Glenn Murcutt is Australia’s most highly esteemed architect, renowned for his residential and institutional work around Australia. Murcutt creates his work through using ordinary materials such as brick, steel and corrugated iron and designs them in harmony with the surrounding landscape’s nature and climate. This unique style of careful environmental consideration gives rise to the name of the series of exhibitions, “Touch the Earth Lightly”. The series is being displayed at The Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture from 26 June until 4 October.
The exhibition series serves to illustrate Murcutt’s concept that the best places are created when we understand the importance of harmony between nature, materials and climate. When he built his brother’s house in the Adelaide hills for example, it was designed with many sections able to open allowing for natural ventilation through the 42 degree temperatures which are common in that area. Similarly, dark walls were erected which are shaded in summertime but during the winter capture light from the sun to generate heat. A perfect balance of functional design and environmental consideration which is not often taken into account today where the maximizing of space is more often the chief concern in new building construction.
Designing around his self-proclaimed three most important tenets, ‘simplicity, simplicity and simplicity’, Murcutt spends a lot of time getting to know the clients and the land of his project sites before beginning any construction. He describes how there is no lead client in the sense that everyone living in a home he is building is his client from children through to the actual financing adults themselves. It is this extensive research on his clients and project location which allows Murcutt’s projects to be ‘simply’ successful. All too often new houses and residential areas are designed based on a template, not catering to unique tastes and requirements of those living in them. Murcutt could therefore be seen as trying to overcome this ‘best fit’ approach to housing, making his projects a functionally smart and fully realized vision of his clients’ wishes.
Although claiming not to be an ‘environmental architect’, Murcutt is interested in the environment with respect to not only the locations he builds in, but also concerning the materials he uses. He describes timber as a ‘fantastic’ resource because it takes a significantly lower level of energy to produce 1kg of timber than it does to produce 1kg of aluminium. Murcutt also said in an interview with ABC TV that his choice of materials is based heavily on what can be pulled apart and reused as this way he is moving towards a more sustainable form of architecture, which in a world obsessed with urbanisation, is important. More often than not we just ignore the source of materials as long as they are fit for purpose. In this sense, are current standard architectural practices operating on the basis of the ends justifying the means? Murcutt’s careful, planned and environmentally conscious approach rejects this way of doing things and is another reason why he is a leading name in the world of contemporary architecture. Although based around simplicity, his ideas defy convention.
“You are a guest of nature: so behave!”, Murcutt once preached to students in Arizona (in the book ‘Global Warming and the Built Environment’). Rapid societal growth and urban expansion portray architecture as a destructive force, eating away at the environment. Murcutt’s style and vision attempt to reverse this portrayal, having architecture grow into the natural environment in harmony with and not just bulldoze over it. This type of design too can be incredibly beautiful with his buildings looking like part of the environment itself. Blending iron into grassy fields and timber into rock face is no small task, yet Murcutt’s installations make it look so natural that you wouldn’t question anything about the juxtaposing materials in the setting.
Murcutt sees architecture as a creative process of discovery and as he draws, he describes how the hand creates ideas ahead of the mind comprehending them. This organic process is what transforms Murcutt’s initial sketches into detailed construction drawings. Some of his most notable work which has arisen from this process is the ‘Riversdale’ – Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Centre. Described by critics as a ‘masterpiece’, the retreat for artists and students houses a large meeting hall, kitchen, bathing and accommodation facilities, all nestled in the Shoalhaven River valley. Murcutt runs his International Architecture Master Class here once a year where professionals seeking mentorship from Murcutt himself have the opportunity to learn more about his methods and improve their own work. In this way, Murcutt’s style may be passed to other leading architects in the field and as a subsequent result, more architecture may become environmentally conscious which could be needed in the near future.
The ‘Touch the Earth Lightly’ series is an opportunity to witness the works, methods and inspiration behind one of the world’s most influential and commended architects, Glenn Murcutt. In an age of rapid societal growth and urban expansion, the way architecture interplays with the environment is of key interest. The Lighthouse is proud to host such a series of exhibitions throughout the summer of 2015.