Tony's Favourite House

This week Tony answer some questions about his favourite building as part of an occasional series inviting other local architects to do the same.

Tell us briefly about yourself and how you got into architecture?

I arrived in Canberra in 1984 from the UK after giving up studying chemistry, taking up architecture at Nottingham, travelling round the world eventually ended up running out of money in Canberra. I have been proud to call it my home ever since.

Where is the house?

It’s called the Simpson-Lee House at Mount Wilson, Blue Mountains, New South Wales

Who are the owners?

Glenn Murcutt, as it turns out! He bought one of his own masterpieces in 2009.  It was very generously sold back to him by the client.

Who is Glen Murcutt?

Glenn Murcutt is arguably Australia’s most famous architect. He is the only Australian to have won the international architectural equivalent of the Nobel, the Pritzker prize. In the words of the Pritzker jury: “In an age obsessed with celebrity, the glitz of our ‘starchitects’, backed by large staffs and copious public relations support, dominates the headlines. As a total contrast, Murcutt works in a one-person office on the other side of the world”

What makes it special to you?

I arrived in Oz with old-fashioned ideas about architecture and handcuffed to the tyranny of a deep eclectic history. I like to think Murcutt opened my eyes to modernism in the Australian context. Glenn has invented a totally modern and quintessentially Australian aesthetic which continues to endure and influence today. The Simpson Lee house would still sit comfortably on the front cover of any architectural magazine today 35 years later.

Do you know anything about how the project came about?

The Simpson-Lees asked for a “secular monastic” house with a “minimal tough simplicity.”  It wasn’t all plain sailing between fully engaged clients and architect. Dialogue at every stage of the design process led to ‘vigorous debate and hard-won decisions’.

What did the architect think about the project?

Critically acclaimed, this house has been acknowledged by many as a formative project in the evolution of Glenn Murcutt’s work. When asked if it was significant to him, he replied, “Oh, there is no question of it. I can stand aside and simply say, ‘I am terrified that I will never do this again. It is a building that through my clients, I developed to a level beyond which I have never achieved before”.

Has the design of the house influenced your own work?

Adopting an idiom hopefully isn’t plagiarism. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Glenn at dinner ago in Canberra after a gave a talk at the National Gallery. I have a signed book called Leaves of Iron in the office which I drag out when I’m trying to big-note myself. Perhaps a mild form of imitation is the highest form of flattery.

Tony Trobe is Director of TT Architecture specialising in the design of sustainable residential Architecture. If there a design issue you would like to discuss Email