The New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment is assessing a proposal to allow six spaces inside the Opera House to be temporarily converted and used for “experience accommodation”.
The Utzon Room and the Board Room would be temporarily converted into “Danish-themed” luxury suites – complete with queen-sized beds, desks and sofas – in which to house five guests for up to two nights, five times a year.
As many as 100 guests would spend the night on cot-type beds in the northern and southern foyers of the Joan Sutherland Theatre and the Concert Hall on a single occasion each year.
According to the proposal submitted by urban planners JBA on behalf of the Sydney Opera House Trust last year, allowing overnight stays would be a “new and innovative” way to experience the building and “shift perspectives on a well-known public institution”.
The accommodation would be “associated with special promotional events”, with a proposed schedule combining the sleepover with a Concert Hall performance; a meet-and-greet with the artists (“subject to approval”) backstage; and even the chance for guests to “perform own piece on the stage”.
The Opera House hosted an overnight event in conjunction with the Vivid Festival in 2016, with the Joan Sutherland Foyer and the Utzon Room kitted out with bedding for 158 guests for a performance of Max Richter’s eight-hour composition Sleep.
But there has been some opposition voiced to the perceived commercial exploitation of the Unesco world heritage-listed building, particularly given the Opera House’s corporate partnerships.
NSW Planning sought submissions on the proposal from 8 September to 24 October, with a former employee of Opera Australia describing it as “bold and brazen marketing” and “pure ... evil genius” given the Opera House’s newly minted commercial partnership with Airbnb.
A Wollombi resident expressed strong opposition to the proposal. “If used in this way, the Opera House becomes a form of couch surfing, with dozy risers wandering around, disheveled. It demeans the building and I am amazed it would even be considered.”
According to the Australian newspaper , Kylie Winkworth, a heritage consultant, said the plan was “cheap and demeaning” and took particular umbrage with the proposed use of the Utzon Room, the only interior space to be designed by Jørn Utzon, the Danish architect behind the iconic exterior.
The Heritage Council of NSW has cautiously approved the proposal, while allowing that “tourist-based overnight accommodation was not envisaged by the original design”.
A spokeswoman told the Australian that the Opera House’s 11 major sponsors, which include Google, Etihad Airlines and Adobe “may wish to collaborate ... on the proposed overnight experience”.
But it did not anticipate charging guests for the experience, instead exploring “ballots, visitor experiences, competition prizes or promotional activities”.
A spokeswoman told Guardian Australia that other cultural institutions – including the Arts Centre Melbourne, Sydney’s Taronga zoo and the Australian Museum – offered overnight experiences.
The development application is yet to be determined by NSW Planning. But approval would “enable the Opera House, on a limited number of occasions per year, to create unique opportunities for the community to experience Australia’s most famous building and world-renowned cultural centre in new ways”.