Jørn Utzon, the 90-year-old Danish architect who startled the world in 1957 with his competition-winning design for the Sydney Opera House, died on Nov. 29. The evocative, sail-inspired structure on Sydney's harbor was completed in 1973, despite Utzon's withdrawal from the project in 1966 following continued disagreements with the client. Although recent renovations better realized Utzon's original designs for the interiors, he never saw the building after its completion.
The son of a naval architect, Utzon graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen in 1942 and worked for a short time in the office of modern master Alvar Aalto. When he won the international contest for the Sydney Opera House, the then 38-year-old architect had won several other competitions, but none of those designs had been built. Throughout his career, most of Utzon's work was in his native Denmark, including several housing projects, a church, and a nature center. A notable exception was his Kuwait National Assembly of 1982.
The Sydney Opera House was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 and described in the Pritzker Architecture Prize citation as "one of the great iconic buildings of the 20th century." But Utzon's selection as 2003 Pritzker laureate was something of a surprise. The honor came decades after his acclaim for the Sydney Opera House and at a point when most architectural observers weren't even aware that he was still alive. The 2003 jury was the first not chaired by J. Carter Brown, who had died the previous year. Brown once commented that Utzon wouldn't win the Pritzker Prize because he produced only a single notable building, a view that apparently wasn't shared by other jurors.
Utzon spent the last three and a half decades of his life living in a simple house of his own design on the Spanish island of Majorca. He died in Copenhagen.