Design Classic โ€“ Iconic Architecture

Pritzker Prize winner Sydney Opera House
Pritzker Prize winner Sydney Opera House

Jorn Utzรธn studied under Steen Eiler Rasmussen at the Academy of Art in Copenhagen. He was influenced considerably by the modern Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund and the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, both of whom he worked for.

Early Career

Utzon travelled to Mexico, the Far East, and North Africa early in his career. He was enthralled with Morocco’s flat-roofed mud huts, which influenced his Kingo housing project in Birkehoj, Zeeland (1963). A sequence of L-shaped cubic dwellings with courtyards was used in the small-scale development. He subsequently built a church in Bagsvaerd, Denmark, from 1969 to 1975, whose hard and intimidating facade, consisting of a succession of cubes and rectangles, belied the serene interior.

Sydney Opera House

The design of the Sydney Opera House (1956-73), which he won in an international competition, was Utzon’s crowning achievement. He envisioned a solid sculptural building made of a series of giant interlocking billowing white ‘sails’ inspired by the ships of Sydney Harbour. Commenting on the design, Utzon said; ‘If you think of a Gothic church you are close to what I have been aiming at… looking at a Gothic church, you never get tired, you will never be finished with it… the interplay of light and movement makes a living thing.’

The acoustics, which had to be modified multiple times, was one of the most challenging aspects of the construction. These issues proved to be incredibly costly to resolve, causing construction prices to skyrocket. As a result, national lotteries were held to obtain more finances. Still, Utzon deemed the economies and adjustments to compromise. He resigned from the project before it was completed.


Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Dormer, P. (1999). The illustrated dictionary of twentieth century designers: the key personalities in design and the applied arts. Greenwich Ed.

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