Danish architect Jørn Utzon was born in 1918. While in secondary school, he began helping his father, director of a shipyard in Alborg, Denmark, and brilliant naval architect, by studying new designs, drawing up plans and making models. This activity opened another possibility—that of training to be a naval architect like his father.

However, one of his father’s cousins, Einar Utzon-Frank, was a sculptor as well as a professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. He influenced Jørn, who took an interest in sculpting, and after secondary school, he won admission to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.

When he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in 1942, he, like many architects affected by World War II, fled to neutral Sweden where he was employed in the Stockholm office of Hakon Ahlberg for the duration of the war. He then went to Finland to work with Alvar Aalto.

An admirer of the ideas of Gunnar Asplund, as well as Frank Lloyd Wright while still in school, Utzon acknowledges that Aalto, Asplund and Wright were all major influences in his own work. Over the next decade, he traveled extensively, visiting Morocco, Mexico, the United States, China, Japan, India, and Australia, the latter destined to become a major factor in his life.

Most of Utzon’s projects have been completed in his native Denmark, but he is best known for the Sydney Opera House, an iconic building of curving roof forms. Construction began in 1959 and was not complete until 1973, and Utzon left the project in 1966 after bitter arguments with Australian officials regarding cost and schedule issues.

His other well known projects include the Fredensborg Housing Estate (1959-62), the Kingo Housing Estate (1956-58), Bagsvaerd Church (1973-76), and the Skagen Nature Center (2001), all in Denmark.

The Kingo Houses in Helsingør are sixty-three L-shaped houses that were built in rows following the contours of the site, providing views for each house, and access to sunlight and shelter from the wind. The Kingo Houses are often praised for their combination of simplicity and inventiveness.

Utzon's next major design, after returning to Denmark from Sydney, was the Bagsvaerd Church in Copenhagen. Utzon planned the interior vaults after being inspired by banks of clouds.

Utzon moved to the Spanish island of Majorca in the early 1970s. With his wife he lived in a house designed by himself, Can Feliz, until his death in 2008. The architecture is very solid and simple. A small window allows light to funnel in to the living space and views toward the sea ...

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Danish Architect Jørn Utzon Becomes 2003 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate

Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who designed what has arguably become the most famous building in the world, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, has been chosen as the 2003 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize which marks its twenty-fifth anniversary this year. The 84 year-old Utzon has retired to a house he designed for himself on the island of Majorca, but his two sons, Jan and Kim, continue the practice of Utzon Architects in Haarby, Denmark.

In announcing the jury’s choice, Thomas J. Pritzker, president of The Hyatt Foundation, said, “Jørn Utzon has designed a remarkably beautiful building in Australia that has become a national symbol to the rest of the world. In addition, in a most distinguished career, he has designed several other significant works, including housing complexes, a church, residences, and other commercial buildings. We are delighted that the jury has seen fit to recognize this great talent as we celebrate our first quarter of a century.”

Pritzker Prize jury chairman, Lord Rothschild, commented, “Jørn Utzon created one of the great iconic buildings of the twentieth century, an image of great beauty known throughout the world. In addition to this masterpiece, he has worked throughout his life fastidiously, brilliantly, quietly and with never a false or jarring note. He is therefore a most distinguished recipient of the Pritzker Prize.”

The formal ceremony for what has come to be known throughout the world as architecture's highest honor will be held on May 20, 2003 in Madrid, Spain. At that time, a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion are bestowed. Utzon is the first Dane to become a Pritzker Laureate, and the 27th honoree since the prize was established in 1979. His selection continues what has become a ten-year trend of laureates from the international community.

Bill Lacy, an architect, spoke as the executive director of the Pritzker Prize, quoting from the jury citation which states, “Utzon has always been ahead of his time. He rightly joins the handful of Modernists who have shaped the past century with buildings of timeless and enduring quality.”


Ada Louise Huxtable, architecture critic and member of the jury, commented further saying, “It has taken half a century to understand the true path of architecture in our time, to pick up the threads of continuity and the signposts to the future, to recognize the broader and deeper meaning of 20th century work that has been subjected to doctrinaire modernist criticism and classification, or tabled as history. In this light, the work of Jørn Utzon takes on a particular richness and significance.”

Another juror, Carlos Jimenez from Houston who is professor of architecture at Rice University, said, “Singular is an attribute that embodies the life and work of Jørn Utzon. The unique resolve and erudition of this architect’s few but compelling works have captured the imagination of architects and the public alike ever since his brilliant debut in the international scene almost fifty years ago. ”

And from juror Jorge Silvetti, who chairs the Department of Architecture, Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, “Paradoxically, while the act of awarding in 2003 the Pritzker Prize to Jørn Utzon may be perceived as long overdue, it comes at such a particular moment in the development of architecture as to be timely and exemplary. In the current frenzy of unbound personal expressionism and blind subordination to attention-grabbing production techniques, his explorations remind us that both ‘expression and technique’ are servants and secondary to more profound and foundational architectural ideas. His work shows us that the marvelous and seemingly ‘impossible’ in architecture depend still on genial minds and able hands."


Read Kenneth Frampton's Essay

Jørn Utzon is an architect whose roots extend back into history—touching on the Mayan, Chinese and Japanese, Islamic cultures, and many others, including his own Scandinavian legacies. He combines these more ancient heritages with his own balanced discipline, a sense of architecture as art, and natural instinct for organic structures related to site conditions. The range of his projects is vast, from the sculptural abstraction of the Sydney Opera House to handsome, humane housing; a church that remains a masterwork with its remarkably lyrical ceilings; as well as monumental public buildings for government and commerce.

His housing is designed to provide not only privacy for its inhabitants, but pleasant views of the landscape, and flexibility for individual pursuits—in short, designed with people in mind. 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.

“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 marvelous and seemingly impossible in architecture can be achieved. He has always been ahead of his time. He rightly joins the handful of Modernists who have shaped the past century with buildings of timeless and enduring quality.

Jury Members

Lord Rothschild (Chairman)
Giovanni Agnelli
Frank Gehry
Ada Louise Huxtable
Carlos Jimenez
Jorge Silvetti
Bill Lacy (Executive Director)

The Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid, Spain

His Majesty King Juan Carlos I of Spain presided over the ceremony honoring Jørn Utzon of Denmark as the 2003 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate. The ceremony took place in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid on Tuesday, May 20, 2003.

The Royal Academy is one of the most important museums in Madrid with an outstanding collection of European and Spanish paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. The institution, founded in 1752, was moved to its current site in 1774, originally a palace with a Baroque façade. Redesigned in the neoclassical style by architect Juan de Villanueva, architect of the Prado Museum and other important buildings of the eightieth century, the Royal Academy has remained in this building to the present.

The guests assembling from around the world for the Pritzker Prize had an opportunity to see some of the Academy's fine art collection. There are five remarkable Zurbarán life-size portraits of monks, as well as several still-life paintings. There are also works by Velázquez, Rubens, and Goya, to mention a few. The Academy, home to the national print collection, is Spain's most important center for the study of art printing processes, such as engraving and etching. Some of Goya's copper plates (among 8000 printing plates archived there) are displayed in rotating exhibitions.


Thomas J. Pritzker, president of The Hyatt Foundation, in expressing gratitude to the Royal Family for making it possible to hold the event in these historic settings, stated, “This is the second time we have had the great pleasure to come to Spain. The first was in 1997 when we went to Bilbao, where the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum was nearing completion. While that building is a celebration of contemporary art, this year at the Fine Arts Academy, we will be paying homage to a repository of historic masterpieces." The collection began with Spanish and foreign artists working in Madrid. On being admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, new members contribute a piece of their own work. The collections have grown substantially from private legacies; today it numbers over a thousand paintings and sculptures dating from the sixteenth century.


Read Jørn Utzon's Ceremony Acceptance Speech

Read Tom Pritzker's Ceremony Speech

Read King Juan Carlos I of Spain's Ceremony Speech

Ceremony Highlights

Full Ceremony