From 1937 Jørn Utzon attended the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where he studied under Kay Fisker and Steen Eiler Rasmussen
RIBA Royal Gold Medal
Jørn Utzon (left) presenting a model of the Opera House at Sydney Town Hall, 1957.
As a result of his family's interest in art, from 1937 he attended the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where he studied under Kay Fisker and Steen Eiler Rasmussen. He graduated in 1942.
For a six-month period in 1946, he worked in the office of the Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto. Among his important early works were two houses in Denmark, his own at Hellebæk (1952) and another at Holte (1952–53).
In 1957 Utzon won the design competition for a new opera house at Sydney with a dramatic design that brought him international fame. Construction, however, posed a variety of problems, many resulting from the innovative nature of the design, a series of sail-like shells. He resigned from the project in 1966, but construction continued until September 1973. The completed Opera House is now Sydney’s best-known landmark. In 1999 Utzon agreed to return as the building’s architect, overseeing an improvement project. He redesigned the reception hall—the only interior space that had been true to his plans—and it opened in 2004 as the Utzon Room. Two years later a new colonnade was completed, marking the first alteration to the Opera House’s exterior since 1973. In 2007 the Opera House was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Utzon is also noted for two housing estates, one near Helsingør (1956) and another in Fredensborg in northern Sjælland (1957–60). Both made effective use of the surrounding terrain. His Bagsůaerd Church (1976) in suburban Copenhagen has the appearance of clustered farm buildings.
"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."
"I like to be on the edge of the possible."
"There is a rumour that I can't draw and never could. This is probably because I work so much with models. Models are one of the most beautiful design tools, but I still do the finest drawings you can imagine."
"And with a few moments like that, with doubt from here and there, and within ourselves we were just striving for excellence. We had somehow understood and felt that all the musicians who would come to the House later on, that all the singers, the big artists, were striving for excellence in their life and we thought a house for them, there’s no limit to the excellence it should have because it should match their strive for perfection."
Quotes from others about the person
“According to Kenneth Frampton, Utzon's architectural influence is manifest on three levels: the emphasis given to the roof element, the importance given to the grounding of the building, and the commitment to "the cultural validity of organic growth". Kim Dirkinck-Holmfeld, writing in Dansk Arkitektur: 1960–1995, comments: Utzon did not obtain many commissions in his mother country but his importance was considerable in terms of direct imitation or inspiration. And he was the only Danish architect who made a significant contribution to the global development of Modernism.”
He was survived by his wife, Lis, his sons Jan and Kim, his daughter Lin, and several grandchildren. His sons are trained architects and his daughter is a designer, muralist and artist who was at one time married to the Australian architect Alex Popov.