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Harry Seidler and His Works

For several decades the name of Harry Seidler (1923-2006) stands to denote “progressive” architecture in Australia. The name was the first Australian name known to the world-wide architectural community. Other architects of great distinction have joined him, but the work and reputation of this Australian architect is really unfading, they became more and more popular as his arena has grown and diversified. The current paper is concerned with exploration of Harry Seidler’s style by examples of his three works: Rose Seidler House, Turramurra, 1948-50, Blues Point Tower Apt. North Sydney, 1959-61, and Australia Square, Sydney, 1961-67.

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Harry Seidler is a member of the third generation of 20th century architects. The first generation was the generation of Frank Lloyd Wright (United States), Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (Germany) and Le Corbusier (France). The names that represent the second generation are Marcel Breuer (Hungary, Bauhaus-Germany, Britain and US), Kenzo Tange (Japan), Neutra, Schindler, Lescaze (US), Serge Shermayeff, Welles Coates, F.R.S. Yorke (Britain). Seidler is the member of the third generation during which talents from all parts of the world like Paul Rudolf and Craig Ellwood (US), James Stirling and Smithsons (Britain) created their works (Blake, 1973, p. 7).

P. Blake in his work Architecture for the New World. The work of Harry Seidler (1973) singles out three things that make Seidler a rather special architect of his generation:

  1. He is a faithful disciple of Gropius and Breuer, his teachers at Harvard in the 1940s, while many of his fellows at Harvard neglected their teachers’ heritage;
  2. He has devoted himself to the perfection of what the second-generation architects attempted to instill, that is, an extension of Point One;
  3. He is a child of the international style; his works combine the features of the best cultures. He was born in Austria, educated in Britain and the United States and gained recognition throughout Australia (7).

For less than 50 years of his life, Harry Seidler has created more buildings that most architects are not able to complete in their lifetimes. Rose Seidler House is one of his masterpieces. In 1988 the building was acquired by the National Houses Trust. His second Rose House followed in 1949-50 and was the first of his houses to be featured in the August 1956 issue of the AR. Since then Seidler’s work has included projects, buildings and developments that became famous not only in Australia but also in the USA, Hong Kong, France, Brazil, and Austria (Sharp, 2006, p. 96).

Rose Seidler House, Turramura, is the house built by the architect for his parents; this is the first of his buildings in this country. In one of Seidler’s interviews we find that he did not intend to stay in Australia, but his parents asked him to build a house for them. Seidler confesses:

My mother was a fantastic client because she could see what I was wanting to do. She played along with me completely. Now that house won a Suleiman Medal, a big fuss about that. They are dead now, but they left me the house…….we’ve had it restored and repaired. The chairs were ruined and rusty. All the stuff I brought in 1948. So we put it back the way it was in 1950 (State Library of New South Wales).

The house is surrounded by acres of bushland bordering a public reserve valley. It has a form of a suspended and hollowed out cube with vertical space penetrating a central open well next to the open terrace, which has one wall covered by the mural by Seidler. The freely planned interior is defined by opposite wall surfaces at right angels to each other, joined by glass. The central play space divides living and bedrooms and can be joined to either by flexible divisions (Blake, 1973, p. 237). The House has panoramic views of Ku-ring-gai National Park, it is known for its open planning and time and labor saving devices that the architect once brought to Australia. Nowadays the House is the place where special events are often held, it is a part of the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales.

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What is important is that the Rose Seidler House stands to denote the watershed in Australian culture, the building denotes the rising wave of popular American influence. K. Frampton and P. Drew in their Harry Seidler (1992) claim that “it was an ideas house lacking any suggestion of compromise. Therein lay its power. Its apparent lack of compromise.” (30) The authors draw parallels between this building and the work by Le Courbusier’s Villa Savoie, Poissy. These are no specific forms that unite the works, but the establishment of similar relationships between the living area and the terrace, and the terrace to centre stair and to the garaging of motor car. If in the past little attention was paid to the fusion of Bruier language with Le Courbusien motifs, the Rose Seidler House is the complex interleaving of ideas from several sources, “fused at high temperature…it is an ideal house, even though the radiating stone walls say otherwise.” (Frampton and Drew, 1992, p. 36).

As for the walls of the House, they were light grey with a mid-grey carpet, intersected by black wall cabinets, desks and kitchen benches. Other colors that Siedler used were red, yellow and blue. The colors were introduced on the doors and curtains. The furniture was also done in the Purist intention of the color scheme. From New York Seidler brought with him Hard chairs, 1945 Eames dining and lounge chairs, a Knoll “Grasshopper chairs” by Saarinen (Frampton and Drew, 1992, p. 36).

The Rose Seidler House is considered to be concentration of the leading motives throughout his entire work, that is:

  • The ramp connection with the environment, the large outdoor space front;
  • The building form as an elevated radiation presence;
  • Restrained austere expression, strong geometrical composition echoed in the past;
  • Transparency;
  • The strange simultaneity of rectilineal and curvilinear themes (Frampton and Drew, 1992, p. 36).

The combination of these features makes Seidler such a fascinating architect.

The second major work of the architect under consideration is Blues Point Tower Apartments, North Sydney, 1959-1961. This is the 0,8 ha site adjoining a park reserve which forms a promontory of steep sandstone cliffs to the water’s edge. This parkland is a part of the site, the ensemble produces an area surrounded on three sites by water. “I’ve always thought Blues Point Tower is one of my best buildings and I stand by that, says the author, Anybody who can’t see anything in it ought to go back to school.” (Towering Ambition).

Blues Point Tower Apts is the 24-storey building containing 168 apartments, seven per floor up to the 12th floor; six per floor to the 18th floor; and four (three-bedroom apartments) per floor to the 24th. The top floor was reserved for a laundry and drying area, offering one of the best views in Sydney.

The building is diagonal; there are no direct east or west orientations that contributes to the fact that a lot of apartments have views in two different directions as well as cross-ventilation. Two bed-room apartments of different size that the four corners of the Tower contain have their glass areas located to face alternate orientations on successive floors. There are only four plumbing and mechanical equipment ducks. An isolated core houses two elevators, service risers and the incinerator. Cross-walls serve several functions: they act as structural support, wind bracing element and soundproof division between apartments. The floors are of flat stab design and the shafts around stairs and elevators are vertically poured hollow tubes. The exterior infill walls are cavity brickwork (Frampton and Drew, 1992, p. 72).

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The building of the Blues Point Tower Apartments was commissioned by Dick Dusseldorp, a property developer, who formed Civil and Civic and the Lend Lease corporation in the late 50s (Towering Ambition). Seidler had collaborated with him during some of his earlier projects.

The building they had created turned out to have a rather controversial response. Some people complained that from certain angles the building suggested that the Harbour Bridge had a third leg. Others just called it brutal. Still, the architect always had a firm position concerning his work: “It doesn’t worry me that people have criticized the building,” he says. “What do you expect from illiterate people? They’re insensitive and uneducated so why should I take that seriously?” (Towering Ambition).

We should admit that the initial plan of the building suggested two shorter towers on the site at Blues Point. Seidler did not like this idea as he considered it to bring a lack of privacy because units would have looked in one another. Dusseldorp suggested putting the two buildings on top of each other which would result in one tall tower. Seidler found this idea a good solution. The council supported it, because it was an integral part of a total scheme for the whole peninsula (Towering Ambition).

The building was completed in late 1961; it appeared to be the highest apartment block in Sydney. The price for average flat was about £3,500, which was about half the price of a two-bedroom fibro house in Ryde.

People who live in the tower now do not simply enjoy living there; they are also fond of jumping from the top of the building. Base-jumping activities are often held on the top of the towers.

Among the drawbacks of the building is that three-bedroom apartments measure only 100 square meters, with the studios a tiny 30 square meters. The thing is that the architect was working to a tight budget, therefore, some inconveniences, such as, for example, like small French balconies could not be avoided.

When the architect was asked about the problem of the age of the building, he answered: “You go back to Blues Point Tower in another 40 years and it still won’t look dated […] Good design doesn’t date.” (Towering Ambition).

As far as the third architect’s work under consideration is concerned, Australia Square is one of the first modern international styled office towers in Australia. A 13-storey office building was first along one edge of the property, then the 50-storey circular tower was planned. The 50-storey commercial office building has a distinctive circular form and offers breathtaking views. Airy open plaza at the base of the building with shops below cannot but fascinate the viewers. The space between the two buildings has become the most popular urban space in Sydney. This is the recreation area where food is available; people can have some rest there in the shadows of the trees or sitting near the central fountain. The project meets the requirements of those who desperately want to find areas of retreat and intimacy (Frampton and Drew, 1992, p. 112).

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The upper square surrounds the main entrance to the town; it is the more formal area than the lower one. It is the public space with the large artworks of the project.

The 50-sorey building with its wonderful plaza (“a haven for lunch-time crowds insulated from the bustles, fumes, and noise of the city streets”) turned out to be the crucial marker in Seidler’s career; it announced the architect’s maturity (Frampton and Drew, 1992, p. 63).

The building witnessed evolution of design, through a variety of shapes before the 20-sided polygonal plan shape, and elegant tapered column fins, with their brilliant precast column casing.

The Australia Square is located in the centre of business district encompassing the whole city block that once was occupied by 30 different properties and a number of narrow internal streets.

The circular form of the building contributes to more desirable space relationships towards adjacent properties and allows a maximum of light into surrounding streets. The building is 134’77’’ in diameter, with a clear span of 36 feet from the perimeter to the core. Within the core are two interlocking scissor-type firestairs, air conditioning ducts, a good elevator and toilets.

The round form of the building and its circular core of services maintain the economical ratio of less than 20% for service space to 80% usable office space (Blake, 1973, p. 112).

An opinion exists that a circular building would be difficult to subdivide. Still, due to the large diameter of the building, rooms are only slightly out of square, and the regular system of module lines adopted, facilitates a simple method of portioning. Light fittings and ceiling panels are arranged on modular subdivisions of radial and circumferential lines. The module dimensions adopted, naturally lend themselves to office subdivisions, to suit varying sizes and requirements of suites (Blake, 1973, p. 114).

Harry Seidler has died at the age of 82. Many of his works are really immortal and will never stop evoking excitement with the viewers. The architect was awarded a long list of prizes, including five Sulman medals. In his interview to ABC Television Seidler said that he wanted to be an architect since early childhood: “I used to stand watching public housing being built in Vienna as a boy on the way back from school… and I just thought that that’s a fascinating, interesting thing to do.” (ABCNewsOnline).

One cannot overestimate the significance of Seidler’s role in the world architecture development. As President of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects Bob Nation says, he has left Australian architecture an enormous legacy. “He’s had a huge impact on a number of generations of architects in the most substantial way,” Nation states, “I think he was held in the highest esteem and the greatest respect to do with the pursuit of his art.” (ABCNewsOnline).

Works Cited

Towering ambition’, [Online] 2002. Web.

ABCNewsOnline. Web. 

Abel, C 2001 ‘Australian Cliffhanger’, The Architectural Review. 

Blake, P 1973. Architecture for the new world. The work of Harry Seidler, Australia: Horwitz Australia Ltd.

Forster, A 2001 ‘High Point’ The Architectural Review, p. 52.

Frampton, K. and P. Drew 1992. Harry Seidler. London: Thames and Hudson. Ltd.

Sharp, D. ‘Harry Seidler 1923-2006’, The Architectural Review, p. 96.

State Library of New South Wales [Online] Web.

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