Saturday, September 09, 2006

5. Architecture V Architecture: Marika-Alderton House - Glen Murcutt

Tonight's post in this series comes from architect and blogger Den MT.

'Touch the earth lightly'...

The above is an Aboriginal phrase used as a design credo by auteur Aussie architect Glenn Murcutt, and one can see the direct translation from principle to built form in his entire body of work.

This house combines a sensitivity to local culture and heritage with a rigorous approach to energy-efficient design. This is a building which responds to its site and micro/macro-climate in a tangible, formal way, but not at the cost of visual appeal - in fact this is not a question of sacrifice, but more the generation of form through function.

The house was commissioned by an Aboriginal artist, and built in Aussie's hot and windy Northern Territory. Murcutt overcame the challenges presented by the local climate by creating a system of slatted panels on the long facades of the house, which could be opened and shut according to the internal temperatures, with fins located along the length of the house to channel breeze through the structure and keep the air moving.

The materials employed are simple and robust, as the extreme conditions demand, and are used in an un-fussy, pragmatic way that lends a sparsity and honesty to the clean lines of the house.

Murcutt takes a challenging environment, and rather than embedding an alien machine within it, complete with it's own life-support system (by way of air-conditioning and ventilation plant) he creates a responsive, organic shelter that lives and breathes with its owner, fluidly changing to suit the needs of the occupant, floating above the landscape to which it relates.

It is now fashionable across the board for architects to worm in as much 'energy-efficiency' double-talk as possible in client presentations, as people are demanding more and more in that respect, but it's easy to convince someone with no specialist knowledge that you are giving them 'low-energy' design features if you know which buttons to push. Murcutt's masterful response to challenging conditions shows exactly what is possible if one works with the conditions.

Here's the 'Not PC: Architecture V Architecture' series so far:
And related posts and threads:
And the one that started it all:
RELATED: Architecture, Art

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11 Comments:

Anonymous Robert Winefield said...

I appreciate the care the designer has taken to make sure that the internal air conditioning exploits natural breezes - including allowing the air to flow under the building.

But for f--ks sake, I've seen shearing sheds that look better than this one. Surely this can't be number 3 on your top five buildings in the ~world~ list!

This is a house right?

I can't see where the plumbing goes. Please don't tell me that out door plumbing was a key feature in this building's "cultural sensitivity."

Where the hell are the bedrooms? Where is the kitchen?

If the Northern Territory is so damned harsh, wouldn't a good architect work to make the life of the person owning the house as easy as possible? Afterall, isn't that the whole goal of architecture and technology development?

9/09/2006 02:45:00 am  
Anonymous AngloAmerican said...

It would be extremely hard to clean. Imagine all the spiders and God knows what else that would nest up in the rafters. At least the spiders would catch a few of the flies that would have no trouble at all getting inside.

9/09/2006 07:10:00 am  
Blogger KG said...

It's a house designed for the ABORIGINAL owner, Robert.
I lived in the Territory for years, in remote areas and Aboriginal communities. The NT Government built houses for the locals which were exactly the same as houses built for whites--and they were bloody awful.
They needed airconditioning (useless, since most of the locals couldn't afford the power and during the Wet the power was as often off as on) the kitchens were used for anything but cooking, toilets were blocked by everything from half a wallaby carcass to bundles of clothes and most of the family slept outside anyway.
The owners just wanted shade and some level of protection from the rain.

9/09/2006 07:11:00 am  
Anonymous Robert Winefield said...

To KG I say again:

"Surely this can't be number 3 on your top five buildings in the ~world~ list!"

As to your other problems, these are things a talented architect could solve quite easily. We put a man on the moon for fucks sake. Are you telling me that the problem of blocked toilets and spotty power generation are insoluble?

Solar power, windmills anyone?

It's a fucking elevated shed.

In fact it isn't even original, if you go to tropical islands you will see similar houses thatched with palm fronds.

Oh! Ah! How ingenius! It easily rates higher than the Taj Mahal and the Empire State on the scale of the best examples of architecture IN THE WORLD!

Jesus. What's next, the Public toilets in Grafton Park?

Bah humbug!

9/09/2006 10:35:00 am  
Blogger KG said...

"As to your other problems, these are things a talented architect could solve quite easily. We put a man on the moon for fucks sake. Are you telling me that the problem of blocked toilets and spotty power generation are insoluble?'
yes I am, at least in the near term.
Is the architect to "educate" Aborigines to use their houses the same way the white man does? They don't want to.
Are the power generators in remote communities to be made proof against lightning strikes? If so, how, exactly, considering that even supplies in cities that aren't subject to a fraction of the strikes communities out on the plains get still suffer outages?
Without going into tedious detail, the remote communities are in no way ready for housing any more complex (or expensive) than this example.
Again and again I was told by Aborigines that what they wanted was a roof, concrete pad underneath it and a reliable water supply.
After seeing them living outside their $500,000 houses, cooking over an open fire in the yard and wandering into the bushes to relieve themselves..I believe them.
Putting a man on the moon is a damn sight easier than changing an ancient culture and in any case, why would we want to?

Surely, the architect's job is to look at the needs and wishes of the client and to fulfil them.

9/09/2006 11:30:00 am  
Anonymous Robert Winefield said...

"Surely, the architect's job is to look at the needs and wishes of the client and to fulfil them."

Yes, but often the client hasn't got the faintest clue about what is actually possible. So it's the architect's job to educate the client. Why? because he's a professional engineer and the client is not. If that wasn't the case, why would you need an architect?

So you want technology sans-electricity? Try some ancient technologies. Aquaducts, Archimedes screws, steam or even solar powered distillation devices.

Do you see any of these things on the house? Are you telling me that indoor plumbing and purified water would radically alter the aboriginal culture? Are you suggesting that they are too thick to understand anything more complex?

9/09/2006 12:06:00 pm  
Blogger KG said...

"Do you see any of these things on the house? Are you telling me that indoor plumbing and purified water would radically alter the aboriginal culture? Are you suggesting that they are too thick to understand anything more complex? "
1) Aborigines can't maintain those things.
2) I never suggested that indoor plumbing would radically alter Aboriginal culture. Your words, not mine.
3) I'm very far from suggesting that Aborigines are "thick". After living with them for years I know better. But I also understand that many of the things that white men consider important are not so to them. And I understand them better than to suffer the arrogance of telling them what they should want.

9/09/2006 12:17:00 pm  
Blogger KG said...

And since you believe it's the architect's job to educate the client, what architect would travel to the Territory (because Aborigines certainly won't travel to him) and give them a comprehensive grounding in basic mechanics, electrical maintainence and plumbing?
Because electricians, mechanics and plumbers are in short supply in those communities.
I've no doubt at all that the client is delighted with his house, regardless of what you seem to regard as lost opportunities. Those "opportunities" would represent to most Aborigines an unwanted and unnecessary complication.

9/09/2006 12:28:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Robert, perhaps it might be helpful to tell you how my own favourite lecturer, Claude Megson, used used to talk of Glenn Murcutt. "All the architecture is in the cross section" he'd shout.

And it's true. As you're a scientist, perhaps you might begin looking at this house by examining how the cross-section describes the context, especially the climate, and how it modifies it to make human life in this place possible. (And notice too that the photographer has responded to this in his/her composition.)

Look too at the well-thought-out details: this is a thought-built building, on however humble a scale. It reflects the dictum of Murcutt's hero Mies van der Rohe, that "less is more."

That said, I've often thought that both Murcutt and Mies could apply their thought to have done much more with the opportunities they were given. I wouldn't suggest this as one of Murcutt's major works (in my estimation he's done much, much better) but what Den's posting here is his own personal favourites, as he's been asked to do, not to post the world's top five buildings.

I'm not sure, in other words, that he's necessarily arguing that this house is amongst the best architecture in the world (although I'm sure he can clarify that for us) but that it's one of his own personal top five.

So then we're back to our two questions, aren't we, which I suggest we should be asking about every piece of art or architecture: 1) Is it good art or architecture? 2) Do I like it.

I'm trying here to help you answer question one, whereas I think you've been busy answering question two. :-)

No bad thing, but have a go at seeing it in question one terms.

*** NB: I should point out, of course, that this whole debate began when Den suggested that we aren't able to even ask question one. It's somehow prohibited to us, he argued.

So Den is also, in my estimation, stuck on question two - but in this case, I've asked him to be. ;^)

9/09/2006 01:58:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guys, you should really consider that this house was built for Aborigines people and THEIR WAYS OF LIFE!

Trust me, you will be amazed to know how people from different cultures live differently.

3/19/2009 05:55:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is such an old post!!

3/19/2009 05:57:00 pm  

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