(Sydney) Australians on Friday celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Sydney Opera House, which has become one of the masterpieces of world architecture of the 20th century, by illuminating the characteristic “sails” of this building located in the Sydney Harbour.

Fifty years after Queen Elizabeth II inaugurated the concert hall, crowds flocked to the waterfront at nightfall to admire an impressive laser show showcasing the bold silhouette of the ‘Opera.

Events are also organized at the Opera, visited by some 11 million people per year, to discuss its complex history.

Its architect, the Dane Jorn Utzon, never set foot in the building he designed.

In 1956, he won a competition against 232 other candidates. The following year, he moved to Australia with his family to embark on the project. But in 1966, Jorn Utzon left the building site – whose shells were almost complete – and abandoned Australia after disagreements over the vision, budget and financing of the project.

Other architects completed the building, modifying its plans for the interior of the opera house. And Jorn Utzon never returned to Australia.

He died in Copenhagen in 2008.

A year earlier, the Sydney Opera House had been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO, which hailed it as a “masterpiece of 20th century architecture”.

A few days before the anniversary celebration, two of Utzon’s children spoke about the impact that completing this project had on their lives.

Utzon’s daughter, Lin, said she was very unhappy when, as a little girl, she had to leave Australia when her father’s contract suddenly ended.

Lin and her brother Jan, an architect, confided that a woman had written a letter to their father to tell him that she had given up suicide, seized by the magical vision of the Opera.

The letter writer had taken the ferry from Sydney Harbor with the intention of ending her life. But overwhelmed by the vision of the Opera, she said to herself that “if someone could have overcome all these difficulties and built something so magical and exhilarating, who was she to (want to) do away with herself? And she didn’t,” Lin said.

Construction of the innovative building took 14 years and the cost, initially estimated at A$7 million, rose to A$102 million upon completion. It was largely funded by lotteries.

The interlocking vaulted “sails,” covered with more than a million Swedish-made tiles, house two performance halls and a restaurant, resting on a vast concrete platform.

This “great urban sculpture” is, according to UNESCO, “a bold and visionary experiment that had a lasting influence on the emerging architecture of the late 20th century.”

The Opera has also experienced some funny adventures. In the 1980s, a net was installed over the orchestra pit at the Joan Sutherland Theater after a chicken performing in an opera performance flew off stage and landed on a cellist.