No Room for the Unknown: The Remarkable Story Behind Building the Sydney Coliseum Theatre

The Remarkable Story Behind Building the Sydney Coliseum Theatre

The Sydney Coliseum Theatre, a multi-mode lyric theater in South Wales Australia, is an incredible achievement in design, engineering, and construction. 

First unveiled in December 2019, the building can seat 2,000 people and can hold various types of attractions and events, including theatrical performances, conferences, and corporate functions. The Coliseum creates an unforgettable atmosphere of opulence and grandeur, featuring three foyers, seven bars, and a custom-made chandelier that's sure to leave an impression. 

Needless to say, it’s an iconic building in the region. As Brett Casson, the Senior Principal for Major Projects at Autodesk puts it, “The Sydney Coliseum project represents a gift to the people of Western Sydney. The building communicates that it doesn't matter who you are, where you come from, or what your demographic is. With the Coliseum, you have access to a world class performing arts center.”

Perhaps as remarkable as the facility itself, is the story behind the building of the Sydney Coliseum.

The team members who designed and built the Coliseum were faced with an immovable deadline and several project changes that required them to adapt and collaborate like never before.  

Watch the documentary to learn about the project, and read on below to discover how the team overcame the project’s complexities and delivered it ahead of schedule.


A Complex Project Coupled with an Immovable Deadline

Hansen Yuncken, the contractor in charge of building the Sydney Coliseum, encountered immense challenges in bringing the project to life. 

First, there was the inflexible timeline. “The single biggest problem that Hansen Yuncken had to solve was the immovable deadline. They simply could not move the practical completion date,” explains Brett. “They had an international act that was coming into Sydney and that just could not be moved. If there were any challenges that presented, then Hansen Yuncken had to deal with those very, very quickly to ensure they meet those practical completion dates.”

A large international act was booked for the 12th of December 2019. The appearance meant that the completion deadline had to be met — no exceptions.

As Richard Errington, Chief Executive Officer at West HQ explains, “What we didn't have was flexibility -- the building needed to open. The curtain needed to go up, the lights needed to be on, and the building needed to be completed.”

Then there was the complexity of the design. The building was an elaborate structure, featuring layered mezzanines, sweeping staircases, and curved walls. 

“Sydney Coliseum represents an extremely complex project. There aren’t many straight lines in the building. The quality of the construction and the finishes all make for a complicated and challenging project. And that's exactly what Hansen Yuncken does very well,” says David Beslich, Executive Chairman at Hansen Yuncken.

Clearly, the Hansen Yuncken team had their work cut out for them, but they embraced the challenges ahead. 

Rolling with Significant Design Changes

The team had to deal with a number of changes as they were constructing the building. And while project changes are common in construction, the scope of the work for the Coliseum, coupled with that inflexible deadline mentioned above, made the changes even more challenging. 

According to Richard, “The design of the Sydney Coliseum theater evolved over a number of years. And the reason for this is that we learned that the building could be much more than the original concept.”

He continues, “People and organizations around the world became more interested in Western Sydney and the theater. So, the design needed to evolve to meet their needs. Significant changes had to be made to the actual building, as it was being built.”

There were three changes in particular, that were considerable.

Firstly, the original design only had the ability to hold 37 hanging points, but the project ended up needing over eighty. As such, the team had to more than double the capacity of the steel in the structure in order to support the staging. They also had to increase the size of the stage to accommodate larger acts. The third major design change involved the orchestra pit, which needed to be doubled in size. 

The design changes proved to be challenging, to say the least. But with the right tools and a collaborative effort, team members were able to take these challenges in stride. 

The Role of Digital Construction

Part of the reason Hansen Yuncken was successful was due to its expertise in digital construction. When the Sydney Coliseum construction was underway, the company already had the tech and systems in place to handle it.

“The challenge with construction is that construction needs to take a digital idea and make it into something physical. And what you do in between is really the magic,” says Brett. “What Hansen Yuncken have done is that they've applied everything they know about the digital construction process and a hundred years of construction excellence and applied it on the Sydney Coliseum project. They are at the vanguard now of digital construction.”

The project team leveraged a number of software solutions — including BIM 360 and Navisworks — to facilitate communication and ensure that everyone was up to date on how the project changed and progressed. Even better, the platforms used by Hansen Yuncken were all connected, making it easy for everyone to stay on the same page.

Montanna Green, a BIM/VDC Design Coordinator at Hansen Yuncken, explains that the company leveraged connected construction by using a common data environment (CDE).

“Everything is interconnected. They talk to each other and every piece of information required to build a project is all on one platform,” says Montanna. “One example is a platform like BIM 360. It's incredibly useful for our teams on site and in the office. The CDE allows us to work on a design in the office, then share that information instantly with those on site."


Mobile technology also helped the team carry out jobs much more efficiently. As Paul Groat, Director and Head Engineer at Statewide Mechanical Services explains, “Onsite, we used mobile Autodesk software — BIM 360. It was mainly used to manage the defects on the job. But being able to walk around with an iPad in hand, then identify and close out the defects in a timely manner meant that everyone was kept in the loop.”

What’s more, digital construction technology allowed the team to anticipate, and thus mitigate, risks in the project.

“We try to utilize technology as much as possible as a tool to de-risk the construction process,” says Vanja Krumpacnik, Project Manager at Hansen Yuncken. “It helped us see into the future a little bit, and understand where we would be at a certain point in time. But it also helped us a lot with our communication.”


Ultimately, this gave the team some much needed-comfort with where the project was going. 

“One of the better moments that came out of this project was seeing the value that our site manager saw, when he realized that the four-day sequencing wasn't just a novel feature. Once he realized that certain aspects had to be built before certain times, it was eye-opening to him. And when he realized that we had already ironed out certain issues for him, he knew that it helped de-risk the project,” recalls Tim Morgan-Smith, a site engineer at Hansen Yuncken.

Saving Time with Industrialized Construction

The team also used a number of industrialized construction methods, which expedited the building process. One example is when they prefabricated two major rises on the northern end of the building. This move, says Paul, sped up the construction, enabling the team to complete them in days instead of weeks.

According to him, “Being able to prefabricate those off-site allowed Hansen Yuncken to expedite the program. It was on the critical path of the program, due to the fact that the top of these rises supported a major steel structure.”

“So by prefabricating these major rises, our on-site time for was cut down to a couple of days as opposed to 10 weeks,” Paul says.


Vanja echoes this, and adds that industrialized construction helped improve efficiency, safety, and costs. 

“Adopting manufacturing processes can help construction in a few different ways. From a program perspective, you get the ability to manufacture something off site, so you can actually do it in parallel to some of the onsite activities. From a safety perspective, you’re working in a controlled environment and on a ground level that’s outside of the elements of the weather. This also helps us from a cost perspective.”

Paul agrees, and mentions that he can certainly take the methods they used on this project and apply them to future construction projects. “What we have learned is prefabricated construction can save serious amounts of time on the site when it's warranted. It's something that I'm definitely going to take with me.”

Get a Closer Look at the Sydney Coliseum 

The Sydney Coliseum is a testament to the fact that the toughest challenges in construction can be overcome with the right mindset, collaborative practices, and tools. We hope the story of this incredible building inspires you to take on bigger challenges in your work. 

And if you want to learn more about the Sydney Coliseum, check out Autodesk’s documentary on the project, Building an Icon: The Immovable Deadline. The film features the team behind the Sydney Coliseum, and you’ll hear exactly how they overcame the project’s challenges and delivered everything before the curtain went up.

Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.