Australia yesterday mourned the death of Danish architect Joern Utzon, who designed Sydney’s iconic, sail-shaped Opera House but never saw it completed.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd led the tributes to Utzon, who died in Copenhagen aged 90, describing him as a visionary whose legacy includes one of the world’s most spectacular and inspiring structures.
“This opera house is not just Sydney’s great symbol to the world, it’s Australia’s great symbol to the world. And we owe this great symbol to this great man who has now passed away,” Rudd said. “A son of Denmark, but I’ve got to say, in terms of his spirit, a son of Australia as well.”
The famous building’s lights were to be dimmed last night in memory of Utzon while the flags on Sydney’s nearby Harbor Bridge will fly at half-mast on today.
New South Wales state premier Nathan Rees said Australia was indebted to Utzon for the “architectural masterpiece” which draws some 7.5 million visitors each year.
“[He was] a man ahead of his time and we were lucky enough to be the beneficiaries,” he said.
“We pay tribute to a visionary architect whose design for the Sydney Opera House — an architectural masterpiece — has come to symbolize the spirit of our great nation around the world.”
The Opera House Trust, which maintains and operates the building and which works with Utzon’s son Jan on modifications, said he was “an architectural and creative genius who gave Australia and the world a great gift.”
Utzon won a 1956 competition to design the building and began work the following year on a distinctive design which featured the off-white “sails” pointing towards the harbor.
But a storm of controversy over budget blow-outs and Utzon’s artistic vision saw him quit the project in 1966, and he never returned to Australia to see his the finished building.
When Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II opened the Opera House in 1973, the building’s interiors were not those of Utzon’s design and several unplanned venues had been added.
Sydney Opera House chief executive Richard Evans, who worked with Utzon on recent modifications, said he did not think the architect “carried around a lot of grief” about how the project was completed without him.