Other Notable Deaths


December 01, 2008


Sydney Opera House architect

Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect whose eye-catching, nautically inspired design for the Sydney Opera House in Australia overcame a series of controversies surrounding its budget and acoustics to become one of the most recognizable landmarks of the 20th century, died of a heart attack Saturday at his home in Copenhagen, Denmark, his son, Kim Utzon, told the Associated Press.

Few architects have been as closely associated with a single building as Mr. Utzon was with the 1973 opera house, which emerges - part sailboat, part sea creature - from a site on the edge of Sydney Harbor.

In 1957, when he was 38, he was named the winner of an international competition for the project. His design for a cluster of five auditoriums tucked beneath a roof of billowing white concrete shells impressed a jury that included architect Eero Saarinen. It ultimately prevailed over 232 other entries.

In the end, though, Mr. Utzon's opera house commission proved to be the definition of a mixed blessing, giving the architect years of heartache to go with broad newfound fame. In 1959, Joe Cahill, who as premier of New South Wales had been an early and influential champion of Mr. Utzon's design, died, and in the years that followed controversy swirled around the proposed building.

Mr. Utzon was criticized so heavily for cost overruns and construction delays that he resigned from the job and left Australia in disgust in 1966, a full seven years before the opera house was completed. Government-appointed architects finished the interior, making drastic changes to the layout of the theaters. Mr. Utzon never saw the final product in person and never returned to Australia.

Though Mr. Utzon went on to design a handful of acclaimed public buildings in Europe, as well as the 1982 Kuwait National Assembly, his career output was relatively small, particularly given the boost his victory in the opera house competition provided his fledgling practice.

Mr. Utzon is survived by his wife, two sons, a daughter and several grandchildren. His sons are also architects.

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