Magney House
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Magney House

New South Wales
Beach House
Glenn Murcutt
Anthony Browell
Andrew Krucko

Many buildings that Murcutt designed during 1980-1990 have been regarded as a pioneer of an Australian architecture. These buildings include some famous houses that brought him an international acclaim such as Magney House.

Since its 1984 completion, Glenn Murcutt’s Magney House has maintained a seminal presence in both international and Australian architecture circles.

In 1985 the NSW South Coast home received Australia’s highest residential design honour - the Robin Boyd Award for Residential Architecture—and has since been nominated by the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) for a place on the International Union of Architects’ (UIA) World Register of Significant 20th Century Australian Architecture. Magney House is celebrated as one of Australia’s most influential and inspiring pieces of residential architecture.

Magney House has been recognised internationally as an exemplar of outstanding architecture because of its simplistic and reductive design as well as its immensely considered response to its climate. Murcutt’s disinclination for mechanical air-treatment and his quest for a comfortable, low-maintenance home for his client led him inevitably back to the basic principles of passive design

A house built with techniques well-known by local country builders and with off-the-shelf materials. Murcutt's lightweight buildings follow a rectangular plan, long and lean with the use of corrugated iron, glass and timber. 

Murcutt's buildings, principally residential, are a harmonious blend of modernist sensibility, local craftsmanship, indigenous structures and respect for nature.

When Tom and Dee Magney hired Glenn Murcutt to design a weekend house near the beach, after years of camping out on the remote windswept site, they asked for a place that would bring the wilderness indoors. "Glenn said, "I'll give you one big veranda,"

The result was a long metal pavilion with a northern exposure over the Pacific Ocean, 70 miles from Canberra in southeast Australia, designed to capture the light in winter.

A gently swooping metal roof mirrors the shape of the surrounding hills. Its sheen blends with the silvery grasses; over time the metal has dulled to a color that matches the gray fur of the kangaroos that come by at dusk.

The locals call it the chook house, the Australian term for a chicken pen.

"It's a tough site," Murcutt said with characteristic bluntness, "and I designed a tough building."

The building is a single pavilion divided by a central court and can operate as two self contained suites, one for the parents, the other for guests or family. Living areas open onto the shared court and a connection is implied between these adjacent spaces. The separate proposed garage bay in the plan illustrated was never realised.

A repetitive bay structure is employed. Typically, large rooms with rear service facilities are divided by a lower circulation zone rendering a functional distinction in the bipartite section.

The implied internal corridor supports an oversized gutter which connects at either end to two large single downpipes. In this way both the functional hierarchy of the house and the collection of rainwater are given symbolic representation in the east and west elevations.

The striking roof form also registers the architect,s development of a pavilion type with a distinct front and back and this dominant spatial orientation is primarily developed in relation to climatic considerations. The open northern face is treated as a glazed sliding screen with individually adjustable and retractable external louvres.

The large angled roof overhang shades the building from summer sun and allows winter sun access. In sharp contrast, the lower rear wall facing the predominant southerly winds is largely closed and is constructed of reverse brick veneer.

Continuous upper fixed glazing along the southern façade admits light and sky views. These glass panels slope away from the wall to accommodate continuous adjustable horizontal vents at door head height.

The climatic and formal ambitions of the building are evident in the development and material resolution of the structural system. The design of the tubular steel frame refines experiments from previous buildings and achieves an extremely light skeleton.

This material reduction is visible in the fine edge of the northern roof overhang where the metal skin acts with the tensile steel struts and eliminates additional supporting members.

The improbably thin roof is symbolic of a house which feels unexpectedly light, almost transportable.

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Arne Jacobsen

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