Glen Murcutt

/ Chris Simmonds / Places to live

This week, in a break from our usual programme of philosophical reflection and critical analysis, we pause to take a good long look at one of the defining characters of contemporary Architecture. Following his talk at this summer’s Metzstein Architectural Discourse and subsequent exhibition at the Lighthouse, we thought it would be a timely opportunity to explore the work of this genre-defining Architect who has taken the principles of Modernism and adapted them for his own ends.

From his first seminal work on the Marie Short house, which embodied what was to become his core philosophy of building simply in direct response to landscape and climactic conditions, allowing the form to be ‘revealed’ by the environment, Murcutt has progressively developed and refined these ideas against a broad spectrum of client, brief and site.

Less concerned with indulgence and luxury than the more rational demands of life in remote places, his houses are machines for living in the truest sense, understanding that a more spiritual satisfaction is discovered through a physical connection with the world outside. These homes, resolutely low-tech in their execution, demand that the owner becomes intimately involved in the workings of the house. Rather than a chore, this everyday interaction becomes a part of the natural interplay between a person and the environment in which they have chosen to live.

This subtle enticing of the resident to become immersed in nature is continually explored across the catalogue of Murcutt’s work, most explicitly in the Marika Alderton house – a building of intricate simplicity that allows its aboriginal residents to maintain their traditional way of life. And in the Walsh house, where nooks created in its skin respond to, and inform, patterns of living. The confidence of these houses is borne of their Architect’s consistent inquisitiveness and exploration, without ever losing sight of his core principles.

Although we work in a different environment, in many ways a mirror image of his and quite literally half a world away, our concerns are the same: to build sensitively, in tune with climate, context and people. Whilst our urban housing draws strongly on Glasgow’s tenemental tradition, our work on the island of Bute seeks to weave new life into the centuries-old pattern of steadings that define this rural topography. Their success is the result of understanding the past and how it can inform the present.

So it would seem that the work of this sole practitioner, operating in Australia’s vast rural landscape, isn’t so far removed from our own. The lessons to be learned from Glenn Murcutt go beyond a clever plan or an ingenious use of materials to something much more ethereal. Like the greatest works of film, his buildings bear repeat viewing, each time releasing new secrets to remind us that every brief is unique and must be understood on its own terms.