"The building is a great artistic monument and an icon," said today's citation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee. "It is a daring and visionary experiment that has had an enduring influence on the emergent architecture of the late 20th century."
Opened in 1973, the Opera House is the youngest building to receive World Heritage status, and only the second to be so designated while its architect is alive (after the Brazilian capital complex in Brasilia, designed by Oscar Niemeyer).
Among the other sites given World Heritage status by the committee, which is meeting this week in Wellington, New Zealand, are the Red Fort in Delhi, the Parthian Fortresses of Nisa in modern-day Turkmenistan, the Twyfelfontein rock carvings in Namibia and the primeval beech forests of the Carpathian Mountains in eastern Europe.
The unprecedented design by Jêªrn Utzon for the Sydney Opera House, selected in a 1957 competition, proved far more difficult to engineer — and vastly more expensive — than anticipated. Major controversy plagued the project, and Utzon resigned in 1966 (midway through construction, which began in 1959) and left the country after clashing with government officials over the cost and feasibility of his plans.
The finished Opera House, of course, became an icon for Sydney and Australia recognized worldwide — and eventually won Utzon the Pritzker Prize.
The interior of the complex and its two main auditoriums, the Opera Theatre and the Concert Hall, were completed by local government architects; the results, visually and acoustically, have never been considered equal to the magnificent exterior. In 1999, however, the New South Wales state government engaged Utzon to provide plans for a multi-stage renovation of the Opera House to an updated version of his original intentions. While he is himself, now at age 88, no longer able to make the journey to Australia, his son Jan Utzon is working on the project and visiting the site regularly.
The Utzons' latest plan, revealed in April, is for a major restructuring of the Opera Theatre that would involve cutting into the sandstone underneath the building and lowering the auditorium's floor by four meters.