Sydney Opera House Lights Dimmed As A Tribute To Architect Joern Utzon

DavidIori

Greystanes, Australia

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Joern Utzon architect of the Sydney Opera Housen dead at 90, as a tribute last night Sunday Evening 30-11-2008 the lights of the Sydney Opera House were dimmed.

Joern Utzon, who created the first designs for Sydney’s Opera House in 1957, has never returned to Australia after leaving Sydney in 1966, nearly seven years before his internationally acclaimed building was finished.

Utzon received the prestigious Pritzker prize for architecture in 2003 with the jury singling out the Opera House as one of the most iconic buildings of the 20th century, arguing it “proves that the marvellous and seemingly impossible in architecture can be achieved”.

A member of the pantheon of the 20th century’s architectural greats, Utzon was haunted – but insisted he was not embittered – by the disastrous end of his relationship with Sydney and what has become the city’s iconic harbourside symbol. He left the project after a battle over design and cost led to the appointment of Government architects to take over the project and finish its interiors with no bearing to his original designs.

And despite its enormous beauty and almost mythical shape, the Opera House remains mired in argument about poor acoustics and lack of space in its most important theatres.

Utzon, who declined invitations to return to Australia but who collaborated from afar on the most recent plans to alleviate space and acoustics problems, has suffered long term eye problems which left him near to blindness.

He has always denied being embittered by the end of his association with his most famous building.

Only two weeks ago it was reported the $700-million Sydney Opera House refurbishment, which is meant to improve acoustics and capacity, created a schism within the Utzon family.

The son and grandson of the Opera House architect, Jan and Jeppe, had clashed over the renovation plans, which Jeppe said risks “messing up” his grandfather’s designs.

“It’s getting messed up [by other architects],” Jeppe Utzon told architectural webzine Building Design. “It will be hard to distinguish who did what – it’s a patchwork of ideas… It is dangerous for [my father and grandfather], not so much for their reputations but for the purity [of the architecture]. It’s strange they said yes to it.”

But according to Building Design Jan said his son was not well informed enough to comment.

“He is not involved in our projects for the Opera House and cannot possibly have any idea of how we work or what our aims are or even what we are doing,” he said. "He has chosen not to be involved with the Opera House but wants to pursue his own career, which is perfectly understandable for a young and relatively inexperienced architect.

Born in Copenhagen in 1918, Utzon graduated from the capital’s academy of arts in 1942, working in several major Danish architectural offices and later with Alvar Aalto in Finland. He established his own practrice in Copenhagen in 1950.

Utzon’s earliest buildings were private homes. His winning the design competition for the Opera House in 1956 was a surprise to many, including colleagues.

Utzon also designed the national assembly building in Kuwait City which was built between 1971 and 1983 and resembles a series of caravan of large tents, evoking the traditional meeting places of the Bedouin nomads.

Utzon lived in Mallorca, off Spain’s eastern coast, with his wife Lis Utzon, for many years and his children, Kim and Jan, worked in partnership on several projects including a church that opened in 1976 in Bagsvaerd, a Copenhagen suburb and more recently consulting on the Opera House refurbishments.a Utzon was awarded the Order of Australia in 1985 and the Sonning prize for contributing to European culture in 1988.

He is survived by his wife and their three children, Kim, Jan and Lin, and several grandchildren.

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