Inspired by Glen [Murcutt] and David’s [Malouf] insights drawn from two different fields of creative practice I reflected on the diverse number of ways creative processes capture the principles of what is universally true.

David Malouf

David Malouf

When road conditions are good, operating a car takes very little effort. And as such, time spent travelling alone can provide an opportunity for contemplation and solitude. It is also possible to invite others into this state of reverie by tuning the car radio to a program that fits the mood. This was the case recently on the run home after a daylong appointment on the other side of town. I tuned into a conversation between two prominent Australians: Architect Glen Murcutt, 2002 Pritzker Prize winner (the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for Architecture) and David Malouf, celebrated as one of Australia’s finest authors. The recording was part of the 3rd Annual Sydney Architecture Festival held this year.

As the speakers shared their views on topics such as how ‘good architecture can help define and lift the human spirit’, ‘how houses we grew up in shape our way of using space’, and other matters to do with the human condition and the creative process, I was taken by the wisdom of both men and the accessibility of their language. I was also drawn in by the observations and insights they shared when speaking of the creative process. While they operate in entirely different artistic practices it struck me how closely aligned they were.

The host of the conversation, Julianne Schultz, drew together elements of Glenn and David’s ways of working as architect and author. She made the observation that for Glen, he is constantly dealing with complexity and working with the desire to find a core essence in his work and for David he is doing something similar as he works to reach an emotional essence, a core body, within his writing.

I was fascinated by Glen’s response which in summary was that: Architecture needed to contain emotion such as serenity and ultimately joy and within it the elements of light and shade and that inevitably architecture [like any art form] must go beyond the rational. He went on to say that for him: simplicity is the other face of complexity, he used the analogy of the beautiful meal being reduced to a simple stock, and in that reduction is the essence of all the flavours, in other words, complexity is embodied in simplicity. For him, good architecture is not dissimilar.


Glenn Murcutt

One might ask, could this be another way of describing the mastery attained from hours and hours of work, be it writing, rehearsing or designing when less does eventually become more?

David added that the purpose of emotion for him is to take the reader back to the body, which is where the emotion comes from.

I was also taken by another part of the conversation when Glenn and David spoke about the way they dealt with obstacles that arose within the creative process. When a client, in Glenn’s case, created an obstacle that could potentially lead to a compromise of artistic integrity, he held the view that this actually created opportunity.

To illustrate this point he told the story of receiving a piece of advice from his father. Who had told him that you should always: “…start off the way you would like to finish. And for every compromise you knowingly make in the work, the result represents the quality of your next client.” Compromise (Glenn continued) is not about arrogance, it’s about doing something you absolutely ought not to be doing.

Glen’s attitude was to ‘allow the issue (not seen as a problem) to give you the opportunity to make it better. You satisfy the need the client is asking for and the opportunity has been made by the client to make it better. If you consistently do the level of work you want to do you are likely to attract that level of clients that you want.’

David added that in his writing, ‘When you hit an obstacle you are forced to find a way that is more imaginative.’

I see that here both Glen and David are talking not only about solutions that arise from creative tension. They are describing the process of integrative thinking that sees an opposing view or an obstacle to a process as an opportunity to become even more creative and imaginative. Their attitude to an obstacle is not one of egotistical defiance but rather an inquisitive and inclusive curiosity.

Both men also agreed that their best work comes when they move into a creative state of discovering the work they are making, almost seeing it as it unfolds. This state has been described by many including Mihály Csíkszentmihályi as a state of flow or ‘flow-state’. David described it as ‘the state you are in that takes you so completely’, where time passes and you unaware. Glen also suspected that, ‘we think that we make things with our conscious mind…[and that perhaps] everything that is best takes place when we working in the subconscious.’

Inspired by Glen and David’s insights drawn from two different fields of creative practice I reflected on the diverse number of ways creative processes capture the principles of what is universally true. Absorbed and intrigued by the discussion I found myself turning the corner at the end of our street. Safely traversing our city streets and absorbed in my travel companion’s conversation the contemplation had brought me all the way home.