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The Architect: Glenn Murcutt
July 4, 1999
Reporter : Max Cullen
Producer : Catherine Hunter

This week, the NSW Royal Institute of Architects awarded its finest achievers. As part of Sunday's series on architecture, this week we profile one of Australia’s most highly-awarded architects, Glenn Murcutt. To read our chat transcript, scroll down this page.


A Murcutt building

This is a broad look at the architecture of Murcutt over three decades. He first came into the public eye in the early 1970s with his then-radical use of corrugated iron, timber and glass in his houses. It set the mood for the evolution of Australian architecture today.

Next to Harry Seidler, Glenn Murcutt is one of our most highly-awarded and best architects, both in Australia and internationally. In 1992, he was awarded the Alvar Aalto Medal — one of architecture’s most prestigious awards — and it put him in the company of such 20th century greats as Aalto himself and Joern Utzon.




Glenn in canoe

The Tin Man is a journey through Murcutt’s career, which began with his first significant house at Kempsey, built in the 1970s. It concludes with his most recent project, the highly-acclaimed Riversdale Education Centre at Bundanon, the property Arthur Boyd gifted to the nation.




Kempsey farmhouse

CHAT TRANSCRIPT

Host Davey says: ninemsn in association with Sunday presents a live interview with renowned architect Glenn Murcutt. Glenn is talking about Australian architecture.

Host Davey says: Good morning Glenn. It's a pleasure to have you join us this morning.

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: Thank you indeed.

Host Davey says: Is there an Australian style of architecture?

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: If there is an Australian style, then it comes out of a very unselfconscious…one. One never sits down to even think about generating such a style but if it should come out of a way of thinking in relation to place, then so be it.

carlngray says: Glenn, the media has discussed at length the daytime qualities of your architecture, but little is heard of your buildings at night. How do you approach the night-time character of your buildings, particularly in respect to artificial lighting?

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: Firstly, if one gets the daylight principals right there are many factors that also work for the night-time light. One joy I have experienced in such an approach has been the lighting of the buildings designed for daytime solar access experience at night-time with the access of the moon where rooms are filled with a blueish light never experienced by me previously.

Night-time lighting, often is dealt with as uplights from the floor, using the roof and ceiling forms to bounce light in many directions and task lighting used for a specific, reading, drawing, writing functions. I will use walls as diaphragms from which reflection and bounce light fills a space.

Klingers says: Glenn, before your father influenced you to become an architect, what was your dream?

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: My uncle gave me a book on the principals of flight by Camm. I was 12 at the time. My great interest, I imagine from my childhood in New Guinea, where transport was essentially by aircraft, was powerful in my interest... and therefore I had a great desire to take up flying, designing aircraft which then led to designing boats, using the very same principals of flight and lift and clearly, both these disciplines have had enormous influence when integrated with my later interest in architecture.

However, it is very hard to have a dream beyond the dreams presented by my father when I had to make models of his designs when I was only 11 and architecture was never challenged as a possibility for my career.

denistone says: Glenn, have there been any books published on your philosophies and designs?

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: Oh yes. Leaves of Iron by Philip Drew through Angus and Robertson. There is another book, Three Houses: Architecture in Details series, by EN Farrelly and it's by Phaidon Press Publication and then there is another book Glenn Murcutt, Works and Projects by Francoise Fromonot, and it's Thames and Hudson and the most recent one of only two weeks ago: is called Touch this Earth Lightly: Glenn Murcutt in his own words by Philip Drew, and Duffy & Smellgrove — a series of written down, taped discussions.

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: All these books would be available through Architext at the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, 3 Manning Street, Potts Point. (www.raia.com.au)

Lisa says: Glenn, which design do you feel most satisfied with?

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: There is a real answer to that: the one I have not done yet and the most satisfactory design is the one where my clients fit the buildings like a glove. I have no real favourite.

Klingers says: Glenn, when you designed the Riversdale Education Centre, what was your actual inspiration?

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: It really is a case of addressing each client's needs appropriately and fusing the rationale and the poetic as as a response to place, technology and culture.

Place of course includes the climatic zones that are so different throughout Australia. The site of Riversdale Education Centre is a remarkable one, combining native Australian landscape and cultivated Australian landscape, the latter which responds somewhat closely to the European/British landscape. This was the factor that drew Arthur Boyd to the site where Boyd possessed in his nature, both the Australian native landscape and the British cultivated landscape.

The requirement of the trust to design a complex for school children at primary level and secondary level and under graduate and graduate level to experience some of Boyd's world was a very important part of the program.

The complex has 32 students at any one time, where they participate in any of the creative pursuits, from art, sculpture, writing, and dance, theatre, music and the like, and being inspired by the site as Boyd was, where the subject matter was the core of his work and in the same way as Boyd, the students can spend a week, capturing the genius of the subject. Then return to school as Boyd returned to Suffolk in England to finally complete the work.

CarrieAndPete says: Glenn, regarding the heating in your designs, with so much space and glass we figure they would get cool/cold?

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: Depending upon where the buildings are located, material choice and placement in relation to the ground are critical. In cooler climates and higher altitudes, it is common to incorporate reversed brick veneer and floors in mass material such as concrete, either laid on the ground, and if suspended, well insulated. I rely on orientation being appropriate where solar access provides the daytime thermal heat gain and the mass materials absorb that heat and warmth and release the embodied heat when the external temperature drops. I try to minimise the necessity for heating and cooling on my buildings and in summer time the houses are able to open up and where the north-east breezes from the seas prevailing used to keep movement of air through the work and cooling the occupants.

Joe says: Do you think your architecture contributes to the spirit of place?

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: It's a question that I'm too close to, and that would have to be a judgement made by others. But, I am very aware of my responsibilities and obligations to place.

Klingers says: Glenn, have you ever wished to transfer your talents to urban development? Many of your designs look as if they would be quite aesthetically pleasing in a residential area.

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: The issue is, I have done several terrace houses and have worked in the most urban of city fabrics. I have also done many works in suburban areas and the film just screened, showed a suburban house, that was the Ken Done house and the urban house, shown was in Paddington. So I do design, in all sorts of environments. From the monsoon tropics of Arnhem Land, to the hot arid regions of Western NSW, to the temperate and cool temperate of NSW.

carlngray says: Glenn, what is your response to the use of computer-generated images in the pre-visualisation of buildings? I myself do a lot of this work, and would like to hear your opinion.

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: I was gifted with a computer to visualise in my mind. I do not use a computer other than word processing and probably will never. An architect must be able to visualise and computer visualisation would be very helpful in confirming the qualitative factors of spaces.

Judy says: Whilst your work is very beautiful is it really just an artform for the elite. How would average-income Australians access such designs?

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: About 10 years ago a young school teacher came to me with the very same problem. He was a single man at the time of 23-years-of-age and I said to him, yes, I can design you a house that's economical. But as a client you must not bring with you all the standard values so often presented to an architect but rather, accept a way of working that is far from traditional.

My client and I developed a design based on use of a traditional garden shed. The result was a house of two bedrooms, two shower toilet spaces, a veranda, a sitting, dining/living space, kitchen space, that was extraordinarily economical.

The big problem for any such building is council perception. That a house should be brick and pitched tile-roofed and the complications would put most clients off the process. We however succeeded. The Royal Australian Institute of Architects have a list of many architects who are prepared to work for all groups in the socio-economic brackets.

carlngray says: Was your home for the indigenous community in northern Australia intended as a one-off, or as a prototype for future designs for other communities. If so, have there been any more successes in this area?

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: The principals embodied in that design are appropriate.. to the monsoon tropics of northern Australia. The house was not designed as a prototype but aspects of the design were meant to inform of some of the possibilities for housing in that region.

Since that completion, another house, using the same principals, using the same different design, has been constructed. There will be others to come. Chances are, that given the attitude of the director of the Aboriginal Housing Group, in eastern Arnhem Land, other similar buildings, designed even by the community will be built. These buildings are not meant to be prototyped, as they were designed for specific Aboriginal people who presented a brief like any European-Australian.

trace says: Your identification with what is essentially Australian in your work was a large inspiration to me in my study of design. Do you think that designers in other fields should pay more attention to the environment in which their products will be used?

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: I cannot see how any designer can separate the thinking from the environment, in which the design is to be made. A failure for me would be to design a Ken Done house in Arnhem Land and to design the Arnhem Land house in Hobart. Place is of critical importance to all design.

Jake says: Glenn! You noted in the Sunday interview that you are not interested in the design of large scale urban projects. If you had control over the project would you?

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: Is this from a perspective client? (laughs). I have established a miniscule practice. I have no staff whatsoever. No secretary, no typist, no tea maker, no draftsperson, no computer operator and a body of clients waiting for work in the order of two years. To be able to take on major work has become difficult. However, I have formed associates with architects within larger practices to do much larger scale works.

The result has been variable, some good, and some not so good and it's a worry as I am not given to compromise in the area of design. Had the possibility of having the sort of control, I would required occurred 20 years ago, then my path may well have been very different.

grant says: Good morning Glenn, I have been in the building industry most of my life and find that those in control of permitting new designs to flow are governed by their preconceived ideas of acceptability. You said on the show that this aspect of your work is the most galling. Has your higher profile made this aspect easier for you ?

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: I have had 11 land and environment court cases over my 30-year career and whilst I have won 10 of those, councils often see the work as a red rag to a bull and I guess in the last five years, the work has become better known and I have managed to avoid legal action and consequently the problems have become easier in some ways but, the requirements on all architects today, to meet the conditions set by councils, is an onerous one and it consumes far more time than I believe is warranted and the input of community values to the submission of any design often has far more weight than is appropriate. This leads to extraordinary time devoted to issues that are challenging to conservatism and time which could be devoted to bettering the design of every project.

Host Davey says: Our final question........

bear says: What can the public do to change the council perception of appropriate building styles for suburbia?

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: Very good question. It is most often the public who create the responses by our councils which lead to this conservatism. In other words, councils are a very clear and good representation of the value systems of a society in a democratic way. At the bottom of the mainstream, it is said lies mediocrity and therein lies the major difficulty to changing values.

I believe, that every child at school should have been taught a subject related to design and nature. The consequence of children who have had some background in the arts, design, landscape, climate - would be enormous where we all could look forward rather than backwards, securing an architecture responsible to our time.

Host Davey says: How can people contact you?

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: I am a sole operator, leaving Australia in a few days and will not be available until around August.

Host Davey says: Thanks again for joining us this morning and for such an interesting interview.

Host Glenn_Murcutt says: You are most welcome, there has been some very good questions.

Host Davey says: This concludes our Sunday online live chat with Glenn Murcutt on July 4, 1999. Produced by ninemsn in Sydney, Australia. ninemsn ©1999

Host Davey says: Thanks for joining us today. Everybody is welcome to stay online and chat in our news chat room at http://community.ninemsn.com.au/chat/newsroom.asp or at #news on the chat server - or on any of our other chat rooms which can be found at http://community.ninemsn.com.au or on our server, chat.ninemsn.com.au

ENDS.

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