SYDNEY, Australia – The distinctive white sails of the Sydney Opera House darkened Sunday night to mourn the death of Joern Utzon, the creative mind behind the globally known landmark.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd led praise for the Danish architect, whose most distinctive creation had a troublesome birth in Australia but is now held dear as perhaps the country's most recognized icon.
"Joern Utzon was a visionary architect whose legacy includes one of the world's most spectacular and inspiring buildings, the Sydney Opera House," Rudd said in a statement.
From the prime minister's residence overlooking the opera house, Rudd later told reporters, "In the great sweep of history, what we're left with is a beautiful building, Sydney's symbol to the world, Australia's symbol to the world."
He called Utzon — who never saw his masterpiece completed — "a son of Denmark but ... in terms of his spirit, a son of Australia as well."
Floodlights that illuminate the shell-like structure were dimmed for one hour Sunday night to mark Utzon's death. Flags on the city's other landmark, the arch-like Sydney Harbor Bridge, would be lowered to half-staff on Monday to honor Utzon, the New South Wales state government announced.
"Joern Utzon was an architectural and creative genius who gave Australia and the world a great gift," said Kim Williams, the chairman of the trust that operates the venue. "Sydney Opera House is core to our national cultural identity and a source of great pride to all Australians. It has become the most globally recognized symbol of our country."
Utzon died from a heart attack in his sleep early Saturday, surrounded by family members in Denmark, his son, Kim Utzon, told The Associated Press. He was 90.
Utzon's design for the opera house was selected in 1957 after a worldwide competition. But he was pushed off the project after years of cost overruns and wrangling with the state government.
He left Australia before the building was completed and never returned, though these days the scandal over the cost is gone and the failure to achieve Utzon's original vision for the building is largely viewed as tragic.