“Glenn Murcutt is a modernist, a naturalist, an environmentalist, a humanist, an economist and ecologist encompassing all of these distinguished qualities in his practice as a dedicated architect who works alone from concept to realisation of his projects in his native Australia.” The Pritzker Architecture Prize Jury Citation.
Australia's most famous architect. The only Australian to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Australia’s greatest living architect. A world-famous architect who has only built in Australia. A man of many labels... and a singular design philosophy strongly rooted in, and respectful of, the diverse Australian landscape.
Born in London, England in 1936 to Australian parents, Glenn Murcutt spent his early years in the Morobe Province on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea.
Moving to Sydney in 1941, he attended Manly Boys’ High School and then went on to study architecture at the Sydney Technical College.
Following his graduation in 1961, he travelled for a couple of years and subsequently joined the reputed firm of Ancher, Mortlock, Murray and Woolley in 1964. Murcutt’s love for organic architecture that fits into the landscape and connects with nature comes from this work exposure.
Murcutt set up his own firm in the affluent Sydney suburb of Mosman in 1969, 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.
His eldest son Nick, also an architect of Neeson Murcutt fame, died in 2011. He also has another son, Daniel, who is active in fundraising for cancer research. This one-man operation doesn’t have the glitz and showmanship of a large practice. Murcutt doesn’t take up work overseas, yet his work is known, recognised and admired worldwide.
The Murcutt Philosophy
Influences of his early exposure to simple and organic architecture have never left his signature design style. He displays a remarkable sensitivity to the environment, with due consideration given to the climate, and elements such as light, wind, water and temperature in and around the site even before he puts pencil to paper.
Distinctly and consistently Australian in character, his designs are not only economical, multifunctional and energy-efficient, but also responsive to the environment where they will be sited. His pragmatism extends to the materials he uses in his builds, keeping his choices down to those that can be produced and sourced locally such as glass, stone, brick, concrete and corrugated metal.
His seminal body of work is a symbol of honest architecture – a harmonious melange of contemporary design, basic materials, native craftsmanship and a deep-seated respect for ‘site, climate, place and culture’.
Touching the earth lightly with leaves of iron
Taking inspiration from the Aboriginal way of life, Murcutt focusses on minimising the impact of the built environment on the natural environment, which explains the complete absence of extravagant detailing in his designs.
His insistence on keeping the materials palette simple comes from his concerns about the ecological damage that may be caused due to mining or excavation, as well as the reuse and recycling potential of the material.
Beyond the ecological impact, Murcutt’s design philosophy also extends to the impact of the physical form of the building on the landscape, especially in the way the structure interacts with the immediate surroundings.
Design elements such as a lightweight frame, elevated floors, and walls of shutters and louvres that can be opened up to allow free flow of breeze, all come together to create a building that sits lightly on the ground, seamlessly and quietly merging with the environment.
Apart from the ‘simple living’ philosophy of Henry David Thoreau, Murcutt has been deeply influenced by the modernist architecture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Alvar Aalto, the Californian architecture of Richard Neutra and Craig Ellwood, and the works of Pritzker Prize winning Danish architect, Jørn Utzon.
Glenn Murcutt Architectural Designs
Marie Short/ Glenn Murcutt House, Kempsey, New South Wales, Australia: 1974-75/1980
Fredericks/ White House, Jamberoo, New South Wales, Australia: 1981-82/2001-04
Magney House, Bingie Point, New South Wales, Australia: 1982-84/1999
Simpson-Lee House, Mount Wilson, Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia: 1988-93
Marika-Alderton House, Eastern Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia: 1990-94
Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Art Centre, ‘Riversdale’, West Cambewarra, New South Wales: 1996-99 (Collaborating architects: Reg Lark and Wendy Lewin)
Walsh House, Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales, Australia: 2001-05
Donaldson House, Palm Beach, New South Wales, Australia: 2006-2016
Australian Islamic Centre, Hobsons Bay, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: 2004-2016: Glenn Murcutt and Hakan Elevli architects in association
Glenn Murcutt’s mosque
Murcutt designed the Australian Islamic Centre for the Newport Islamic Society in suburban Melbourne. Often described as an example of transformative design, Murcutt’s work on the Melbourne mosque proves how architecture can bridge cultural divides and shape new thought.
The contemporary design of the mosque, which has no minarets or domes, rejects stereotyped notions to become more inclusive in the suburban Australian community. The mosque embraces both local context as well as Islamic culture, avoiding any room for potential conflict between the two by melding into the community landscape.
Murcutt collaborated with a young Melbourne-based architectural designer (and a practising Muslim), Hakan Elevli on the project. Murcutt, who usually works solo, partnered with Elevli to create a design that would address the challenges of symbolism and draw a positive response from local residents as well as the Islamic community. His commitment to the environment remains consistent even in this complex project: the two-metre tall lanterns on the roof serve as a climate control mechanism by opening up when the heat builds up inside during summer and allowing the heat in when closed during winter.
Awards and recognitions
Australia’s most famous international architect, Glenn Murcutt was the 2002 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. He was also named an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1996.
Additionally, Murcutt has won the Gold Medal of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (1992), the Alvar Aalto Medal (1992), the Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal (2009), the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Gold Medal (2009), Richard Neutra Award USA (1998), the ‘Green Pin’ International Award for Architecture and Ecology Denmark (1999), the Asia Pacific Culture and Architecture Design Award (2001), the Thomas Jefferson Medal for Architecture (2001) and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts International Award (2002).
Glenn Murcutt International Architecture Masterclass is an annual two-week residential program presented by the Architecture Foundation Australia at the Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Education Centre, south of Sydney, for professional architects and architecture students from over 80 countries.
The Foundation also organises Summer School, an annual week-long experiential program for architecture students and recent graduates from around the world, designed to get participants enthusiastic and passionate about architecture.
Glenn Murcutt Books
There are a number of books written on the work of Glenn Murcutt including:
- Beck, Haig and Cooper, Jackie, A Singular Practice.
- Carter, Nanette "Locating Design: A Site Every Design Professional Should See: The Marika-Alderton House, Yirrkala" Design and Culture, Vol. 3, No. 3, (Nov. 2011).
- Fromonot, Francoise. Glenn Murcutt : Buildings and Projects 1962-2003.
- Drew, Philip. Leaves of Iron : Glenn Murcutt : Pioneer of an Australian Architectural Form.
- Drew, Philip. Touch This Earth Lightly: Glenn Murcutt in His Own Words.
- Farrelly, Elizabeth Glenn Murcutt - Three Houses (Architecture in Detail).
- Gusheh, Heneghan, Lassan, Seyama, "The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt".
- Gusheh, Heneghan, Lassan, Seyama, "Glenn Murcutt - Thinking Drawing, Working Drawing.
- Limited Edition Folio, "Glenn Murcutt Architect", Essays by Kenneth Frampton, Juhani Pallasmaa, boxed photos/drawings.
- Sharp, Dennis. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Architects and Architecture.