Glenn Murcutt, Master Architect for the Environment

b. 1936

Glenn Murcutt in 2005, white man with thinning grey hair, colorless shirt, reading glasses
Glenn Murcutt in 2005. Photo by Mariana Silvia Eliano/Cover Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Australian architect Glenn Murcutt is said to work alone, yet he opens his farm to professionals and students of architecture every year, giving master classes and promoting his vision: Architects thinking locally acting globally.

Background:

Born: July 25, 1936 in London, England

Primary Residence: Sydney, Australia

Education: Studied architecture at the University of New South Wales from 1956 to 1961

Early Influences:

Glenn Murcutt was born in London but grew up in the Morobe district of New Guinea and in Sydney, Australia where he learned to value simple, primitive architecture. From his father, Murcutt learned the philosophies of Henry David Thoreau, who believed that we should live simply and in harmony with nature's laws. Murcutt's father also introduced him to the streamlined modernist architecture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Murcutt's early work strongly reflected Mies van der Rohe's ideals.

After graduation, Murcutt traveled widely in 1962 and was impressed by the works of Jørn Utzon and Alvar Aalto. On a later trip in 1973, he remembers the Maison de Verre in Paris, France as being influential.

Murcutt's Important Buildings:

  • National Park Visitors Centre at Kempsey

Honors and Awards:

  • 1992: Alvar Aalto Medal
  • 1992: Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal
  • 2002: Pritzker Prize
  • 2009: American Institute of Architects Gold Medal

Quotes:

One of Murcutt's favorite quotations is a phrase he often heard his father say. The words, he believes, are from Thoreau: “Since most of us spend our lives doing ordinary tasks, the most important thing is to carry them out extraordinarily well.”

Murcutt is also fond of quoting the Aboriginal proverb: “Touch the earth lightly.”

Upon learning of his Pritzker award, Murcutt told reporters, "Life is not about maximising everything, it's about giving something back - like light, space, form, serenity, joy. You have to give something back."

"I have always believed in the act of discovery rather than creativity. Any work that exists, or which has the potential to exist is related to discovery. We do not create the work. I believe we, in fact, are discoverers."—2002 Pritzker acceptance speech

What Others Say:

In the words of the Pritzker Jury:

"In an age obsessed with celebrity, the glitz of our starchitects, backed by large staffs and copious public relations support, dominate the headlines. As a total contrast, [Murcutt] works in a one-person office on the other side of the world ... yet has a waiting list of clients, so intent is he to give each project his personal best. He is an innovative architectural technician who is capable of turning his sensitivity to the environment and to locality into forthright, totally honest, non-showy works of art."

About Glenn Murcutt:

The Pritzker Prize-winning architect Glenn Murcutt is not a builder of skyscrapers.

He doesn't design grand, showy structures or use flashy, luxurious materials. Instead, Australian architect Glenn Murcutt pours his creativity into smaller projects that let him work alone and design economical buildings that will conserve energy and blend with the environment. All of his buildings (mostly rural houses) are in Australia.

Glenn Murcutt was inspired by the Californian architecture of Richard Neutra and Craig Ellwood, and the crisp, uncomplicated work of Scandinavian architect Alvar Aalto. However, Murcutt's designs quickly took on a distinctively Australian flavor.

Murcutt chooses materials that can be produced easily and economically: Glass, stone, brick, concrete, and corrugated metal. He pays close attention to the movement of the sun, moon, and seasons, and designs his buildings to harmonize with the movement of light and wind.

Many of Murcutt's buildings are not air conditioned. Resembling open verandas, Murchutt's houses suggest the simplicity of Farnsworth House of Mies van der Rohe, yet have the pragmatism of a sheepherder's hut.

Oz.e.tecture, Offical Website of Architecture Foundation Australia and the Glenn Murcutt Master Class

Further Reading

Touch This Earth Lightly: Glenn Murcutt in His Own Words (1999)
In an interview with Philp Drew, Glenn Murcutt talks about his life and describes how he developed the philosophies that shape his architecture. This thin paperback is not a lavish coffee table book, but provides excellent insight into the thinking behind the designs.
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Glenn Murcutt: A Singular Architectural Practice (2005)
Murcutt's design philosophy presented in his own words is combined with commentary from architecture editors Haig Beck and Jackie Cooper. Through concept sketches, working drawings, photographs and finished drawings, Murcutt's ideas are explored in depth.
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Glenn Murcutt: Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing by Glenn Murcutt (2008)
The architect's solitary process is described by the solitary architect himself.
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Glenn Murcutt: University of Washington Master Studios and Lectures (2009)
Murcutt has consistently conducted master classes at his farm in Australia, but he's also been forging a relationship with Seattle. This "slim" book by the University of Washington Press provided edited transcripts of conversations, lectures, and studios..
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Learn More:

  • Glenn Murcutt: Buildings and Projects by Francoise Fromonot, 1995
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  • The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt, Toto, 2015
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Source: Glenn Murcutt 2002 Laureate Acceptance Speech, The Hyatt Foundation / The Pritzker Architecture Prize (PDF) [accessed Jun 28, 2016]