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Sydney Opera House designer Jorn Utzon dies

Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect best known for designing the Sydney Opera House, has died aged 90

The architect, who never visited the completed building with its famous, white ‘nun’s headdresses’, died of a heart attack in his sleep on Saturday morning (29 November).

Born in Copenhagen in 1918, Utzon worked in the studios of Swedish architects Paul Hedquist and Gunnar Asplund, and subsequently with Alvar Aalto in Finland before setting up his own office in the Danish capital in 1950.

The Pritzker-Prize winner completed a series of private houses before unexpectedly landing the Sydney Opera House project in 1955.

The competition-winning scheme was mired in controversy and Utzon quit in 1966 amid arguments over design details and the spiralling budget. The opera house was eventually finished seven years later, with a government-appointed architect completing the interiors to a different design.

Utzon spent his final years in Majorca and suffered from a ‘degenerative eye condition’ which left him virtually blind.

He declined numerous invitations to visit Australia, although his son Kim attended the opening of a new colonnade outside the Sydney Opera House, which he co-designed.

Utzon designed several projects together with his sons Kim and Jan, including a church in Bagsvaerd, a Copenhagen suburb, which opened in 1976 (pictured).

Utzon is survived by his wife and their three children.

3XN founder Kim Nielsen told the AJ: 'Utzon has created a Danish tradition, in which a building’s shapes and functions are interconnected. Utzon’s works are lucid without any superfluous elements. The constructions in general are apparent and easy to read – when you walk beneath the shells of the Opera House you can see how they are attached. Nothing is concealed or difficult to interpret for the viewer.'

'Contrary to other architects, Utzon had his own personal architectural perspectives and visions which were inspired by his many journeys and passion for ancient cultures. While others were inspired by contemporary architects, Utzon explored old buildings in China and Latin America. By incorporating nature and the terrain in his work, his starting point was always the elements. This is why he is unique.'

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