At the University of New South Wales’ final Utzon lecture for the year, architect Glenn Murcutt sat down with the ABC’s Alan Saunders for a passionate and powerful discussion about design, timeless architecture and how to stay motivated and consistent.
October 24th, 2011
On the work of Alvar Aalto
Look at his buildings today. How beautiful they still are – a timelessness. I regard Aalto’s work as probably amongst the most timeless works that have been produced in the last 200 years. It was as modern then as it is today, as I believe it will be tomorrow.
On his architect son Nicholas Murcutt, who passed away earlier this year
Even 4 weeks before he died, he was talking about the design of a house with cupboards, just using cupboards… Amazing, a fantastic kid, a wonderful son. What a privilege it was I had him for 46 years. But our children are only ever on loan, and it was a wonderful 46 years to have had him that long.
Simpson-Lee House by Glenn Murcutt. Photography: Alex Edwards
White House by Glenn Murcutt. Photography Anthony Browell.
On Australian architecture
I am not interested in producing an Australian architecture… If you sat down to look at trying to design an Australian architecture, then all you will end up with is a caricature. It can only come out of the ether. It can only come out of understanding the site, the climatic conditions, where the sun comes from, the flora, the fauna, hydrology, geology, topography. Then once you understand soil conditions and tree and flora conditions, you understand insects. When you understand insects you understand animals and birds. They all are totally interrelated – you can’t separate them… These are really important elements of architecture. They’re not about sitting down and designing some fancy work of architecture; it’s about architecture being an instrument of placemaking.
Riversdale by Glenn Murcutt. Photography: Wojciech Przywecki
White House by Glenn Murcutt. Photography: Anthony Browell
On staying motivated and consistent
When I graduated in 1961 I said “God, think of all those years ahead. I wonder if you’ll ever do anything decent”. How frightening is that! Now what you do about it: To be able to be honest with your work, to look at it, and stand back, and pretend you’re another architect looking at the work saying “well what is it really like?” – forget yourself completely, stand outside yourself.
Marika Alderton House by Glenn Murcutt. Photography: Anthony Browell
On achieving timelessness in architecture
If you are a culture that is literate in structure, in order, in landscape, in nature, the nature of materials, then you’re going to start to find an architecture that has an honesty about it. Now there’s a very old fashioned word very rarely used today. The word is authenticity – authentic – the truth, the real, the ability to be honest, that what you’re seeing is what you’re getting. Calling the spade a spade. And yet, the poetic and the rational should join in unity. That’s what I think is really important. And if the rational and poetic join in unity, there may be a chance of longevity of the work, of the idea, of the placemaking. And it doesn’t come when you’re a student, and it doesn’t come when you’re 70 years old. It might come when you’re eighty – I have five years to go!
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