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Born in 1918, Danish architect Jørn Utzon's childhood memory of huge ships in dry-dock would inspire the signature hull-like roof of his landmark Sydney Opera House. He originally studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and then fled World War II to Sweden and later Finland, where he worked with Alvar Alto. After the war, he travelled in Europe and Mexico, calling a vista of the Mayan pyramids "one of the greatest architectural experiences in my life."

Jørn visited Frank Lloyd Wright's home, Taliesin West, in the Arizona desert and met Charles and Ray Eames. Establishing his own Copenhagen studio in 1950, he built an open-plan house for himself, the first of its kind in Denmark. In 1957, he unexpectedly won the competition to design the Sydney Opera House, out of 233 submissions, many from important architects of the day. Eero Saarinen described the plan as "genius." Construction began in 1959 and was not complete until 1973. By then, the architect had departed the project after political rifts. Retiring to Majorca, he died in 2008 after having been awarded the Pritzker Prize and seeing the opera house declared a World Heritage Site.