Travel & Places Australia

Who Was Joern Utzon?

Question: Who Was Joern Utzon?
  • When Sydney Opera House was opened in 1973, there was no mention of the designer of the iconic Australian edifice. This was rectified by Queen Elizabeth II in March 2006.


Joern Utzon was the Danish architect who entered and won the international competition announced in January 1956 to design Australia's national opera house which is today's Sydney Opera House.

His prize for the winning design was 5000 Australian pounds (equivalent at that time to what would have been AU$10,000, but the Australian dollar was still in the future).

Joern Utzon was born in Copenhagen in 1918 and graduated from Denmark's Academy of Fine Arts in 1942. He established an architectural practice in his hometown in 1950.

After winning the competition for the opera house design, he spent six years planning, and another three years overseeing the construction of, the Sydney Opera House.

He resigned from the project in 1966 after disputes with the state government. He left Australia and never stepped inside the opera house he had designed.

Utzon's disaffection with the state government which caused him to resign from the Sydney project continued through more than a decade while the Sydney Opera House achieved iconic architectural status and Utzon's genius was more and more — and more universally — recognised. Efforts to invite Utzon back to Sydney failed.

In 1999, Sydney Opera House invited Utzon to prepare a Statement of Design Principles to guide future changes to the building which he had left uncompleted or had been completed by others.

Burying the acrimony of the past, Utzon agreed to work on the project as a consultant with his son and partner Jan.

In 2003, at the age of 85, Joern Utzon was further recognised by his peers and awarded the prestigious Pritzker Prize, regarded as the Nobel Prize of architecture.

On the eve of the Sydney Opera House's 30th birthday in 2003, the Danish architect sent a video message to Sydney expressing his gratitude at being involved in the current progressive works on the Opera House. "My gratitude is from the heart," he said. "Thank you very much for giving me permission to work again on the House."

Official recognition

When Queen Elizabeth II opened the Sydney Opera House with much fanfare in 1973, there was no mention of Utzon who had designed the edifice that has become an Australian icon.

In March 2006, when the new addition, the western colonnade, was opened, finally recognition was officially made of Utzon's work.

Queen Elizabeth II said it was gratifying to be asked to perform her second opening ceremony at Sydney Opera House, and "one that does unique justice to the creator of the building, the great Danish architect, Joern Utzon."

Joern Utzon died on November 29, 2008, in Copenhagen, his home country, Denmark. He ws 90 years old.

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