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World Heritage honour for 'daring' Sydney Opera House

By Kathy Marks in Sydney

Australia's most famous building, the Sydney Opera House, received World Heritage listing yesterday as a site of international cultural significance, taking its place alongside the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China.

The harbourside landmark, completed in 1973, is the youngest building on the list, and one of only 15 or so from the 20th century. The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, said that the Opera House, with its distinctive sail-shaped roof, was "testament to the daring of architect Joern Utzon and to those who brought about his vision".

Malcolm Turnbull, the Federal Environment Minister, said World Heritage listing was "not conferred lightly". "When it was first designed by Joern Utzon in 1956 he entered his drawings for a building nobody knew how to build," Mr Turnbull said. "The judges, when they courageously selected it as the winning entry, said this building could be one of the great buildings of the world. Now 51 years later it has proved to be exactly that."

Utzon, a Dane, is only the second living architect with a work that meets Unesco's criteria of "a masterpiece of human creative genius". He said yesterday that he was honoured to have his building listed, and had always hoped it would become Sydney's greatest asset. "It is a gift to the city of Sydney," he said.

The decision was made by Unesco's World Heritage Committee, which is meeting in Christchurch, New Zealand. Among other sites designated as international treasures were the so-called Stone Forest in Yunnan province, China; the Red Fort complex in Delhi; the Parthian Fortresses of Misa in Turkmenistan, and archaeological remains in Samarra, Iraq, considered a holy city by Shia Muslims.

Utzon has never seen the completed work that brought him international renown. He was forced off the project in 1966 after a dispute with the New South Wales government about spiralling costs, and left the country vowing never to return. In recent years the rift has been healed, with Utzon accepting an invitation to be principal design consultant on a major project to upgrade the interior. His son, and professional partner, Jan, is spearheading work on the ground in Sydney. This is the second time the Sydney Opera House has been nominated for World Heritage status. The first attempt, in 1981, was deferred as the building was considered too new to have proven international cultural importance.

The building is among the world's busiest performing arts centres, attracting 4.5 million visitors each year.

The premier of New South Wales, Morris Iemma, called the Opera House "the crown of the harbour", and said that, without Utzon's genius, the "ultimate people's palace" would not exist.

A Unesco spokesman, Roni Amelan, said: "There was consensus that it was a truly outstanding, iconic building that was a defining moment in 20th century architecture."

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