matejg

Glenn Murcutt Masterclass – First Hand Experience

- by Matej Gašperič

One of the leading Slovenian online architectural resources – Trajekt (trajekt.org) has asked me to write about my experience of GMMC.

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Since those two weeks of July, 2011, I have spent down under, proved to be one of the most significant and pleasurable weeks and a pivotal point of my life, when I started to write, I instantly got carried away. And I ended with triple the size of the maximum amount of text. As I usually do!
Therefore I have to rewrite it completely…
But on the other hand, I kind of like how the original story turned out since I find it quite readable. So therefore, I have decided to post it in my Scrapbook anyway since my readers are used to read my long posts :)

“Dear passengers! This is your captain speaking. We are about to…” Words from the invisible speakers drift away as I settle comfortably in into the chair preparing for 12 hours long flight Dubai. A few minutes ago we have taken off from Sydney international airport leaving Australia for a while. ‘Not forever.’ I made a silent resolution “Definitely not forever!”. As I close my eyes, my mind goes back to the past two weeks. ‘And what a two week they have been…’.
Images flash back.

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Glenn explaining the concept and the designing process of the Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Art Centre at Riversdale, where we spent first week of the master class.

Images of us – “the mob” as our Ozie colleagues and tutors sweetly named us – wandering around the Riversdale premises being observed anxiously by the kangaroos and wombats.

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Mr. Wombat

Sitting leisurely on the grass at the very edge of the forest with our sketchbooks on our laps, fingers black from the charcoal, trying to capture the impressions and our feelings of that amazing place. Magnificent Shoalhaven river’s slow and steady flow. The beautiful shape of the Boyd’s Mountain – as we named it. Spotted gum trees being bent by the pleasant winter breeze…

morning_view_from_my_room_at_riversdalePicturesque morning view from my room / bed at Boyd Art Centre. Object’s (trademark) recognizable side shades are clearly visible.

… and then, the scene in my head changes and I am transferred into the great hall of the Boyd’s Centre. We have spent the whole afternoon drawing, sketching, model making, debating.

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Working inside the great hall of the Centre. It is me drawing on the floor… seems that our group had run out of the desk space.

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Terrain model making goes bad. Sorry guys… I know it was a tragedy. But I simply had to do a snapshot of this event… for the archive.

The last group has just finished with the presentation of their daily progress. One by one, our tutors have commented their work – and Oh! – how valuable their comments have been… for all of us. Kind and sharp at the same time. Commending the good stuff, talking what could have been done differently, what other angle of view should be considered, scolding mildly but sternly when they felt we sidetracked, giving away their precious knowledge and rich expertise so openly… Their comments are so different… Like are they.

Brit (Andresen) is the only girl in town.

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Nice, motherly, sharp minded figure, with the capacity to surprise and throw one of the balance and your out of one’s comfort zone by scolding you for your sloppy work, as non of her male colleagues could. And she would do that with such a low and calm voice it would take you a movement or two to realize that the her tone does not match the content of her words. But her crit always to the point of the matter – into the dead center – and it is that, that makes has such a treasure and a valuable to listen to.

Peter… huh! Peter (Stutchbury).

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At age 57 (at that time) he is the youngest amongst the tutors. The “young fella” as uncle Max use to call him. Being the only one that actually runs an architectural studio with some employees, makes him the only entrepreneur between them. One could tell that he used to be somehow a different – different in which way is hard to tell – person in the past. But this days, he is all calm and peace and experience and sensitivity and attentiveness. And it seams that there is nothing on this world that would make him rise the volume of his voice or speak a bit faster. He has a waste experience to share. And he shares it so willingly.
Actually their will to pass their knowledge is one of attitudes that goes for all out tutors. The other would be respectfulness.

And so it happens that a “respect” would also be the word of a choice if one would try to summarize the uncle Max’s (Aboriginal elder Max Dulumunmun Harrison) teachings.

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Uncle Max teaching us “reading the land”.

A respect for our mother nature, about which he happens to have a great deal of knowledge which has been passed for generations. The whole group of us “students” as well as the tutors hiked the surrounding of the Riversdale compound. And from time to time Max would stop, pointed on a plant or a tree or something – rarely naming it – and explained how it is supposed to be interpreted. Read it properly. He taught us the basic alphabet in order to be able to “read the land” as they used to call it. His asking for a permission… Asking a tree a permission to be touched, asking a grass permission to step on,… And encouraging us to do the same. It all looked a bit odd to us – westerns…, until we realized that it is actually awareness and respect he is talking about. Awareness of the space. The soft feel of the forest floor we were walking on, the texture of the moving leaves, the breeze of the wind,… Yes, nature talks to us quite openly, if only we are ready to listen.

And to be able to listen, you need to be quiet. Move slowly. Be open.

Richard (Leplastrier) is all that. And more. Much, much more.

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Big fella. Almost two meters tall, his huge true-Australian-son-meets-Crocodil-Dundee appearance is in a great contrast with its soft and gentle poet’s soul. Ah… and what a gentle soul he is. Almost every crit he gave has been told in a form of a story. He was a pure pleasure to listen. To watch his slow but decisive gestures, his smile on a weather worn face. To observe from behind his broad shoulder – when he seated down since otherwise that would have been nearly impossible due to his height – how easily his hand flows over the paper, charcoal leaving a simple but yet exceptionally recognizable trace. How he wandered the premises… daydreaming… at ease with himself and with his surrounding.

Glenn (Murcutt) on the other hand, is a completely-different-but-yet-the-same type.

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Being the oldest – “old fella” by uncle Max – and the most famous of them all, he gave a name, a trademark to this master class. And he and his lecture about the sweater was the reason I found myself down there in the first place.
“Nature is tough.”, he used to say. And he approached it with respect. And knowledge. He was all about sun azimuths and inclinations and flood planes and fires and materials and details and wind directions and… love. And effort. And passion. He was kind to us and yet strict. True fatherly figure one could not but love. And as one would sit beside him at the dinner, chatting about flying, planes, aerodynamics, places he has been, Slovenian words he memorized,… he is so relaxed, so open, so sincere, one would have a hard time to remember that one actually has a chance to chat with a Pritzker award winner and a world architectural celebrity.

Stewardess that is passing by picking up the once hot but know only cold wet towels changes the course of my thoughts again.

With crits finished, here we are cleaning our piles of trace paper and scotch tape and pencils and rulers aside and are rearranging the tables for the supper feast.
But regardless of the fact, that the meals are, without exception, delicious, it is after supper lecture that I wait for with anticipation. After a full and intensive day, leaning back on my chair with a beer or a glass of wine in my hand, following the slides and the lecture, one of the tutors gives ever evening is an experience worth every effort.

I remember how deeply touched I have been by the description of the site inauguration ceremony, Peter described during his lecture, when talking about the making-off process of their Wall House (Shizuoka, Japan).

I remember feel the revelation feeling that overwhelmed me during the Brit’s lecture, when, after looking at two of her houses thinking: ‘Ah, that is a bit disappointing! Why would one do something like that?’ all of a sudden, all the pieces of information felt into place and their architectural qualities become so transparent and obvious to me , I almost felt being touched physically by the experience.
I remember Richard’s gentle voice talking about his experience spending months in Japan sketching a temple. Experiencing it. Learning from it.
I remember Lindsay’s (Johnston) Four Horizons – one of two of his homes. Both out there. Off the grid. Hardly accessible.
Ah Lindsay :)

Lindsay Johnston

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Lindsay playing his guitar and singing a genuine Irish songs.

The Irish by origin but 100% Australian today.
The men behind the GMMC. The initiator. The organizer. Although as well the exceptional architect himself, he chooses to stay in the background, in the shadow of the other tutors so one is easily deceived that he has nothing to say about the architecture. One could hardly be so much mistaken.
But since he sees his role mainly as an organizer it is not before after the formal session of the evening lecture, when feast slides into more relaxed water, when he takes his guitar into his hands and start a typical Irish tune, that he relaxes knowingly that yet another day of the event has passed successfully.

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My only comment on this photo would be, that a keyword for it is “Cart Hill”. For those of you, who have been there… and survived… and remember it ;) …, you know what I am talking about. For all the others – this one is published on “no need to know basis”.

Awareness of a steady and quiet humming sound of the powerful engines that are pushing a huge bird-we-fly-in thru the thin air at 35.000 feet, awakes me once more. Quick glance on the map on the monitor is telling me, that we have almost crossed the smallest Earth continent and that form now on there are hours and hours of water ahead of us.

The map reminds me of the Google map on my cell phone, I used to track our first journey at GMMC. A few hours ago our group of about 40 meet at the designated point at Sydney airport. Never being good at names, I only managed to remember a few during our introduction – there would be plenty of time for that latter. Since we left Sydney area, small blip on the screen of my phone has been slowly traveling form the coast inland, penetrating a thin green ribbon that divides the cost from the waste pastel yellow-orange-reddish color of the inland Australia. Our anticipation about the experience ahead of us was filling the inside of the bus. We were headed for Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Art Centre at Riversdale, where we were about to spend our first week. But our first stop was a visit at one of the houses designed by our tutors – one of the many we would see during the time we would spend at the GMMC.
Regarding the name of the master class, it was only properly that it was a Glenn’s house – Fredericks / White House. It was at that point that Glenn joined us. And it was at that time, that we first experience the warmth welcome of the owner of the house – the welcome which would repeat latter on without exception, at every house we have visited.
And we have seen many.

Endless Contour House by Peter Stutchbury, with its descriptive name and interesting niches and lines to peek into bathroom.

Off-the-grid Bangaley House by Peter Stutchbury, with its fantastic collection of Aboriginal art.

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Inside the Bangalay House

Point House by Peter Stutchbury, with huge, counterweighted sliding doors was the one I liked the least but was still under construction at the time of our visit.

On the other hand it is Peter’s Cliff Face House that proved to be one of the most beautiful houses I have ever been in.

Beautiful, romantic Leura House by Richard Leplastrier, which thru usage of boat technologies expresses Richard’s love for them and where you find out what is a truly tranquil space is supposed to look like.

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Romantic interior of Leura House.

Georges Head Lookout by Richard Leplastrier is an outdoor space furnished like a room but not quite like it,… hmmm! well it is kind of hard to explain. It is a place from where one is offered a magnificent view over Sydney skyline.

Nearby public toilet also made by Richard Leplastrier is, regardless of its profound function, a true architectural gem full of details.

Simpson-Lee House by Glenn Murcutt is a well known classic where we have been welcomed by Glenn and his wife Wendy – also an architect.

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Around the Simpson-Lee House in its open configuration.

Completing the list, I am not to forget Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Art Centre at Riversdale by Glenn Murcutt, which is undaubtly one of the highlights amongst the Glenn’s projects. We have been privileged to be able to spent a whole week living, working, learning and partying there.

And last, but not least, the house which explained what Glenn meant with a comment that “Richard’s houses are tough to live in.” It was a happy and sad day at the same time, when we have been invited to Richard’s family house at Lovett Bay for a farewell picnic.

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Picnic at Richard’s place

Rough and beautiful, experimental, made out almost entirely of plywood, the Lowett Bay House, with its outdoor kitchen and its outdoor bathroom – if one could call a Japanese style wooden box bath a bathroom – definitely is one of a kind. It slaps you straight into the face but do it in a kind of gentle way. And by doing that, it makes you erase almost every dos and donts you have learn about designing a house and force you to think the whole thing over again.
Just watching their family living style there, his sons running barefooted all over the place it makes you kind of slightly ashamed, how much we tend to overcomplicate things.

“Ping!”
“Fasten your seat belts!” sign illuminates while the crew announces a slight turbulence. If there is any air disturbance outside, I am certainly not aware of it. It must be some super-high-tech-stabilizing-device or it is simply a sheer mass of the plane, that prevents us on the plan to feel it.

But there certainly is a turbulence in my head since my mind rewinds the memories from the farewell picnic backwards. Second week that we have spent in Sydney was a true roller coaster. Working intensively for 12-16 hours a day makes it much more blurry in my memory and it seems like it was much shorter that the first one. Our small groups of four have been reinforced with students of architecture an so Jenny (Colorado), Carla (Philippines), Francesco (Italy – one would never guess ;) and me (Slovenia) have been accompanied by a modest Irish guy (I forgot his name), entrepreneurial Australian girl (unfortunately I forgot her name too) and Alison from Tasmania with impossibly beautiful and orderly maintained sketchbook.

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Our group at work @Carriageworks, Sydney

They were supposed to offer us any help we might need with model making, drawings, etc. And they did so – so willingly. So enthusiastically. They jumped at the opportunity to be able to work with us, listen to the crits and they were pure pleasure to work with.
Regardless of all the help, final presentation, as usually, still managed to arrive much to early and so once again, I have had to persuade myself, that in this case, it is the process that matters most.

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Yet another group prepares for the final presentation @Carriageworks, Sydney

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Team photo of our group with our dedicated helpers and dear tutors @Carriageworks, Sydney

And about the architectural design process, we learned a great deal. Although architectural solutions we have seen are mainly not transferable due to different climate, places, regulations, lifestyle, etc., it is the process that stays almost the same. Either one is building in a wilderness or in the middle of metropolis, single family house or a huge office building or a factory for that matter… the basics of the design process stay fundamentally the same.
Just being able to spent two weeks with the fantastic tutors, who were more than willing to share their knowledge and the expertise, was a huge privilege by itself.
Many close friendships have been formed which resulted into a waste global network of the fellow architects. And after the end the master class, the network expanded even further thru connecting to GMMC Alumnis all over the world via Facebook, Flickr, email, etc.

supper_at_chinese_restaurant_sydney
One of the rare occasions during the second week of the masterclass, when we managed so allocate some time for a proper supper.

‘Was it worth it?’ The question arisen in my mind while we were landing at Dubai Int. Airport and instantly I knew the answer without a slightest sign of doubt:
‘Yes! It was! More than worthy!’
And now, almost one and the half year after the event, the answer stays as strong and clear as it was back then. GMMC proved to be an experience that goes deep into ones soul. The experience that serves as an inspiration and motivates me even now. A true life changer.

 
 

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