The Magney House by Glenn Murcutt, 1984

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Architect Glenn Murcutt Captures the Sun

The Magney House in New South Wales, Australia, by Glenn Murcutt
The Magney House, 1984, New South Wales, Australia, by Glenn Murcutt. Photo © Anthony Browell, courtesy the Pritzker Prize Committee

Architects in the Southern Hemisphere have it all backwards—but only to people in the Northern Hemisphere. North of the Equator, when we face south to follow the sun, east is on our left and west is on our right. In Australia, we face north to follow the sun from right (east) to left (west). A good architect will follow the sun on your piece of land and be mindful of nature as the design of your new house takes shape.

Architectural design in Australia takes some getting used to when all you've ever known is the Western designs from Europe and the United States. Perhaps that's one reason why the Glenn Murcutt International Master Class is so popular. We can learn a lot by exploring Murcutt's ideas and his architecture.

About the Magney House:

Date: 1982 - 1984
Architect: Glenn Murcutt
Location: Bingie Point, Moruya, on the New South Wales South Coast, Australia
Also Known As: Bingie Farm, available as a rental from airbnb and stayz

Pritzker Prize-winning architect Glenn Murcutt designed the Magney House to capture the northern light. The long low roof and large windows capitalize on natural sunlight.

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Roof of the Magney House

Curved, waves of roofing on the Magney House in New South Wales, Australia, by Glenn Murcutt
The Magney House in New South Wales, Australia, by Glenn Murcutt. Photo by Anthony Browell taken from The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt and Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing published by TOTO, Japan, 2008, courtesy Oz.e.tecture, the Offical Website of Architecture Foundation Australia and the Glenn Murcutt Master Class at at http://www.ozetecture.org/2012/magney-house/ (adapted)

Forming an asymmetrical V-shape, the roof of the Magney House collects the Australian rainwater, which is recycled for drinking and heating. Corrugated metal sheathing and interior brick walls insulate the home and conserve energy.

" His houses are fine tuned to the land and the weather. He uses a variety of materials, from metal to wood to glass, stone, brick and concrete—always selected with a consciousness of the amount of energy it took to produce the materials in the first place. "— Pritzker Jury Citation, 2002
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Murcutt's Tent

The Magney House in New South Wales, Australia, by Glenn Murcutt
The Magney House in New South Wales, Australia, by Glenn Murcutt. Photo by Anthony Browell taken from The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt and Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing published by TOTO, Japan, 2008, courtesy Oz.e.tecture, the Offical Website of Architecture Foundation Australia and the Glenn Murcutt Master Class at http://www.ozetecture.org/2012/magney-house/ (adapted)

The architect's clients had owned this piece of land for many years, using it as their own camping area for holidays. Their desires were straightforward:

  • a "lightweight shelter" like a tent, informal and open to the environment
  • a structure that fits within its natural habitat
  • a simple, practical, floor plan with "two independent areas: one for themselves and the other for children, family and friends"

Murcutt designed a shipping container-like structure, long and narrow, with a patio-like room common to both self-sufficient wings. The interior design seems ironic—the owners' wing being socially isolated—considering a desired outcome to integrate the architecture with the environment. Fusion of unlike elements goes just so far.

Source: Magney House, Nationally Significant 20th-Century Architecture, Australian Institute of Architects, Revised 06/04/2010 (PDF) [accessed July 22, 2016]

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Interior Space of the Magney House

Interior of the Magney House in New South Wales, Australia, by Glenn Murcutt
Interior of the Magney House in New South Wales, Australia, by Glenn Murcutt. Photo by Anthony Browell taken from The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt and Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing published by TOTO, Japan, 2008, courtesy Oz.e.tecture, the Offical Website of Architecture Foundation Australia and the Glenn Murcutt Master Class at http://www.ozetecture.org/2012/magney-house/ (adapted)

The indentation of the iconic roof line on the outside provides a natural interior hallway, from one end of the Magney House to the other.

In the Pritzker Architecture Prize Announcement in 2002, architect Bill N. Lacy said that the Magney House was a " testament that aesthetics and ecology can work together to bring harmony to man’s intrusion in the environment."

The 1984 Magney House reminds us that the built environment is not naturally part of nature, but architects can try to make it so.

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Temperature Control Inside the Magney House

Facade of louvers on the Magney House in New South Wales, Australia, by Glenn Murcutt
The Magney House, 1984, New South Wales, Australia, by Glenn Murcutt. Photo by Anthony Browell taken from The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt and Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing published by TOTO, Japan, 2008, courtesy Oz.e.tecture, the Offical Website of Architecture Foundation Australia and the Glenn Murcutt Master Class at http://www.ozetecture.org/2012/magney-house/ (adapted)

Glenn Murcutt individualizes the design of every house project. In the 1984 Magney House, on the New South Wales South Coast of Australia, louvered blinds at the windows help regulate the light and temperature inside.

Exterior, movable louvers were later used by Jean Nouvel to shield his 2004 Agbar Tower from the Spanish sun and heat. Then in 2007, Renzo Piano designed The New York Times Building with shading ceramic rods up the skyscraper's side. Both buildings, Agbar and the Times, attracted urban climbers, as the exterior louvers made great footholds. Learn more in Climbing Skyscrapers.

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Ocean Views at the Magney House

Long, low form of the Magney House in New South Wales, Australia, by Glenn Murcutt
Long, low form of the Magney House in New South Wales, Australia, by Glenn Murcutt. Photo by Anthony Browell taken from The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt and Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing published by TOTO, Japan, 2008, courtesy Oz.e.tecture, the Offical Website of Architecture Foundation Australia and the Glenn Murcutt Master Class at http://www.ozetecture.org/2012/magney-house/ (adapted)

The Magney House by Glenn Murcutt sets on a barren, wind-swept site overlooking the ocean.

" I cannot pursue my architecture without considering the minimization of energy consumption, simple and direct technologies, a respect for site, climate, place and culture. Together, these disciplines represent for me a fantastic platform for experimentation and expression. Of particular importance is the junction of the rational and the poetic resulting hopefully in works that resonate and belong to where they reside. "—Glenn Murcutt, Pritzker Acceptance Speech, 2002 (PDF)