Glenn Murcutt and more: Renovating a 20th Century modernist property

Glenn Murcutt is among Australia's most acclaimed architects. Read about what he's most known for as well as the importance of passive design.

A house with dark grey roof
ARTICLE Persephone Nicholas 

Working from a small practice on Sydney’s leafy lower North Shore, Glenn Murcutt is among Australia’s most acclaimed architects and has won many awards including the Pritzker Prize for Architecture. 


Murcutt’s most recent high profile project was the Australian Islamic Centre in Melbourne, but renovators are more likely to be interested in his modernist designs of the late 20th Century.  
Most houses built in Australia at that time were based on styles imported from the UK, such as Victorian or terraced homes, or the US, which inspired California bungalows and ranch style properties. The problem with these homes is that they were originally designed for their countries of origin where the climate was quite different to that here.
A modern living room

Designing for Australia  

Murcutt took a different approach and designed homes more suited to the Australian climate and landscape. 
Distinctive and often described as ‘pavilion-style,’ they were characterised by their angular forms, steel frames and corrugated iron clad exteriors. They were a lighter build than traditional brick structures and economical with materials, which made them relatively fast and cost effective to build. 
They were also known for their steel pole supports, which made them suitable for challenging steep sloped sites.  Interestingly, these supports illustrate one of Murcutt’s most important beliefs, that buildings should ‘touch the earth lightly.
Murcutt’s light touch is evident in the homes, as well as the public buildings, he designed. Renovators who wish to retain and/or restore value to a Murcutt or Murcutt-style home, would be well advised to think about:

The significance of location  

Murcutt designs buildings in keeping with their surroundings. The Simpson-Lee house in the Blue Mountains is a good example. Here Murcutt’s deceptively simple design showcases stunning forest vistas at the same time as it helps mitigate the risk of bushfires and addresses heritage issues.
This house enjoys an exceptional location, but Murcutt’s commitment to designing structures that have a strong connection with nature and the outdoors makes sense for most of us these days. This could mean incorporating a wall of windows that frames the exterior landscape; ensuring there is easy access to the outdoor space from the home and creating sheltered outdoor living areas that can be enjoyed for most of the year.

The importance of passive design 

Murcutt was one of the pioneers of passive design in the 1970s, creating homes designed to stay cool naturally in summer and retain warmth in winter.
If you want to make the most of passive design in your renovation think about installing windows to the north to let in winter sun and adding shade and/or eaves to reduce the impact of summer sun; creating ventilation channels with louvres and windows throughout the home; using high thermal mass products such as brick, stone, tiles and concrete for floors and walls; and upgrading insulation throughout the entire building envelope (floor, walls, roof and ceiling).  
For more information and ideas on how best to incorporate passive design principles into your renovation, visit YourHome.
A living room with indoor outdoor flow

The appeal of steel 

Much of the appeal of Murcutt’s designs lies in their clean, contemporary lines.  He often incorporated corrugated iron, a traditional, durable and lightweight material in the exterior of his houses and it remains a good choice today (although ‘corrugated iron’ products are now more likely to be made from steel than just iron). 
Subdued, nature-inspired shades are most in keeping with Murcutt’s aesthetic. If you’re considering other options, remember that dark colours will absorb more heat and light colours will reflect them, which could cause glare. 
If you like the look of corrugated iron, consider using it as an interior finish too. It comes in wide range of colours and can be employed to great effect as a feature wall or cladding, particularly in hard working areas such as kitchens, bathrooms and hallways.

Employing sustainable solutions 

Murcutt is known for his commitment to designing sustainable homes. Follow his lead and make sustainable choices in your renovation. This could mean reusing materials such as bricks or timber from the existing property and sourcing other materials locally.
Smart design can help reduce the need for toxic chemicals in the home. For example, snug fitting cabinetry reduces hiding places for rodents and cockroaches and good ventilation in wet areas will inhibit mould growth. 
When it comes to waste, make sure any hazardous materials are appropriately disposed of. Recycle renovation by-products, including bricks, MDF, Masonite and Villaboard, wooden or plastic pallets, particleboard, plasterboard, timber, corrugated iron and concrete wherever possible. Find construction and demolition recycling facilities via Planet Ark’s website 

Learn more about Murcutt  

Want to learn more about Glenn Murcutt and his impact on Australian architecture? Philip Drew’s book, Leaves of Iron: Architecture of Glen Murcutt, examines Murcutt’s life and architectural legacy. It’s a must-read for students of architecture and renovators wanting to create a sustainable and distinctively Australian home.

Have a look at this Modern Kitchen Renovation in Adelaide and get inspired! 

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If you would like to discuss options and ideas for your home renovation, please use the enquiry form alongside to provide us with your contact details. We will get in touch with you at a time that suits you to discuss your project.
*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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