From a regionalist's point of view, the best design starts with respect for the place. Perhaps that's why Glenn Murcutt's houses are so highly regarded, for he possesses an unparalleled sense of awe about his native Australia. “When I consider the magic of our landscape,” he says, “I am continually struck by the genius of the place, the sunlight, shadows, wind, heat and cold, the scents from our flowering trees and plants, and especially, the vastness to the island continent.”
Primarily working alone, the 69-year-old Murcutt has produced a body of work that is highly refined and responsive to climate yet stoic in appearance. “Fine-tuned to the land and the weather”—that's how his houses were characterized when he won the 2002 Pritzker Architecture Prize. But his personal credo of “touching the ground lightly” is not a personal whim. Rather, Murcutt considers it an imperative on a continent where the ecosystems are fragile. “I know if I put a building down, I change the water table [and] all the ground conditions below me,” he says. “Plants in my country can't survive that.”
Designing in a manner influenced by Mies van der Rohe—an appreciation he learned as a young boy from his father—Murcutt creates his art from a palette of metal, concrete, timber, masonry, and stone. He defends his frequent use of corrugated iron cladding on both aesthetic and pragmatic grounds, noting that it provides the thinness, lightweight quality, edge, economy, and strength he desires. “When laid with the ribs horizontal, the upper surface of the corrugation picks up the skylight and the lower surface, the ground light, accentuating the horizontal,” he explained when accepting the Pritzker honor.
Nothing is taken for granted when Murcutt designs. He calculates how much sunlight penetrates his houses and works to capture cooling breezes that vary with the seasons. He reintroduced storm blinds to Sydney, Australia—a version of exterior Venetian blinds that shield window glass from the hot sun. Likewise, Murcutt is adamant that buildings should respond to the environment, just as animals perspire to cool themselves. “Buildings should do similar things,” he reasons. “They should open and close and modify and re-modify, and blinds should turn and open and close.” That, Murcutt insists, is what makes buildings live.