A world-famous architect who has only built in Australia. A man of many labels Following his graduation in , he travelled for a couple of years and subsequently joined the reputed firm of Ancher, Mortlock, Murray and Woolley in Murcutt set up his own firm in the affluent Sydney suburb of Mosman in , and to this day continues to work as a sole practitioner where Murcutt lives with his third wife, Wendy Lewin who is also an architect.
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Only a very select group of architects have met these criteria and been awarded the Pritzker Prize. Murcutt is the first architect from this part of the world to receive this honour. Two different and personal accounts, one by Haig Beck and Jackie Cooper, and the other by Phil Harris and Adrian Welke, describe the man and his architecture, while Elizabeth Farrelly and Murcutt in conversation reflect on his aspirations, his commitments and his achievements.
Generally, he eschews large projects which would require him to expand his practice, and give up the personal attention to detail that he can now give to each and every project. His houses are fine tuned to the land and the weather. The Pritzker jury for was J. His architecture is crisp, marked and impregnated by the unique landscape and by the light that defines the fabulous, far away and gigantic mass of land that is his home, Australia.
Yet his work does not fall into the easy sentimentalism of a chauvinistic revisitation of the vernacular. Murcutt guest studio, Kempsey, NSW, It was about two in the morning. Most of the arrivals were students. Vincenzo was an architecture student living in the Vucciria. He talked eagerly about Glenn Murcutt. He said he would have given anything to work with Murcutt in Australia.
I told him quite gently Murcutt had no assistants, that he always worked alone. Glenn Murcutt is known far beyond Australia. He has become an international cultural figure, feted from Scandinavia to North America.
In he was awarded the elite Aalto Medal, becoming one of only eight architects in the world to hold the rare honour. But for most of his career, Murcutt has worked alone, with no staff. As they are. There is no grimmer or more palpable expression of the social ethos in Sicily…[The houses] are the ultimate expression of fear and mistrust of your neighbours. Thinking this now…I saw the amazing appeal the Australian houses of Glenn Murcutt must have had for the student Vincenzo, sitting so airily and lightly and modestly on the earth, minimal, essential and open to the world around them.
Nevertheless, it is curious just how few Australians choose to live this way, freely and openly embracing their surroundings; instead the majority mediate the outside world via air-conditioning and swaddle their houses in stylistic iconography.
The universal appeal of his work lies in its rigour, simplicity and clear response to place. He does not draw on the vernacular but operates from rationalist premises. Good designers everywhere recognise the absolute integrity of his aesthetic: it is pure rationalism: functional, rigorously responsive to climate, no redundancy in any of the members, everything honed down to its functional and aesthetic essential.
Architects see that and wish that their own work might be less compromised. And when they study his drawings, they see the building drawn into life: every bolt, every screw-head aligned, the grain to the timber members correct, the sanitary fittings exactly as they will be installed. Murcutt allows nothing to cloud the clarity of his vision of the building. His architecture is not driven by formal invention. This clarity enables architects, wherever they are in the world, to imagine themselves practising with the same rigour and integrity, responding to their own place, materials, practices, and philosophical imperatives.
Glenn Murcutt was a hero of ours at university. Remember the s Nation Review? At Troppo Year 1, in our shopfront office, we had made a mobile of it and hung it alongside the Troppo t-shirt and showbag, then popular with Melbourne schoolgirls on tour to the Top End.
Either way, he was clearly thirsty. Once ensconced with a cold one in the garden of the Hotel Darwin, we got down to things regionally architectural. And to do this as a sole practitioner is inconceivable to those who consider sleep a basic. And more young architects and students awaited his generosity of time.
His record of patient collaboration with younger practitioners speaks for itself. He also likes to gather old friends, to reminisce of the days of student struggle, and to share evolving journeys into the architectural future. We have ferociously adopted his dictum of recognising an insideoutside continuum: design in section, and design from the inside out… Think of how passage is made through the space by you and by every other type of user, by light, by air; in different circumstances; at different times of the year, the day, the night.
To be out bush with Glenn is a delight. Not only is he always seeking to know more about the way in which a landscape works in an ecological way, but he seems to just love being there, among the colours, the light, and the forever-changing, interplaying natural elements.
Seeking to understand Aboriginal ways of relating to these settings also recurs as an around-the-campfire-or-table theme. The surrounding rock art — another Murcutt passion — was just a lead-in, but seemed momentarily more alive. This was a meeting of earthly reassurance, of kindred, strong spirits: for those brief hours, the planet seemed to be in safe hands. A whole operable louvred wall: why not?
A roof that lifts up to the tree-tops: why not? A quick study of his RAIA awards jury work in the NT reveals his redefining of categories to become Territoryrelevant; his on-the-night awarding of the outdoor awards venue not much more than a banyan tree ; and the co-awarding of a client as project designer.
Bloody fun nights those! This a sound, scientific approach to developing knowledge: set out your thinking, your ideas, your perception of truths, and then amend them according to resultant experience and that of others. Yes, of course to hypothesise is to risk being wrong and attracting the knockers. But, in any case, just watch audiences respond to his thinking, his speaking, his passion: to give wholeheartedly of yourself, to bother to seek to energise others, to move thinking on, is a special community-minded attribute, and… bloody brave.
Assistant Reg Lewin. Littlemore House, Woollahra, Sydney, Assistant Wendy Lewin. Magney House, Paddington, Sydney, In collaboration with Wendy Lewin and Reg Lark, Fletcher-Page House, Kangaroo Valley, Not to recognise that would be to deny reality. And out of the blue, too.
And the year before that the Richard Neutra award, for practice and teaching, and the Green Pin, an ecological award from Denmark. And the Kenneth F. And one at the University of Washington, St Louis, which runs ten days at a time. There is a visiting distinguished architect position at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, just for a short time, a studio at Cornell later this year, a masterclass at the University of Technology, Lae, every three years or so, and next year the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
But one of the most important projects was working with Wendy and Reg on the Boyd Centre. It is also a public building. That is important. Every building has something that helps build vocabulary. But there are clearly certain buildings whose clients have enabled me to go further than otherwise. Often lack of aspiration is what kills a job. But not often. I turn those invitations down. Working in America would be hell.
They sue at the drop of a hat. With globalisation now nobody could care less where the work is. But the real question is what are you offering. In architectural terms, what are most of these architects offering other societies?
Why is everybody into China now? Not to help the Chinese. The answers vary, but the questions are the same. What is the significance of entry, from Mexico to Spain to Scandinavia? What does it mean to arrive? In Scandinavia entry is largely about keeping the cold out; while here in Australia we think much more about taking our clothes off. We are always preparing for the summer, the Finns are always preparing for the cold, thinking about putting clothes on.
While they think about low light, we think about the high light intensity — very different psyches. But there are huge overlaps between these essences. In Finland there are five million people and thousands of lakes, so everyone has a potential escape. All these are questions of principle, so these things you can teach. It is a common language.
For example, the Finns love big windows and they love to use screens. I realised that the screens are to break down the level of light, light reflected from winter snow — just as we use screens a lot now to break down the summer light. Why use them? A strap allows the air to flow around your body. The Finns do it because in winter their houses are heated, giving warm air — same thing reversed.
GM: Yes, and different from anything I would have done. I could have built a museum, sure. Take the Elsinore and Fredriksborg housing, for example. Utzon is.
Glenn Murcutt: Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate 2002
He has influenced generations of working architects and has won every major architecture award of the profession, including the Pritzker. Yet he remains obscure to many of his Australian countrymen, even as he is revered by architects worldwide. Murcutt was born in London, England, but grew up in the Morobe district of Papua New Guinea and in Sydney, Australia, where he learned to value simple, primitive architecture. On a later trip in , he remembers the modernist Maison de Verre in Paris, France, as being influential. He was inspired by the Californian architecture of Richard Neutra and Craig Ellwood, and the crisp, uncomplicated work of Scandinavian architect Alvar Aalto. The Pritzker Prize-winning architect Glenn Murcutt is not a builder of skyscrapers.
Biography of Glenn Murcutt, Australian Architect
Australian architect Glenn Murcutt: Houses, architecture, design & philosophy