Design & Decoration S01 ep15: Glen Murkutt, Murkutt Archetects, [Sydney]

Interview with Glen Murkutt

I have very great questions about what is creativity. I think that it is a process not a result. For example we didn't create the atomic bomb, we discovered the factors that made the bomb. Gehry's Bilbao is a path of discovery. It had the potential to exist, he sought its existence. He made a path to that existence. Art is discovery. Creativity is the most misused word. I see a person is able to discover and has the process and the wherewithall to discover the existence of something that wasn't obvious previously.



KM: Why architecture?

My father used to bring in Architectural Forum and Architectural Record as
journals from the United States. He was particularly interested in architecture.
In fact he actually invented lots of things. His great interest was in thinking and
inventing which led to all of us being raised in a way that was very different to
most children.

Architecture was one of the things that he loved. From a very early age, even
when I was about 9 or 10 he used to bring home blocks from his joinery shop.
He saw my interest in architecture and he did everything to make sure I
became an architect.

I had great difficulty getting into university. My primary school and secondary
school education was quite dramatic but finally I got into university and I went
straight through. I was one of the 10 that did not repeat.

I realized that my education had to start from then, so I travelled extensively. I
spent 6 months on the Greek Islands. I loved the architecture for its time and
its place. Understanding of place, understanding the materials, understanding
the availability of materials. When you understand that lime is a major product
of the island, and you slake it, and it becomes a light reflector, a heat
reflection, a water repellent and a disinfectant why would you use any other

And when a product like a red oxide or a blue oxide is a rare commodity in
some of the island that is devoted to the church cupolas and things like that.
It has a hierarchy - there is an authenticity, there is an integrity, there is an
honesty, there is a directness, there is the junction of the rational and the
poetic - and that is fundamental to me.

I am punished a bit by it - the Tall Poppy Syndrome.

KM: Clear

But at another level I like it very much. What it does it holds us all in check.
The aboriginal people say 'you Balanda, you think you invented the Tall Poppy
Syndrome' - they said 'we've had for 40,000 years, beat that!'

Performance is the only thing that you can believe. Don't tell what you are
going to do - do it!

Aircraft design was something that I was particularly interested in; the other
thing I was interested in was Naval architecture.

KM: Right.

And I love boats.

KM: You are really a nuts and bolts architect, aren’t you?

Ah I guess so, if you look at my design process, putting it together and thinking
about it all together.

Henry Dunay Jewellery

KM: What is your definition of architecture?

People have been trying to define what architecture is for 1000's of years. First
of all it is about prospect, about refuge, about light, about connectedness,
space. It’s about spirit, it’s about connection between inside and outside
environment, it is about our thinking about what is well being. It is not much
about intellectual gamesmanship.

KM: Do you work with teams, yourself?

Very rarely! I have been a sole practitioner for 31 years.

KM: Even the documentation….

I do all of it.

KM: Are you on computer?

No, no

KM: You're kidding, you are still doing it on drawing board?

Sure! It is a way that allows one to think.

KM: Yes

Through the mind and hand.

KM: Are you expensive as an architect?

No I am cheap actually!

KM: Really!

I can tell you for a new house it is just 12%.

KM: You're kidding, that is normal rack rates!

No, that is normal ordinary rates.

KM: Why do we need to be really good?

The joy of the pursuit of excellence, whilst it is extremely difficult and very
wearing on oneself, it nevertheless presents a resolution within the spirit.

Henry Dunay Jewellery

The most important aspect of that search is to remove the ego. As the great
architect Jose Codokes said to me, "I tell my students you must firstly put into
your work, effort. Secondly love, and finally suffering."

That is very Spanish - is the suffering side. I don't see that side. My view is
that you certainly put into your work effort and dedication but belief can stand
back from it. Be very involved and then divorce it - don't let the ego get in the

The fact that one has done it, one is doing it, and one then has got to be
involved at that point and that level, in what I refer to it as that state of revelry
which is between sleeping and waking - It is sort of a dream world in designing
and then one comes to the reality. Stand back from it, look at it, criticise it as if
anybody has done it, and in the true understanding that anybody else has done
it, and say “Is it good or not good? Will it be all right, will it work, will it not
work? Is it up to the standard? Is it the best that I can do at the moment?”
then I will let it go. If it is not and I know I can do better, keep at it.

The less wealthy clients are almost the very best because they understand
what it is to produce a building that is light, that has a working toughness about
it, that is it minimal, that it is pushing boundaries, whereas often very wealthy
people are incredibly conservative.

Why would I want to do a very good multistorey building as opposed to a very
good of domestic group of buildings? I can put into any one of my buildings,
four or five experiments.

KM: You are also a scientist in other words?

Henry Dunay Jewellery

I love experimenting. You see, I have very great questions about what is
creativity. I think that it is a process not a result. For example we didn't create
the atomic bomb, we discovered the factors that made the bomb.

Frank's [Gehry - Bilbao] building is a path of discovery. It is not just a creative
path; it is a path of discovery. It had the potential to exist, he sought its
existence and he made a path to that existence.

If any building I have done is the first of its kind, it always had that potential to
exist. Otherwise it would not be there. Our role is not that of a creator, it is that
of the discoverer. We discover. We continue to discover. Scientists don 't
create - they discover.

KM: But that is art, art is discovery!

And art is discovery! And I think that this whole issue of creativity that we keep
talking about is the most misused word. You say a person is creative - I don't
see that. I see a person is able to discover and has the process and the
wherewithal to discover the existence of something that wasn't obvious

KM: Right

As scientists discover the existence of things that were not obvious previously.
Architecture to me is no different - our role is that of the discoverer, not of the

One of the great problems is I think a lot of students are put off designing well
by the fact they are told they can't draw or they are not creative. Now you don't
have to be able to draw to be a good architect.

Henry Dunay Jewellery

I wasn't raised in a conservative family, nothing conservative in my life in a
sense, yet in another level I am quite conservative because I'm very conscious
of failure.

That is a very important part of the learning process. When I was living in
another house in Mosman and I was so poor I couldn't afford to re-register the
car. I had to take buses to site inspections, buses to see clients but I wasn't
going to compromise what my intentions were, and to do something just to get

One of the statements my father gave was, “Start off the way you want to
finish”. You've got to have enough money to survive. I have never had much
more than that, but I have had enough to survive. Now you are asking me am
I strong? The answer is - Yes I am extremely strong. Some people have said
to me openly - poetic and ruthless.

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Glen Murkutt, Murkutt Architects, Sydney