In an upset of conventional wisdom, Glenn Murcutt, Hon. FAIA, an Australian sole-practitioner who has never built outside of his native country and is known for his ecologically sensitive, small-scale projects, was awarded the AIA Gold Medal yesterday. I , for one, was surprised. In the recent history of the Gold Medal (and perhaps in the award's entire history), there has never been a laureate who has shouldered the design burden so singularly as Murcutt. His selection seems to take architecture in at least two different directions at once.
It clearly reaffirms the mythology of the architect as a lone visionary auteur who answers only to his own design conscience. In an age when architects often present themselves as simply another breed of information-age technocrat, Murcutt’s selection and his body of quiet, charming, and rigorously sustainable structures seem reminiscent of a time when architecture focused more on homespun craft and humanistic contemplation than the translation of digital economies into physical space. His preference for rural sites and simple materials reinforces his humble and empathic approach to design.
It’s easy to see Murcutt’s win as the ascendance of hyper-regional architecture. He's only built in one country, and all his work meets its sustainability goals by signing a demanding pact of cooperation with their geographic context. But, in an ironic way, I think this is more an example of globalism on the march. How many voting AIA Board members had actually seen a Murcutt building in person? Probably a lot fewer than voted for him. Yet, we all know Murcutt’s work through many different kinds of digital media that didn’t exist when he began practicing. Murcutt self-consciously keeps a low profile, and doesn’t even have a Web site, but history’s caught up with him again, and architecture today is too interconnected not to notice.
What do you think of Murcutt’s newest award?