Designer of Sydney Opera House wins prize

Pritzker award is highest honor in architecture

April 09, 2003|By Blair Kamin | Blair Kamin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Jorn Utzon, the architect of the Sydney Opera House, the controversial modernist masterpiece that has become a symbol of Australia and an inspiration for today's spectacular, sculpted buildings, is this year's winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the field's highest honor.

Utzon, 84, is the first Danish architect - and the 12th non-American in a row - to win the award, which is endowed by the Chicago's Pritzker family. The Pritzkers' Los Angeles-based Hyatt Foundation announced Utzon's selection Monday.

Playing on a favorite Utzon line - "I like to be on the edge of the possible" - the six-member Pritzker jury said in its citation: Utzon "proves that the marvelous and seemingly impossible in architecture can be achieved."

The jury also cited Utzon for his "handsome, humane housing" and a body of work that includes Kuwait's National Assembly, which retreating Iraqi troops set afire during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Utzon will be awarded $100,000 and a bronze medallion in Madrid on May 20.

The award represents a vindication for Utzon, who was a little-known 38-year-old in 1957 when he won the international design competition for an opera house on a point of land jutting into Sydney harbor.

After clashing with Australian officials over the delays and cost increases that beset his unconventional design - a raised platform that supports glistening white shells - Utzon resigned from the job in 1966 and left Australia, never to return and see his masterpiece in person.

Local architects completed the interior of the building, which consists of a series of theaters and halls beneath its iconic shells.

With precast concrete ribs providing the undergirding for its spherical shells - the shells are clad in white and off-white roof tiles - The Opera House opened in 1973.

Ever since, as the Sydney Morning Herald said last month, there has been a running argument "between those who believe the building is flawed because Utzon did not finish it and those who believe that local architects turned the interior into a working building."

Blair Kamen is the architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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