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Build an Energy-Efficient House

Australian architect Glenn Murcutt shows how to build energy-efficient homes


The Marie Short House

The Marie Short House

Photo ©Glenn Murcutt, permission of the Pritzker Prize Committee The Ball-Eastaway House

The Ball-Eastaway House.

Photo ©Glenn Murcutt, permission of the Pritzker Prize Committee The Magney House

The Magney House

Photo © Anthony Browell, permission of the Pritzker Prize Committee

The most energy-efficient houses function like living things. They are designed to capitalize on the local environment and to respond to the climate. Australian architect and Pritzker Prize-Winner Glenn Murcutt is known for designing earth-friendly homes that imitate nature. Even if you live far from Australia, you can apply Glenn Murcutt's ideas to your own home-building project.

1. Use Simple Materials

Forget the polished marble, imported tropical wood, and costly brass and pewter. A Glenn Murcutt home is unpretentious, comfortable, and economical. He uses inexpensive materials that are readily available in his native Australian landscape. Notice, for example, Murcutt's Marie Short House. The roof is corrugated metal, the window louvres are enameled steel, and the walls are timber from a nearby sawmill.

2. Touch the Earth Lightly

Glenn Murcutt is fond of quoting the Aboriginal proverb touch the earth lightly because it expresses his concern for nature. Building in the Murcutt way means taking special measures to safeguard the surrounding landscape. Nestled in an arid Australian forest, Murcutt's Ball-Eastaway House hovers above the earth on steel stilts. Because there is no deep excavation, the dry soil and surrounding trees are protected.

3. Follow the Sun

Prized for their energy efficiency, Glenn Murcutt's houses capitalize on natural light. Their shape is long and low, and they often feature verandas, skylights, adjustable louvers, and movable screens. Notice the linear form and expansive windows of Murcutt's Magney House. Stretching across a barren, wind-swept site overlooking the ocean, the home is designed to capture the sun.

4. Listen to the Wind

Even in the hot, tropical climate of Australia's Northern Territory, houses by Glenn Murcutt do not need air conditioning. Ingenious systems for ventilation assure that cooling breezes circulate through open rooms. At the same time, these houses are insulated from the heat and protected from strong cyclone winds. Murcutt's Marika-Alderton House is often compared to a plant because the walls open and close like petals and leaves.

Learn More:

  • Every landscape creates different needs. Unless you live in Australia, you are not likely to build a house that duplicates a Glenn Murcutt design. You can, however, adapt his concepts to any climate or topography. The best way to learn about Glenn Murcutt is to read his own words. In the slim paperback Touch This Earth Lightly Murcutt discusses his life and describes how he developed his philosophies.
  • In 2012 Great Britain's Olympic Delivery Authority rigorously used sustainability principles similar to Murcutt's to develop the London 2012 Olympic Park. See how this urban revitalization happened in How to Reclaim the Land - 12 Green Ideas.

In Glenn Murcutt's Own Words:

"Life is not about maximizing everything, it's about giving something back - like light, space, form, serenity, joy."—Glenn Murcutt
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