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‘Living with the Landscape’: Praemium Imperiale Laureate Glenn Murcutt on Discovering Great Architecture

The 2021 Architecture Laureate is a global inspiration in his field. ‘You live with my buildings, you don’t live in my buildings,’ he says, explaining how architecture should fit into its surroundings.

JAPAN Forward

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The arts enrich our lives and express where we are as humanity at any given moment, help us understand where we’ve been, and give us hints at where we might be going. 

In this first year of the resumption of the Praemium Imperiale awards after the COVID-19 pandemic enveloped the globe, the Japan Arts Association has selected laureates in the fields of art, sculpture, architecture and music, whose individual achievements, and impact on the arts internationally, have played a role in enriching the global community.

This year’s laureate in architecture is cellist Glenn Murcutt (Australia), recognized by the Japan Arts Association as “an architect ahead of his time, an architect who has spent his career creating modest, environmentally-responsible buildings rooted in the climate and tradition of his native Australia.” 

In an interview upon being named the 2021 Praemium Imperiale laureate in architecture, the artist reflected on the influences that shape his buildings and philosophy of living with the environment. Excerpts follow.

Praemium Imperiale 2021 Architecture Laureate Glenn Murcutt

Architecture as a process of discovery:

For me, architecture is not a creative process. I have always said for every great building or any building that’s going to be a wonderful building, it is already there but to be discovered.

It is not created, it is discovered. 

The creative process is the process through which one discovers, but discovery is very important to me. And discovery takes out the elitism. Discovery is something we can all do. That is very, very important to me.

Take away the computer:

I have eschewed the computer for discovery. I think the computer has taken away the repedity of hand drawing and eye/hand thinking. 

One can discover so rapidly, so fast, the alternate alternatives. One doesn’t have to set up a whole series of parameters to arrive that has to be consciously done. But [with] the pencil, you can arrive at a solution and not even know how it came.  

So in other words, you arrive at a solution before the conscious can understand it. It’s the subconscious that has led you to that solution, not the conscious, because the conscious has informed the subconscious without you understanding it.

Working with the landscape:

The landscape is critical to me. The Australian landscape is critical, critical to me. I want to minimize the damage to that landscape. 

It is very important to work with the landscape, not against it. So you work with things, not against them. You live with my buildings, you don’t live in my buildings.

Because my buildings live with the environment, bringing the light in, bringing the sun in, bringing the wind in. All those elements are all about environmental issues. 

And no air conditioning is about environmental issues, that the buildings perform to a very great level by themselves. Not completely, but to a very great level.

‘Touch the land lightly’:

There’s been an Aboriginal expression that was given to me that the Aboriginal people said we’ve touched the land lightly. 

Now touching the land lightly isn’t a simple question of showing a building sitting lightly on the land. It’s about where the materials come from. It’s about how your building operates in that landscape, about minimizing energy consumption, about how you can be without all the artificial factors that make it comfortable because buildings are designed so poorly. 

Touching the land lightly is not simply an expression that is without complexity.

A quiet presence:

I think the best of architecture has a presence. And that presence embodies a strength and a delicacy, and a quietness. 

I’m not interested in architecture that is loud, that speaks of showing off. I’m interested in architecture that is without novelty. 

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Author: JAPAN Forward