Australian Brian Yap was visiting the Yangtze River port city of Jiujiang, he came across a strange sight: a bunch of faux Sydney Opera Houses in a public plaza. As he wrote on Flickr, where he posted this photo: “Well I nearly fell over when I saw not one, not two, but four miniature Opera Houses. I wonder who designed this. Perhaps all they had was a post card?”

When another Flickr used commented that they “look like a cheap Chinese knock-off”, Brian wasn’t having it, declaring: “No, how could you say that? … They are very carefully copied from the original.” And we agree. Sadly, though, they were demolished sometime around the late 1990s.

But what were these buildings used for? Who made them? What was in them? The answers seem lost to the mists of time. If you happen to know, head on over to the Sentinel’s Facebook or Twitter accounts and enlighten us!

Pattaya, Thailand

A Thai take on our Opera House. Photo: OnlinePattaya.com.

Mini Siam Park is a miniature attraction park located in the Thai beach resort city of Pattaya. And like any miniature park worth its salt, it includes a replica of our Opera House. A pond stands in for Sydney Harbour and the replica lights up at night, just like the real thing. Nice!

Beijing, China

A slice of Sydney in Beijing. Photo: Europics/CEN.

China seems to be a hotspot for Sydney Opera House replicas. It is comforting to know that if Sydney ever has the misfortune of being nuked into oblivion, at least we can expect our famed Opera House to live on in the Middle Kingdom in some way, shape or form.

This example is definitely one of the better reproductions. It’s found at Beijing World Park – a theme park which gives Beijing’s residents the chance to travel the globe without leaving the city. It hosts models of the world’s major landmarks including, naturally, the Sydney Opera House.

Like the Window of the World Park in Shenzen, this tribute to the Opera House also has an attendant model of the Harbour Bridge.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The Dubai Opera House was built as the city’s answer to the Sydney Opera House. Photo: Nine Honey Travel.

When authorities in Dubai announced the construction of the Dubai Opera House, they explicitly referenced the Sydney Opera House as an inspiration. The developer, Emaar Properties, even issued a media release stating that the centre was “envisaged to be as iconic in appearance as the world-famous Sydney Opera House”. Did they succeed? You be the judge.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

The Auditorio de Tenerife manages to be unique while drawing inspiration from the Sydney Opera House. Photo: Web Urbanist.

The Auditorio de Tenerife Adán Martín is a theatre complex located in the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife on Spain’s Canary Islands, off Africa’s west coast. And refreshingly, the city is quite open about this wonderful building taking some inspiration from the Sydney Opera House.

In fact, since the Auditorio de Tenerife opened in 2003, Santa Cruz has come to be known as ‘the Sydney of the Atlantic’.

Now a famous building in its own right, it was used as the setting for the Doctor Who episode ‘Orphan 55’, which first aired in January 2020. In the story, the building stands in for a futuristic holiday spa attended by the doctor and her companions after they win a free holiday. The resort turns out be an oasis on a barren, radioactive and oxygen-deprived future Earth.

Funing, China

A somewhat comical ‘Sydney Opera House’ in Funing, China. Photo: China Daily.

Of all the Sydney Opera House tributes, replicas and rip-offs around the world, this one – built in Funing, north-east China – is surely the most shameless.

I mean, just look at the thing! There is no denying this is a dupe.

Opened as a government reception centre in 2010, this building contained many luxuriously decorated halls, meeting rooms and kitchens. It later became a lavish waterside restaurant.

Have you noticed we’re using the past tense here? That’s because, we’re sad to report, this doppelgänger is no longer with us. It was actually demolished in August 2014 upon government orders, according to the China Daily newspaper.

“Maybe the style is not satisfying,” a restaurant staff member told the newspaper. What? How dare they?

Fine, belittle and demolish your ‘Sydney Opera House’. But we’ll be keeping our very own UNESCO World Heritage-listed real Sydney Opera House, thank you.

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What’s your favourite fake Sydney Opera House? Have we missed any? Have you visited any of replicas of the Opera House in the flesh? Share your thoughts with us via the Sentinel’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Peter Hackney is the editor-in-chief of the Sydney Sentinel.