PROFILE OF PETER MULLER
by Professor Philip Drew
Peter Muller was the earliest and most original of a circle of Sydney architects in the1950's comprising Bruce Rickard, lan Mckay, Neville Gruzman and Ross Thorne, whose work was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright.
At the time, Muller was the leading romantic figure in Sydney.
By nature, Muller was an independent individual who preferred to work alone while seeking new and innovative solutions to problems which arose from his particular response to a site or a client.
The importance of Muller in Australian architecture arises from his uncompromising commitment to an alternative conception of architecture to that of the modern movement.
Peter Muller's determination to use natural materials, to avoid synthetic finishes & his feeling for the Australian landscape infected many of his Sydney contemporaries.
But it was his creative attitude which set him apart, for much Australian architecture was derivative - and still is -borrowing whenever necessary stylistic from Europe and America.
Muller avoided subservience to overseas styles by allowing himself to be influenced by cultures - in the main Asian - rather than by styles.
He identified with the spiritual principles within a culture and so attained a deeper understanding of the culture's architecture.
Muller's romanticism was peculiarly Australian for he conforms to a romantic, rural, essentially conservative architectural tradition issuing from the l9th century English art and crafts movement and supported by the example of Walter Burley Griffin's buildings.
Something which requires explanation is the relationship of Muller's architecture to Wright's: certainly there were direct influences of Wright on Muller, but at the same time, there can be no doubt that Muller developed in an independent way, that his vision of architecture was sufficiently strong and sufficiently his own, or that his distance from Wright enabled him to work in a freer manner than Wright's own students.
This distance of Muller from Wright is crucial because it enabled Muller to develop according to his own lights, and while there are similarities in their work, Muller has to be seen as an independent architect pursuing an organic ideal within Australian context rather than as a slavish neo-Wrightian.
Muller's architecture is characterised by a strong sense of geometry and axial composition. The repetition of simple geometrical elements imparts a pervasive unity to the forms while the axial disposition of the parts responds to the romantic ideal of a building which is whole and simultaneously in a mystical union with nature.
Muller employed some four different kinds of geometry:
1. He used rectangular shapes organised about several opposed axes usually three of which one is dominant (AudetteHouse,1952, and Muller House.Whale Beach 1954):
2. A related kind consisting of overlapping or connected squares along a diagonal growth axis (Nicholson House,Forestville. 1957,and Walcott House. Whale Beach,1955);
3. A third kind is a hexagonal geometry similar to Wright's; and
4. Another type employed circles (Richardson House, PalmBeach, 1956).
Muller's private practice began almost as soon as he returned from overseas in 1952, when he was asked to design the Audette House.This was to some extent an immature work, it featured exposed timber frames in much the same fashion as at Taliesin West.
The form of the building was defined by three axes, thus, there was a longitudinal spine which was intersected by two transverse axes, one at ground level beside the entrance, the other on an upper level on the otherside. Muller re-employed exposed hardwood left unprotected, and since he was unable to afford rustic masonry of the kind Wright had used in his Falling Water, he imitated the appearance of masonry by inventing what came to be called snotted brickwork.
Muller's own house at Whale Beach, finished some two years later, is a much more impressive work. It is based on a main spine intersected by a transverse axis of open galleries with a third axis through the bedrooms in this house.
Muller explored several themes, he carried the main living space out over and free of the precipitous sandstone outcrop on grey brick piers to match the grey bark of the surrounding Gum trees. Maximum openness and identification with the landscape was assured entertainment area.
Muller flooded the flat roofs with water, mirroring the landscape and so rendering the building invisible.
The extravagant and controversial Richardson House at Palm Beach restrained the natural development of Muller's practice and it took years of work on low-cost houses to regain acceptance for larger works.
The Richardson house was a complex design organised around three radial axes and employing a mixed rectilinear-circular geometry.
In the late 50's Muller built a number of modest low-cost houses such as the Nicholson house at Forestville, l957, the Craftbuilt houses, 1959- and the Gunning House at Castlecrag, 1960. The Gunning house represented the culmination of Muller's ideas on domestic architecture and subsequent projects such as the Creaser house, Turramurra, 1962, and the Hamilton house. Bayview,. 1962, are elaborations at a larger scale of the earlier ideas.
By the early 1960's Muller was designing substantial commercial buildings for such companies as IPEC and Hoyts Theatres, of these, the Cinema Centre in Melbourne, 1967, with its adaptation of the traditional Chinese system of roof bracket supports for supporting the outside edges of the floor slabs is probably the most interesting.
It wasn't until the 1970's that new possibilities began to emerge in Muller's work with the Kayu Aya Hotel on Bali's Kuta Beach.
For some time Peter Muller had been interested in Asian cultures and architecture, and in craft, but it was in Bali for the first time that he had the opportunity to further his interest.
From the outset Muller had avoided any idealization of industrialism in his architecture, his buildings were if anything a retort to the international Style.
In his Bali hotel Muller was ideally placed to immerse himself in Balinese culture and to tap the rich decorative possibilities of Balinese craft.
Muller's regionalist approach has considerable validity in third world countries where it was found that the wholesale imposition of international Style forms and techniques was not only expensive but resulted in buildings which looked alike all around the world.
Muller employed Balinese craftsmen, using as much as possible their skills both as carvers and as designers, mostly for the decoration of his buildings.
But it went much farther than this, he used local materials and traditional methods of construction, even to the extent for example, of following rituals surrounding the cutting of bamboo.
The new hotel was a minor masterpiece of its kind.
Peter Muller occupies an important place in post-war Australian architecture as the leading romantic architect of his time, and because he developed in his buildings an alternative organic conception of architecture to the modern movement.
Architectural Historian: University of Newcastle.
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