Glenn Murcutt International Masters Class (Part II)

by Lucas Gray

click here for Part I
click here for Part III

One of the extraordinary opportunities we experienced as participants of the Glenn Murcutt International Masters Class was the chance to visit some of the world renowned projects designed by the tutors. It was incredibly captivating to hear about the design process and the final outcome directly from the architects and clients, while actually walking through the buildings. Many of the projects were private residences which aren't open to the public, giving us an insiders view of some of the tutor's best work. Along with the site visits, each professor also gave a lecture, showcasing projects currently on the drawing board as well as notable works from their careers.

Peter Stutchbury is the lone tutor that runs a small office and engages in architecture on the international stage. The others are sole practitioners, exclusively working within Australia. An incredibly sensitive focus on the environment transcends Mr. Stutchbury's designs, while the detailing is incredibly intricate. We were able to visit two of his houses, each in completely different landscapes. The Bangalay House, nestled into a clearing in a wooded and mountainous region, was a wonderful example of how to open a house to the surrounding landscape. The elongated, pitched roof echoed the slopes of the mountain ridges, while the glass clad walls consisted of sliding panels that tucked away, leaving the living spaces completely open to the outdoors. The back of the house, where the bathrooms and other service areas are located, is constructed of concrete, acting as heavy thermal mass to regulate temperature. Rain water collection is another essentially design element, both for irrigation of the gardens as well as for bush fire protection. The Outcrop House was located in a relatively dense, suburban neighborhood on a steep embankment overlooking a picturesque ocean bay. Rather than being completely open like the previous house, privacy was a primary concern and led to an innovative daylighting solution. Light is introduced through a transparent roof, while interior curved wooden elements below, deflect the hot direct sun while reflecting diffused cool light. A ventilation system then takes the trapped hot air out of the building. A steel structure spans between the two exterior load bearing walls, like a warehouse, freeing the interior from columns. Rooms were then built up as individual boxes within the structural shell. The back of the house was left entirely open, once again using movable glass wall panels. This preserved stunning views of the coast below, as well as incorporating an indoor/outdoor swimming pool and patio. The master bedroom overlooks a two story social space and out of this rear glass facade, allowing the phenomenal views and daylight to penetrate into the depths of the interior. Once again, the detailing was immaculate and the woodworking throughout both projects was astounding and, not surprisingly, award winning.
Check out these websites to see images of these houses and more of his work: and

Richard Leplastrier's work was of particular note because it hasn't been published extensively. The attention to detail and fine craftsmanship was superb, as he often draws his details at one to one scale. He crafts many parts of his buildings by hand and constructs a lot of his buildings himself. Every aspect of his designs are in harmony with each other - working together to create a splendid symphony of architecture. His buildings are warm, welcoming and perfectly built for the human touch. Finely carved wood, leather wrapped door handles, windows aligning with the eye height of his clients, these are just a few of the minute details he passionately works into his designs. His houses are like ships, with the detailing and woodwork perfectly in unison with the function of the building. Each house adapts and transforms with the climate and seasons, making a fluidity between building and landscape. On top of this attention to detail is a decision to only taking on projects that Richard is passionate about - designs for close friends, for organizations he is part of, and always with a love for the land on which they stand. Like most of the work by the other tutors, all of Peter's work is done with hand media - extensive use of models, sketches and hand drafting, while his own house was built based entirely on a single detailed model - no drawings. He also works with simple materials that he is familiar with and can easily be worked with the human hand, particularly the prevalent use of wood. Rammed earth was also a material he explored in some of his earlier work.

We weren't able to visit Brit Andresen's work because she didn't have any built projects in the greater Sydney area. However, her lecture introduced us to her graceful architecture and sensitive design process. Ms. Andresen's work was elegant, beautiful, in touch with the landscape and kept with the theme of creative use of materials (especially wood) and a sensitivity to climate and the environment. Taking full advantage of the mild Australia climate, particularly the northern tropical area where many of her projects are situated, her buildings open to the landscape, using minimal enclosure. Each incorporates natural lighting and ventilation, while offering fantastic views of the natural surroundings.

Glenn Murcutt's houses were the highlight of the excursions. Once again we were taken to varying examples of houses, designed for different landscapes and completed at different stages in his long illustrious career. This enabled us to experience the evolution of his design ideas. Coupled with Mr. Murcutt's inspiring lecture - highlighting the projects currently on his drawing board, including some larger public buildings: a museum and a mosque -  we got a glimpse of his architectural passion and vitality. His breadth of knowledge and design process is unparalleled and clearly distinguishes his work from his peers, leading to becoming a Pritzker Prize laureate.

Along with the site visits we had the luxury of spending the first week of the course housed in one of Mr. Murcutt's most notable works, the Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Art Center in Riversdale. Located about a three hour drive south of Sydney in the midst of the picturesque Australian landscape, this was the location of the site for the project as well as our home base for many site visits the first week. The small rooms - displaying the sensibility and detailing of a master builder - were boat-like cabins and had us waking up to the sun rising over the gently meandering river. An amazing variety of birds swooped through the early morning air and sang unfamiliar songs as wombats and kangaroos grazed the fields - a markedly Australian experience and one that was most welcome for us foreigners. Mist rose off the gently flowing water as the sun rose over the adjacent ridge. The building is perfectly nestled into the hill side, at the moment where the meadow broke into forest. Each morning we gathered and slowly woke over breakfast in the great room, overlooking this spectacular landscape. The bedroom wing branched off to the south, eventually becoming a two story structure as the ground slopes away. Each room had two beds, and a movable partition between it and the room next door. A simple, yet elegant bathroom, equiped with a splendid outdoor shower, separated each set of 2 rooms. A sheltered, yet outdoor gathering space looking out into the landscape broke up these living units. With artistically revealed water catchment systems, operable enclosing walls and windows, incredibly detailed natural ventilation systems and stunning indoor/outdoor showers, this building set the perfect precedent for our design project.

Although the exposure to some of my favorite buildings in the world was spectacular, it was the people that truly made this experience so amazing. Along with the extraordinary tutors discussed above, there were 30 participants representing 21 different countries; they were advanced grad students, recently graduated architects, partners in large and small firms, young architects just starting their careers and older architects looking for a new start and inspiration. The diversity of the group led to amazing discussions, cultural exchanges, and sharing of ideas. Living together for the two weeks, sharing meals, rooms, and wine brought us all close together, cultivating the feeling of a large extended family. We learned from each other as much as from the tutors, and now we all have a network of friends and colleagues spread throughout the world - both from our course as well as the extended nework of all past and future participants.

One of the factors that sets this program apart from many design school experiences, is the integration of the tutors and students. For two weeks we lived, worked, ate and played together as one large family. the tutors sat besides us at dinner telling stories and sharing experiences. Late nights brought out harmonicas as Peter and Richard played along with Lindsay Johnson on his guitar or mandolin. A grand piano was played by those with talents and one of the participants even played a cello concerto. Music may sound like a random side topic when describing an architecture program but these aspects really can't be separated from the entire experience. These times of entertainment and casual interaction made the design work that much more meaningful and enjoyable. They created an instant atmosphere of belonging, a place everyone felt comfortable to share their thoughts, ideas and dreams. We heard stories from our past lives, future plans and shared our diverse cultures, languages, and songs. With 21 different countries represented we now are part of a family that spans the globe.

To read Part I click here.
To see the video in Part III click here.

For more info visit: or


Popular Posts