Sydney Opera House architect Utzon dies at 90

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Danish architect Jorn Utzon, designer of the Sydney Opera House, died of a heart attack on Saturday at the age of 90, the Danish minister of culture said.

Utzon was famous for the design of the impressionist Opera House, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site last year, but he also designed the National Assembly of Kuwait and several prominent buildings in his native Denmark.

Danish Minister of Culture Carina Christensen said Denmark had lost a great architect and ambassador.

“Jorn Utzon will be remembered as one of the Danes who in the 20th century put Denmark on the world map with his great talent,” she told reporters.

In 1957 he unexpectedly won the competition to design the Sydney Opera House, but left the project in 1966, six years before the official opening of the building, after quarrels with the client and cost overruns of more than 1,000 percent.

A number of aspects of the building, including most of the interior, were not completed according to his plans.

He never visited the iconic Opera House, one of the world’s classic modern buildings and Sydney’s landmark structure, although he was reconciled with the Sydney Opera House trust in the late 1990s.

In 2003, Utzon was awarded the Pritzker Prize, one of the world’s premier architecture prizes.

Born in 1918 in Copenhagen, Utzon was inspired by Scandinavian functionalism in architecture, but made a number of inspirational trips, including to Mexico and Morocco, in his late twenties and early thirties.

Adrian Carter, the Director of the Utzon Center in Aalborg, said he had combined modern architectural principals with inspiration from various ancient cultures, including Mayan and North African, breaking with the dogma of traditional architectural design.

“He was almost a shy man in public, but warm, sympathetic and a talkative person in private. He will be sorely missed,” Carter told Reuters.

Utzon, who had been recovering from an operation earlier this year, died early on Saturday in his sleep.

He and his wife lived for a number of years in a villa he designed in Majorca, Spain, but moved back to Denmark in recent years. Utzon is survived by his wife and their three children, all of who have become architects.

Reporting by Kim McLaughlin; Editing by Sophie Hares