Call it a magnificent doodle or a clutch of giant oyster shells, but Australia believes its striking Sydney Opera House is worthy of a listing as one of the world's most important buildings.

The Opera House, which sits near the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a postcard picture seen the world over, has been included on Australia's National Heritage List, the government said on Tuesday.

The listing offers the 32-year-old Opera House protection and recognition alongside 12 other buildings, natural and historic sites on the list of Australia's most important cultural icons.

"Its construction marked the end of Australia's cultural cringe and put us on the world stage, revealing a confidence in the international standing of our own heritage and culture," Australian Environment and Heritage Minister Ian Campbell said in a statement.

Campbell said the local heritage listing was a precursor to a possible listing on the U.N. cultural body UNESCO's World Heritage List.

Australia would forward its nomination of the Opera House to UNESCO's World Heritage Center in Paris by Feb. 1, 2006 for possible inclusion on the list in 2007 -- 50 years after work on the Opera House and its unique roof shells began.

In 1956, Australia launched a worldwide competition for the design of an opera house that had first been suggested in the 1940s by British composer Eugene Goossens.

The competition attracted 233 entries from architects in 33 countries before the stunning drawings of then 38-year-old Danish architect Joern Utzon were chosen as the winner and construction began in 1957.

Architects speak of influences ranging from LeCorbusier to Picasso in Utzon's award-winning design, which art critic Robert Hughes described as "nothing more than a magnificent doodle."

Funded by public lotteries, the concrete-and-tile building was completed in 1973, six years after Utzon left the project in disgust over clashes with the New South Wales state government about proposed changes to his design.

The architect, now in his 80s, has never seen the finished building, which Australian critic Clive James said "looks like a portable typewriter full of oyster shells."


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