Two decades into the 21st century, it might surprise some to google Glenn Murcutt’s name and find no website in his own name. Yet, this quietness of presence truly makes Murcutt’s work prolific – and what led to his 2002 win of the Pritzker Prize. To learn more about Murcutt’s fascinating life and influential work, continue reading this article.
Murcutt’s childhood and early years | Glenn Murcutt
Glenn Murcutt was born on July 25th, 1936 in London, England, to Australian parents who were en route to the 1936 Berlin Olympic games (Glenn Murcutt | Biography, Architecture, Designs, Magney House, & Facts, n.d.). After he was born, his family returned to New Guinea, where his father worked as a prospector, searching for deposits of gold and other valuable metals and minerals. Living here until the age of five (when he moved to Sydney), their home (built on stilts that protected from wildlife, using easy-to-shape lightweight material like corrugated iron) helped him understand how Architecture should consider its natural surroundings. Simultaneously, his father gave him an education in architecture, exposing him to modernist design and its merits at an early age (Glenn Murcutt | The Pritzker Architecture Prize, n.d.). Today, these two factors have contributed to Murcutt’s distinctive style that draws on the influence of famed modernist architects like Mies Van Der Rohe while remaining innately connected to the specifics of the site that Murcutt is designing for. Murcutt went on to study architecture at the University of New South Wales Technical College and was awarded a diploma in 1961. He then traveled to parts of Australia and Europe, where he saw more architectural works that would heavily influence his eventual designs (Glenn Murcutt | Biography, Architecture, Designs, Magney House, & Facts, n.d.).
The beginning of Murcutt’s career
After receiving his diploma and returning from his travels, Murcutt began his work by joining Sydney-based practice Ancher, Mortlock, Murray, and Wooley, where he worked for eight years. In 1969, Murcutt left to set up his own practice. Critically, this practice would be self-run (to this day, Murcutt is the only employee). His individual control over the firm’s work meant that he carefully chose projects, never straying from his home country of Australia. This control also gave him the flexibility to fill roles as a tutor and lecturer, notably working for nine years at the University of Sydney from 1970 onwards (Glenn Murcutt | Biography, Architecture, Designs, Magney House, & Facts, n.d.).
It was around this time that Murcutt completed one of his earliest projects: the Laurie Short house. This steel-framed, glass-enveloped structure was deeply reminiscent of Mies Van Der Rohe’s work with the Farnsworth house (Pickett, n.d.). The home also incorporated characteristics of sustainable design, including shuttered blinds along the windows to prevent heat gain and a swimming pool on the roof to act as a cooling element. From this project, Murcutt was referred to Marie Short, for whom he designed one of his most famous works, the Marie Short house. The Marie Short house pioneered what would later become key motifs in Murcutt’s design, including a corrugated iron roof, and the structure being slightly elevated off the ground to avoid insects and dangerous wildlife from entering the space. It also helped Murcutt understand the facets of Australia’s climate that were necessary to consider when designing an environmentally conscious structure (Glenn Murcutt | The Pritzker Architecture Prize, n.d.).
The Marie Short home was arguably the turning point in Murcutt’s career. As he gained recognition for his uniquely sustainable work, his list of commissions (and subsequent waiting list) grew longer. Through the end of the 20th Century, Murcutt’s created some of his most iconic works. The Magney house (1984) incorporated classic Murcutt motifs like shuttered blinds and steel frames while incorporating sustainability and environmental conservation through a unique V-shaped roof that could collect rainwater for drinking and cooling (Craven, 2019). The Done house (1991) reimagined the concept of an urban residence by creating privacy from the surrounding Sydney homes through the medium of heavy masonry and shuttered blinds (Done House – Glenn Murcutt, n.d.). These highlights in his growing body of work helped bolster his growing reputation, which would quickly culminate in a major career landmark for Murcutt in 2002.
Winning the Pritzker Prize
In 2002, Glenn Murcutt was awarded the Pritzker Prize – a first for an Australian architect. In their announcement of his win and later citation, the jury often mentioned: “the uniqueness that the jury has chosen to celebrate”, referencing the way Murcutt uniquely blended modernist characteristics of design taken from Van Der Rohe and Alvar Aalto with the design aesthetic of what they called “the Australian wool shed.” Indeed, many of the things close to Murcutt’s heart – the size of his practice, the kind of projects he took on, and their environmental tailoring – helped set him apart from “the glitz of our starchitects…” that were popular at the time (Glenn Murcutt | The Pritzker Architecture Prize, n.d.).
Murcutt’s life and work after the Pritzker Prize | Glenn Murcutt
Contrary to expectations, a look at Murcutt’s oeuvre reveals that he completed nearly three times as many projects in the twenty years leading up to his Pritzker compared to the twenty years since (Glenn Murcutt – Wikipedia, n.d.). This perhaps has to do with his age – when he received his Pritzker prize, Murcutt was already sixty-six years old. However, the quality of Murcutt’s projects has remained consistent. In the years that followed, Murcutt’s designs have been more for public works than residential ones. Notable amongst these is the Australian Islamic Center in Newport. Its design involved Murcutt abstracting the traditional form of a mosque while creating a space that both respected Islamic heritage. It also aimed to invite the secular community in the surrounding suburb to enter the center in the spirit of communal dialogue and understanding (Australian Islamic Centre / Glenn Murcutt + Elevli Plus, 2019). Aside from these architectural works, Murcutt has continued to work on a few panels as a juror for awards, such as His Highness the Aga Khan’s Awards for Architecture. He also continues to center his work around giving back to his community through education, teaching as a professor in the University of New South Wales Faculty of the Built Environment (Glenn Murcutt – Wikipedia, n.d.).
- ArchDaily. 2019. Australian Islamic Centre / Glenn Murcutt + Elevli Plus. [online] Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/919964/australian-islamic-centre-glenn-murcutt-plus-elevli-plus> [Accessed 3 July 2022].
- Craven, J., 2019. The Magney House Captures the Sun, Architecture in Australia. [online] ThoughtCo. Available at: <https://www.thoughtco.com/magney-house-by-glenn-murcutt-178002> [Accessed 3 July 2022].
- En.wikipedia.org. n.d. Glenn Murcutt – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glenn_Murcutt> [Accessed 3 July 2022].
- Encyclopedia Britannica. n.d. Glenn Murcutt | Biography, Architecture, Designs, Magney House, & Facts. [online] Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Glenn-Murcutt> [Accessed 3 July 2022].
- Pickett, C., n.d. Architectural model, Laurie Short House, designed by Glenn Murcutt, 1972-73. [online] Collection.maas.museum. Available at: <https://collection.maas.museum/object/166825> [Accessed 3 July 2022].
- Pritzkerprize.com. n.d. Glenn Murcutt | The Pritzker Architecture Prize. [online] Available at: <https://www.pritzkerprize.com/laureates/2002> [Accessed 3 July 2022].
- sydney architecture archive. n.d. Done House – Glenn Murcutt. [online] Available at: <https://sydneyarchitecturearchive.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/done-house-glenn-murcutt/> [Accessed 3 July 2022].
- the Guardian. 2021. The best of Glenn Murcutt’s Australian architecture – in pictures. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2021/sep/16/glenn-murcutt-named-the-2021-praemium-imperiale-laureate-for-architecture> [Accessed 3 July 2022].