The Language of Glenn Murcutt's Domestic Architecture

The Language of Glenn Murcutt's Domestic Architecture

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1698-0.ch007
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This chapter presents a JPG grammar and massing grammar for Glenn Murcutt's domestic architecture, demonstrating the analytical and generative capability of the combined grammatical and syntactical method. The chapter commences with a JPG-grammar-based analysis of 10 of Murcutt's rural domestic designs. Using this as a starting point, the chapter then describes the massing grammar that configures the form of each design, defining block properties, composition, and roof types. Throughout this process, the new method is used to develop the mathematical indicators of the properties of each house that are most similar or disparate. This information supports the generation of a “dominant design” as well as potential new variations that are consistent with the language of Murcutt's domestic architecture. Thus, the combined grammatical and syntactical method contributes to a deeper and more rigorous understanding of an architectural style and its design instances.
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This chapter demonstrates the use of two specific grammars – JPG and massing grammars – for analysing the combined grammatical and syntactical properties of Glenn Murcutt’s rural domestic architecture. As discussed in Chapter 6, a “generic” JPG grammar consists of a set of algebraic rules that are customised to create a “specific” JPG grammar and associated formal massing for a family of designs or architectural language. Pritzker prize winning architect Glenn Murcutt’s designs are the subject of the present chapter and the specific JPG grammar. Murcutt’s designs have been described as possessing a distinct and highly consistent architectural language of space and form (Baker, 1996; Fromonot, 1995). His rural domestic buildings typically have a modernist, linear pavilion plan with extensive visual and physical connections to the landscape (Spence, 1986). Indeed, each of these houses could be regarded as a local variant of a more universal type (Ostwald, 2011b), and his early rural domestic architecture has been identified as an exemplar of Arcadian minimalism and described as a rigorous modern evocation of the form and tectonics of the “primitive hut” (Ostwald, 2011c).

The seemingly close relationship between form and spatial structure in Murcutt’s architecture has been extensively documented in past research, although there is ongoing debate about the extent to which these works constitute either a largely static or an evolving architectural language. Indeed, such is their apparent consistency and rigour that multiple authors have used computational approaches to examine the properties of Murcutt’s architecture. For example, Hanson and Radford (1986a, 1986b) analysed Murcutt’s early houses using a variation of the Shape Grammar approach to attempt to understand their formal properties, while Ostwald (2011a, 2011b) used a syntactical technique to undertake visual, mathematical and theoretical analysis of Murcutt’s architecture. Despite such examples, Murcutt’s work has only rarely been the subject of any attempt to understand both its formal and spatial properties and the interplay between the two.

Our previous research (Lee, Ostwald, & Gu, 2015, 2018) investigates the results of a syntactically-derived grammatical analysis to characterise the combined spatial and formal properties of a set of potential design outcomes in the particular style of Glenn Murcutt’s domestic architecture. This chapter presents a detailed exploration of the language of Murcutt’s architecture through the combined method. Furthermore, because the method is innately grammatical, the chapter provides a generative sequence, or logic, for the language of Murcutt’s architecture. The chapter commences by describing a specific JPG (s-JPG) grammar for Glenn Murcutt’s domestic architecture and then applies this to a distinct stylistic set of his works. This set comprises ten houses that were constructed between 1975 and 2005 on isolated rural sites in Australia. The houses are: the Marie Short House, Nicholas House, Carruthers House, Fredericks House, Ball-Eastaway House, Magney House, Simpson-Lee House, Fletcher-Page House, Southern Highlands House and Walsh House. Collectively, these designs are regarded as comprising the canon of Murcutt’s regional works. For each of the designs the chapter provides a brief background, including its date of construction, location and any special programmatic features. This is accompanied by a figure which has three parts. The first is a cutaway axonometric of the design and its planning, showing the way spaces and forms are related (or not related) in Murcutt’s architecture. This is annotated with sector nodes and specific functional space labels. The second is a list of the s-JPG grammar rule set, which replicates the spatial structure of the design – i.e., rule sets, L0R1 (Level 0 Rule 1) to L0R8 (Level 0 Rule 8). The last is the corresponding grammar of the spatial structure, which represents the stages in the evolution of the plan graph. Thereafter the syntactical measures for the spatial structure are tabulated, presented and discussed and sector-based inequality genotypes are provided. The second half of the chapter demonstrates the use of a specific massing grammar to generate a corresponding three-dimensional (3D) form for each of the ten designs developed using the s-JPG grammar. These hybrid grammatical analyses provide a unique insight into the functional and formal design operations and outcomes that were available to the architect.

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