This year’s Praemium Imperiale for architecture has been awarded to celebrated Australian architect, Glenn Murcutt. The Praemium Imperiale was established to honour individuals or groups from all over the world that make outstanding contributions to the development, promotion and progress of the arts.
The award citation describes his work as following, “Glenn Murcutt is 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.”
Early years of Glenn Murcutt were spend growing up in Papua New Guinea before his family moved back to Australia in 1942. His early introduction to design was through his father’s joinery workshop where he used to spend most of his school’s holiday. He graduated from the University of New South Wales with a Diploma in Architecture before setting up his practice in 1969.
“He continues to work primarily as a solo practitioner, enabling him to ensure that he can create ‘uncompromising work’," said the citation. “Not only does he work without staff, he also primarily works without computers, preferring to draw by hand, finding solutions to design issues instinctively.”
As he says, he is not a creator, but a discoverer, adding, “Every great building is already there, but to be discovered. It is not created.”
Glenn Murcutt has exclusively only built in Australia and his projects range from houses to public buildings, using simple materials such as local timber, corrugated steel, stone, glass and concrete, creating architecture that utilises and works with land, light and locally available materials. Key to Murcutt architecture is to create buildings that are comfortable both in winters and summers, without the need for air-conditioning.
When asked why he only worked in Australia, this is what Murcutt had to say, “You need to speak the language of the people for commissions abroad; language provides the nuances of a culture. Then there must be understanding of the annual climatic variations and a host of other issues: climate, soil and vegetation.”
His notable works include private houses; Marie Short House (1974) being one of his most celebrated. However, more recently, he has been involved with public projects such as the Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Education Centre (1999), designed with architects, Wendy Lewin and Reginald Lark and the Australian Islamic Centre (2016), undertaken with architect, Hakan Elevli.
“His architecture has a poetic beauty and lightness, in harmony with Nature while at the same time, allowing the rationality of modernist architecture and ecological wisdom to shine through,” continues the citation for the award.
Glenn Murcutt is also the recipient of Pritzker Prize (2002) and the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal (2009). He is among the four people to be awarded the Praemium Imperiale in 2021, which includes American cellist, Yo-Yo Ma for music; Brazilian photographer, Sebastião Salgado for painting; and American artist, James Turrell for sculpture.