“Since most of us spend our lives doing ordinary tasks, the most important thing is to carry them out extraordinarily well.” Those may be words that the Australian architect Glenn Murcutt likes to live by, but the truth is that there is nothing at all ordinary about his deceptively simple looking body of work. Projects like the Marie Short House (1974), one of his earliest, with an open plan and a curved roof to keep the cool air circulating, and the Marika Alderton House (1994) for an aboriginal artist where wide eaves, stilts, vertical fins, and pivoting tubes protect the structure from heat and tidal surges, demonstrate how far ahead of the current curve Murcutt has always been when it comes to sustainable design.
And so it seemed as much timely as about time that Murcutt, 71, was awarded the 2009 AIA Gold Medal today, just seven years after receiving the Pritzker Prize. In a letter of support for his nomination, Tadao Ando wrote that “recently our architectural field experienced an ‘ecological boom.’ However, without relation to such a trend of time, Glenn Murcutt has always been focusing on the geographical and regional conditions, from the very beginning of his career.”
Though he seems to be the Ur Australian, Murcutt was born in London in 1936—his parents were on their way from New Guinea to the Berlin Olympics—and grew up in the remote Morobe district of New Guinea. Despite an architecture degree from the University of New South Wales and a few years in the office of Ancher, Mortlock, Murray & Wooley in Sydney, Murcutt’s true education came from his travels through Europe, especially to Finland, and a walkabout in Tasmania. He has been a sole practitioner, rendering all aspects of a project in his own hand, since 1969.
While his mostly residential projects combine the rigor of Mies van der Rohe with the nature-derived materiality of an Aalto, Murcutt was possibly just as influenced by the house his own father built up on stilts with a corrugated tin roof.
Though hailing from as far away as any prominent architect could come, Murcutt has continued to travel widely, lecturing with inspirational fervor and drawing equally from the modernist canon and the works of Freud and Thoreau.
With today’s announcement, Murcutt becomes the 65th AIA Gold Medalist, following most recently in the footsteps of last year’s recipient, Renzo Piano. The award’s official presentation will take place at the American Architectural Foundation’s gala in February.
Along with the Gold Medal, the AIA announced the winners of two other annual accolades. Seattle-based Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects was awarded the 2009 AIA Architecture Firm Award, for a portfolio of work reaching back more than three decades that has bridged nature and culture, artfully setting modern forms into the Pacific Northwest landscape.
And Adèle Naudé Santos was awarded the 2009 Topaz Medallion for excellence in architectural education. Santos, currently dean of the MIT School of Architecture + Planning, previously taught at UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design, and was founding dean at the UC San Diego School of Architecture. In a career spanning both teaching and practice, she has worked to blend residential and environmental design.