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PETER MULLER: 1927–2023
Peter Neil Muller was an acclaimed Australian architect responsible for many memorable, seminal works and a pioneer of “organic” or situated architecture.
Born in 1927, Muller grew up in the Adelaide suburb of Leabrook and was clear from an early age which profession he would join: “I knew when I was three years old I wanted to be an ‘artichoke’ when I grew up, but I’ve never desired to build a large architectural practice, preferring to keep a low profile and relying upon examples of my work to attract clients.”
Peter Muller, 2014.Credit: Paul Lovelace
In 1948, at 21 years of age, Muller was a quick and clever student, managing to complete a degree in both engineering and architecture in a record four years. In 1950 Muller was the first Australian architectural graduate student to receive a Fulbright Scholarship. The University of Pennsylvania accepted him and with his first-class passage fully paid for, he set off.
He travelled extensively throughout his long career, rarely as a tourist and almost always paid for by his clients. Idiosyncratically, while studying in the States he made no attempt to visit the buildings of the great practising architects of the day. “I never visited a Frank Lloyd Wright building or a Marcel Breuer building. I just went skiing instead,” he said. He returned home, the first Australian to have achieved a master’s of architecture degree.
He started his practice in 1952 with the Audette house in Castlecrag, emphasising the natural features of the landscape in ways that had never been seen before in Australian architecture. His most impactful residential project was for his own family in Whale Beach in 1954, the Bynya Road house incorporated a redgum and a rock outcrop present on site and flat roofs filled with water to reflect trees and sky.
Peter Muller on the Amandari site.
The adjacent Walcott house in 1955 anticipated future architectural trends and in 1957 came the avant-garde Richardson house with its fibreglass “sea anemone” dome. All are regarded to this day as ground-breaking examples of architecture of the period. His last residential project was the Williams house in Bayview, circa1987.
Through the influence of life-long friend Adrian Snodgrass (architect and scholar in Buddhist studies and Buddhist art), Muller was impressed by the beauty, craft and opportunities afforded by traditional Japanese architecture and Asian philosophy. He travelled to Japan in 1963 and during his time there was initiated into Jodo Buddhism at the Chion-in Temple in Kyoto. “Whilst I did not become a practising Buddhist after this experience, Buddhism remained the closest to my understanding of reality,” Muller said. He was one of the first architects in the Sydney region to embody Japanese ideals in his work.
His architectural practice created works of various scales and typologies in his birth state of South Australia, Victoria (Melbourne Hoyts Cinema Centre), Queensland and NSW. His practice became international through work on Resort hotels in Bali, Indonesia, Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Perhaps his most famous were the Bali Oberoi (1973) and Amandari (c.1989), winning Best Hotel in the World for two years running.
With Adrian and Judith Snodgrass, Carole Muller, Alan Gilbert and Christopher Carlisle, he formed a group known as RDR: “Regional Design and Research”. This team applied an adaptive and interpretive role in researching natural organic traditional forms, culture, arts and craft of building within the Pan-Pacific region, Tahiti, India, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Peter Muller on Amandari site.
Muller married three times during his life: first to Rosemary (nee Patrick) with whom he had three children (Peter, Suzy and James); Carole (nee Mason) together for 30 years, divorced for 14 and reunited in 2004; and Helen (nee Hayes) together from 1989 to 2001. They created beautiful domestic spaces for family and friends wherever they lived; the most beloved was the Georgian home “Glenrock” in Marulan NSW, renovated by Carole and Peter in the mid ’60s, which his daughter Suzy recalls “grounded my childhood in creativity and beauty. He took me and my brothers Peter and Jamie onto the beautiful granite land of the Southern Tablelands and showed us how to view nature with appreciation and reverence. He had a bit of James Bond about him in his love of classy cars and flying on Concord and was a great storyteller.
“My father has left behind him a great legacy of architecture with heart. His passionate belief in forms that belong in their environment, that express the deep underlying geometry of the human spirit, buildings that are harmonious with the natural order; the shape of the landscape, local tones and materials.”
Muller valued the friendship and talents of those with whom he worked, not only praising their contribution within his practice and outside it, but by publishing books that chronicled the output of these remarkable individuals. This can be witnessed in his books on Adrian Snodgrass, Bert Read, Christopher Carlisle, Kevin Dash and Carol Muller.
From the outset, Muller’s work was influential for its careful attention to the preservation of a site, its aspect, native flora and the zeitgeist of the region and times.
The philosophy of architecture of a harmonious union between building and site was introduced to Sydney by his early houses.
In the 2014 Australia Day Honours, Muller was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia “for distinguished service to architecture, to the adaptation and preservation of Indigenous design and construction, and to the integration of the built and environmental landscape.”
He was respected by many architects (including Frank Lloyd Wright) who have contributed greatly to an appropriate Australian and Asian regional response. Among those are Peter Stutchbury, Ric LePlastrier, Glenn Murcutt and Kerry Hill who have all declared their admiration for Muller’s architecture. He holds an influential position in the psyche of Australian architecture that is sensitive and responsive to its place, craft and climate.
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