Glenn Murcutt

Profile

Glenn Murcutt is an architect ahead of his time – an architect who has spent his career creating modest, environmentally-responsible buildings rooted in the climate and tradition of his native Australia. Born in London, he spent his childhood in Papua New Guinea, studied architecture at university in Australia, starting a private practice in Sydney in 1969. He works primarily as a solo practitioner, allowing him to create “uncompromising work”. He also prefers to work without computers, drawing freehand, finding solutions to design issues instinctively. As he says, he is not a creator, but a discoverer, adding, “Every great building is already there, but to be discovered. It is not created.” Echoing the Aboriginal phrase, “Touch the land lightly", his architecture has a poetic beauty and lightness, in harmony with nature while at the same time, the rationality of modernist architecture and ecological wisdom shine through. His earliest commissions were for private houses; Marie Short House (1974) being one of his most celebrated. More recent works include public projects such as the Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Education Centre (1999), designed with architects, Wendy Lewin and Reginald Lark and the Australian Islamic Centre (2016), undertaken with architect, Hakan Elevli. Murcutt is the first Australian to receive the Praemium Imperiale.

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Glenn Murcutt is an architect ahead of his time – an architect who has spent his career creating modest, environmentally responsible buildings rooted in the climate and tradition of his native Australia.
Born in London, Murcutt often talks of his buildings being designed to have both prospect and refuge – an outward looking front with a back that provides protection from incursion – the result of his early childhood years living in Papua New Guinea.
The family moved back to Australia in 1942 and from the age of 13 he was introduced to his father’s joinery workshop where he spent his school holidays learning to construct most of the timber elements incorporated in domestic buildings. In 1955, Murcutt worked alongside skilled tradesmen on the construction of the family home – providing invaluable experience. His father encouraged Murcutt’s growing interest in design, providing him with international architecture magazines and books while discussing and having him analyze the relative merits of the leading international architects of the day.
Murcutt graduated from The University of New South Wales with a Diploma in Architecture but determined to enrich his knowledge by travelling to Europe to see buildings by architects whose works he had only seen in magazines, as well as to see the vernacular designs of countries like Greece and Finland.
Returning to Australia, he initially joined an architectural practice before setting up on his own in Sydney in 1969. He continues to work primarily as a solo practitioner, enabling him to ensure that he can create "uncompromising work".
Not only does he work without staff, he also primarily works without computers, preferring to draw by hand, finding solutions to design issues instinctively. As he says, he is not a creator, but a discoverer, adding, “Every great building is already there, but to be discovered. It is not created.”
His earliest commissions were for private houses; Marie Short House (1974) being one of his most celebrated. However, more recently, he has been involved with public projects such as the Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Education Centre (1999), designed with architects, Wendy Lewin and Reginald Lark and the Australian Islamic Centre (2016), undertaken with architect, Hakan Elevli. Murcutt uses simple materials such as local timber, corrugated steel, stone, glass and concrete and advocates an architecture based on a process of observation and discovery – one that utilizes and works with the characteristics of the land, light and materials – enabling him to create buildings that can be comfortable in winter and summer, without the need for air conditioning. On being asked why he only builds in Australia, Murcutt explains, “You need to speak the language of the people for commissions abroad, language provides the nuances of a culture. Then there must be understanding of the annual climatic variations and a host of other issues: climate, soil and vegetation.” Additionally, relationships with creative collaborators whose native language is English are required.
Echoing the Aboriginal phrase, “Touch the land lightly”, his architecture has a poetic beauty and lightness, in harmony with nature while at the same time, allowing the rationality of modernist architecture and ecological wisdom to shine through. Among his many awards are the Pritzker Prize (2002) and the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal (2009). He is the first Australian to be awarded the Praemium Imperiale.

Biography

  1936 Born in London to Australian parents
  1961 Diploma of Architecture, Sydney Technical College (UNSW)
  1964-1969 Joined Ancher, Mortlock, Murray & Woolley Architects, Sydney
  1969 Entered private practice
  1972 First work built in private practice, Douglas Murcutt House, Belrose
  1974/80 Marie Short / Glenn Murcutt House, Kempsey
  1984 Magney House, Bingie Point
  1992 Alvar Aalto Medal, Finland
RAIA Gold Medal
  1994 Marika-Alderton House, Northern Territory
Bowali Visitor Centre, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory
  1995 AIA Honorary Fellow
RIBA International Fellow
  1996 Officer of the Order of Australia
  1998 Richard Neutra Award, USA
  1999 Green Pin International Award, Royal Danish Academy of Architects
Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Education Centre, Riversdale, undertaken with architects, Wendy
Lewin and Reginald Lark
  2001 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture
  2002 Pritzker Architecture Prize
  2003 Murcutt / Lewin House and Studio, Mosman
  2004-06 Inaugural President and Founding Member, Australian Architecture Association
  2009 AIA Gold Medal
  2016 Australian Islamic Centre, Melbourne, undertaken with Elevli Plus: Hakan Elevli, Archtect
  2017-18 Chairman of International Jury, Pritzker Architecture Prize
  2019 MPavilion, Melbourne
  2020 Appointed Honorary Professor at the University of New South Wales