Interview with Architect John Murray on His New Book, Contemporary Classical Architecture
It always amazes us to learn more about how homes and buildings come together. A new book, Contemporary Classical Architecture (September 2018, The Monacelli Press) charts the work of John B. Murray, a architect renowned for adapting classical design principles for contemporary living, creating elegant and gracious urban and country residences. His firm, John B. Murray Architect, is committed to a timeless aesthetic, a simplicity of form, and superb craftsmanship enriched by an inventive interpretation of classical details.
In his latest book, Murray shares 15 residences,ranging from Fifth Avenue, Central Park West and South apartments to new country houses to properties on Long Island and in upstate New York, and the President’s house of a prestigious New England university. Murray noted, "Yes, the architectural projects here are of a time and a place, but what will always set them apart are the original, yet still classic details that connect them to the timeless innovators of the past, the inventors of the present, the visionaries of the future." Read on to learn more about his latest book and his work:
How did the idea of the book come about?
Two to three years after our first monograph Classical Invention came out, I began to see that our completed projects had a more restrained, open, linear aesthetic that I thought people might be interested to see. Our work in the past five years has continued to evolve. It has a more minimal, distilled and refined aspect but still maintains a classical rigor. This is the difference between JBMA and design-to-build firms. We sweat the details to achieve something that is beautifully built and has an artisan’s handiwork that is evident.
What does a timeless aesthetic mean to you?
A timeless aesthetic is one where the design has been carefully considered from the ground-up with a key concern for functionality, always confirming that each element of the design truly works. This classical approach follows the dictum of 15th Century architect Vitruvius that “a structure must exhibit stability, utility, beauty.” To me stability means well-crafted, be it the construction of a barn, the renovation of a historic house or the reconfiguration of an apartment. To me utility is something that I learned at Carnegie Mellon and again at Parish-Hadley: the most important thing is to confirm that everything works so there is never any need to address the fact that the car park is too small. We can get right to noticing the car park or the closet or the kitchen for its beauty. Beauty is hard to describe, but you know it when you see it – it is for all time.
How did you go about selecting the homes to feature in the book?
Since our work is principally residential we wanted the book to represent the broad range of projects we are regularly commissioned to design and build. What is the design process like for you when you take on a project? I always think the work we do with our clients may be one of the most important things they will do for themselves. We are helping them to create something that is uniquely theirs – no other exists. What and/or whom inspires you in your life? I’m inspired by everything of quality – seeing an Agnes Martin painting, walking through a Baroque chapel, walking through Monticello, Jefferson, those who strive to be creative and inventive.
What do you hope readers will get from this book?
I hope they get inspired. I hope they think about possibilities and that they take those first steps in initiating a creative process.