Simpson-Lee House
Anthony Browell Simpson-Lee House
Frank Harmon
Credit: f8 Photo Studios Frank Harmon

Two things are remarkable about the influence of Australian architect Glenn Murcutt, Hon. FAIA, the 2002 Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate. One is that he’s attracted an international following working by himself, exclusively in his own country, and without a publicity-making machine—not even a website or secretary. The other is that he’s done it by focusing on residential work.

Murcutt’s environmentally nimble approach turned heads decades before sustainability became gospel. Having spent his formative years in a remote part of New Guinea, he developed the keen sense of climate and place that guided him toward simple, direct architecture. And his early passions for aviation and sailing taught him how to fine-tune the use of cooling winds. “You work most of my buildings like you sail a yacht,” Murcutt noted in a recent CNN interview.

Inspired by the modernist traditions of Mies van der Rohe and Alvar Aalto, and the Australian wool shed, the 70-something architect, who received the 2009 American Institute of Architects Gold Medal, now stirs the imagination of the next generation of architects. He told a recent Architecture Foundation Australia Master Class: “We look at the way the wind acts on the landscape, to see how nature is working. We look at the finesse of the flora, the translucency of the light and shadow patterns. It’s a question of responsibility and aspiration, yet a solution that meets the beauty of order, of placement, of all the factors that make architecture.”