Praemium Imperiale to Glenn Murcutt

John Hill
14. September 2021
Glenn Murcutt (Photo: Screenshot from official Praemium Imperiale video)

Australian architect Glenn Murcutt has been named a recipient of the Japan Art Association’s 2021 Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award, one of the world's most prestigious awards for architects and other artists.

Described by the Japan Art Association as "an architect ahead of his time," Murcutt is one of four 2021 laureates in various disciplines:

  • Painting: Sebastião Salgado
  • Sculpture: James Turrell
  • Architecture: Glenn Murcutt
  • Music: Yo-Yo Ma

This year's awards are the first since 2019, when Tod Williams and Billie Tsien were recipients in the architecture category. The coronavirus pandemic also impacted the fifth category, Theatre/Film: "no recipient" was selected this year, since "a number of candidates were unable to meet the requirements for the award," per the Japan Art Association.

The awards were announced today, September 14, and also included a Grant for Young Artists, given to The Advanced Training School of the Central Institute for Restoration in Italy. The Japan Art Association announced it will not be holding the Awards Ceremony and other events related to the Praemium Imperiale in October, as originally scheduled. Each laureate receives an honorarium of 15 million yen (approx. $137,000), a medal, and a testimonial letter.

Murcutt, who won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2002 and recently designed the MPavilion in Melbourne (he was only the second Australian architect to do so), needs very little introduction to most architects. Born in London in 1936 to Australian parents, Murcutt received his architectural education at Sydney Technical College (UNSW) and worked for five years in the practice of Ancher, Mortlock, Murray & Woolley Architects in Sydney before starting his own practice in 1969. 

Known for working as a sole practitioner, for the first three decades of his career he designed almost exclusively single-family houses in Australia. Then he collaborated with architects Wendy Lewin and Reginald Lark to realize the Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Education Centre, a project that brought him international attention. The Pritzker Prize three years later furthered that attention beyond Australia. Nevertheless, his projects since have stayed local. His most high-profile project in recent years has been the Australian Islamic Centre, completed five years ago with architect Hakan Elevli.

In addition to maintaining a solo practice, Murcutt has also stood firm on hand drawing, something he discusses — in addition to "touching the land lightly" and "living with his buildings" — in the official video for this year's Praemium Imperiale:

The video for James Turrell — an artist greatly appreciated by architects because of the way he "uses light as a material," the spatial aspects of his Skyspaces, and the large scale of projects like Roden Crater — is also worth watching:

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