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Issued 30 November, 2008


“I like to be on the edge of the possible.” Jørn Utzon

“I have made a sculpture … you will never be finished with it – when you pass around it or see it against the sky… something new goes on all the time… together with the sun, the light and the clouds, it makes a living thing.” Jørn Utzon

Chairman of Sydney Opera House Trust, Kim Williams AM, today paid tribute to visionary Danish architect, Jørn Utzon, who died peacefully yesterday in Denmark aged 90.

“Jørn Utzon was an architectural and creative genius who gave Australia and the world a great gift.” Mr Williams said. “Sydney Opera House is core to our national cultural identity and a source of great pride to all Australians. It has become the most globally recognised symbol of our country.”

Mr Williams said Sydney Opera House Board of Trustees, management, staff and all others associated with the building are truly saddened by the death of Mr Utzon.

“Our warmest thoughts are with his wife, Lis, and the Utzon family at this time. He will always hold a special place in our hearts.” 

Mr Williams said Jørn Utzon’s son, Jan Utzon, has flown to Denmark following an extended visit to Sydney where he was working on the most recent interior improvements to his masterpiece, the Accessibility and Western Foyers project, the largest project to be undertaken since his re-engagement in 1999. 

“We will hold a memorial service in honour of Jørn Utzon in early 2009. To mark this sad event, tonight Sydney Opera House will dim the lights on its sails for an hour between 8:30pm and 9:30pm AEDT.”

A special tribute book will be available for the public to sign in the Sydney Opera House from Monday 1 December and online at 

A modern wonder

In June 2007, Sydney Opera House was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list as “a masterpiece of human creative genius.”  ICOMOS’s expert assessment of the nomination stated that Sydney Opera House “stands by itself as one of the indisputable masterpieces of human creativity, not only in the 20th century but in the history of humankind”.
Kim Williams said “Jørn Utzon was a great visionary of our time. His design for Sydney Opera House took us to ‘the edge of the possible’ and in so doing pioneered many advances in engineering and technology.’

In May 2003, Jørn Utzon was awarded architecture’s highest award, the Pritzker Prize by which time he was again working with Sydney Opera House. The citation concluded that “Sydney Opera House is an image of great beauty that has become known throughout the world – a symbol for not only a city, but a whole country and continent.”

Utzon’s first interior space within Sydney Opera House, named the Utzon Room in his honour, was completed in September 2004 and the first exterior change to Sydney Opera House, the Colonnade, was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in March 2006.

Utzon’s legacy

Chief Executive Richard Evans said the re-engagement of Jørn Utzon was critical to ensuring the building would be protected and relevant for future generations. 

“A critical step forward for the longevity of the building was the establishment of a set of Design Principles. These ensure that the building evolves whilst maintaining the integrity of Utzon’s original vision.”
At the time of his passing, Jørn Utzon with his son Jan and leading Australian architect Richard Johnson of Johnson Pilton Walker, were consulting on the Accessibility and Western Foyers project, the largest project to be undertaken since his re-engagement with the building. The project is currently underway and will greatly improve patron accessibility to the western theatres, box office and southern foyers. Jan has worked with his father for over three decades, and together with Richard Johnson they have formed an integral part of the design team assisting Jørn Utzon. 

In 2005, Utzon completed his concept designs to solve significant shortcomings in the current Opera Theatre. Chief Executive Richard Evans said of Utzon’s master plans, “Mr Utzon has left Australia and the world with a series of magnificent designs which will ensure Sydney Opera House remains a fully functioning performing arts centre, taking this modern wonder into the 21st century and beyond.”

Paying tribute

Members of the public wishing to pay tribute to Jørn Utzon are invited to sign a book at Sydney Opera House from Monday 1 December until Sunday 7 December between 10am and 7pm, which will then be forwarded to the Utzon family.

tribute website will go live today and tributes can be emailed directly to to be included on the website.

Jørn Utzon was 90 years old and is survived by his wife Lis, sons Kim and Jan and his daughter Lin.

“The sun did not know how beautiful its light was, until it was reflected off this building.”
Louis Kahn - Architect

“Utzon made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology, and he persevered through extraordinary malicious publicity and negative criticism to build a building that changed the image of an entire country.” 
Frank Gehry – architect and Pritzker Prize jury member 2003


For images, interviews, further information or a copy of the Utzon Tribute video:
Vanessa Duscio +61 2 9250 7678 I + 61 409 977 312 I
Chris Wynton + 61 2 9250 7836 I + 61 403 461 005 I


“I like to be on the edge of the possible” is something Jørn Utzon has said. His work shows the world that he has been there and beyond – he proves that the marvellous and seemingly impossible in architecture can be achieved. He has always been ahead of this time. He rightly joins the handful of modernists who have shaped the past century with buildings of timeless and enduring quality.”
Jury Citation, Pritzker Prize for Architecture April 2003

“In the Sydney Opera House Jørn Utzon realised the great synthesis of earth and sky, landscape and city, vista and intimacy, thought and feeling, in terms of a unity of technological and organic form. Hence we may safely say that the Sydney Opera House represents a masterpiece of human creative genius, and a most significant step in the history of modern architecture.”
Norwegian architect and expert in modern architecture, Christian Norberg-Schulz, cited in the nomination document for World Heritage Listing

“Utzon rightly joins the distinguished company of a handful of Modernists who shaped the most notable buildings of our time.” 

Bill Lacy, Pritzker Foundation

“It is the first time in our lifetime that an epic piece of architecture has gained such universal presence.” 

Frank Gehry – architect and Pritzker Prize jury member 2003

“Jørn Utzon has designed a remarkably beautiful building in Australia that has become a national symbol to the rest of the world.”

Thomas J. Pritzker, President of the Hyatt Foundation 2003

“There is no doubt that the Sydney Opera House is his masterpiece. It is one of the great iconic buildings of the 20th century, an image of great beauty that has become known throughout the world – a symbol for not only a city, but a whole country and continent.”

Pritzker Prize citation 2003

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