Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008

Jørn Utzon, 1918-2008

Before there was the Beijing Olympic Stadium or the Guggenheim Bilbao, there was the Sydney Opera House, the billowing vessel that is now one of the most famous buildings in the world. In 1957, the year Utzon won the opera house design competition with his proposal that suggested ship's sails and gull's wings, he was an obscure 39-year-old Danish architect. For five years he refined his project in Copenhagen, then moved with his family to Sydney to guide its construction. But in time he found himself in disputes with the New South Wales government over delays and cost overruns. After a final showdown in 1966, he and his family left Australia. He never returned, and never saw his greatest achievement in completed form. But in recent years Utzon reconciled with the government of New South Wales sufficiently to design interior renovations to bring the opera house more fully in line with his original vision. In 2003 he won the Pritzker Prize, architecture's highest honor. And to the end he never stopped thinking about the magnificent thing he had created. "I have the building in my head," he once said, "like a composer has his symphony."

Richard Lacayo