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HARRY SEIDLER
 
 
 
 
  Name   Harry Seidler
       
  Born   June 25, 1923
       
  Died   March 9, 2006
       
  Nationality   Australia
       
  School    
       
  Official website   seidler.net.au
     
 
BIOGRAPHY
   

In his first published article in 1949, Harry Seidler laid out a philosophy incorporating relationships between modern European painting, the sculptural arts, and architecture. Its outline was derived from Walter Gropius’s Harvard University Graduate School of Design program and directed almost exclusively to visual elements (mass, transparency, tension, polarity, and so on) that architecturally evolved in some measure from structural exploitation. Seidler’s early houses were dedicated to these visual determinations but showed a noticeable diversity as a result of experimentations with structure knitted to easy formal architectonic considerations, such as plan and simple geometric shape.

The prize-winning house for his mother (1948–50) was first among works in the 1950s that immediately captured attention worldwide, notably in Europe and the Los Angeles magazine Arts and Architecture. They were recognized as an apogee of architectural refinement and dynamic sensibility as promoted by central European émigré designers.

With Gropius, Seidler discovered a language for architectural thought; with Josef Albers at Black Mountain College, he learned “to think in visual terms,” and with Oscar Niemeyer he discovered form and mass, sun control, how to express structure, and attention to site conditions. His early work was derivative of Marcel Breuer (he does not apologize for this) but soon matured to reach a formal epitome in a block of apartments (1962) at Diamond Bay, Sydney.

A close collaboration with Italian structural engineer Pier Luigi Nervi beneficially changed Seidler’s large and tall buildings designs. The Australia Square development (1962–67) in Sydney contains a round tower constructed of precast elements, repetitive floor to floor—a lesson in constructional efficiency that clarified expression by simplification. The tower stands on a stepped pedestrian plaza, open to but also partly screening surrounding streets and shared with a shorter rectangular office building sitting on giant sculpted piers. The Square set an urban design standard envied throughout the Western world.

Parallel to this experience, Seidler referred to the series of paintings by American postwar protominimalist painter Frank Stella that employed circular segments, and he reexamined Albers’s free forms and the “richness” of Dutch-American Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning’s nonobjective paintings. The result was the introduction of an overtly baroque character first explored tentatively for Condominium Apartments (1969–70) at Acapulco, Mexico.

The 1970s were an expansive period that saw the completion of a number of major commissions, including the Trade Group Office (1970–74) in Canberra, which employed Nervi’s long-span, posttensional constructional system to a schemata based on the functional responses of Louis I. Kahn; the MLC Center (1971–75) in Sydney, a significant urban pedestrian precinct and office tower; and the Australian Embassy (1973–74) in Paris, with Breuer as local consultant, a bipartite scheme of conceptual maturity and constructional style that prevailed into the 1990s. Seidler maintained a variety of commissions ranging from medium-size houses to civic centers (such as Waverley, 1982–84, near Melbourne) to large urban-planning schemes. Of the latter, the QVI building (1987–91) in Perth, Western Australia, and Grosvenor Place (1982–88) in Sydney, with expansive pedestrian plazas and minimal site coverage by towers, are exceptional.

For the most part, Seidler’s current architectural practice is directed to resolving formal and social issues raised by tall buildings in urban situations. Following on from the MLC Center, the most notable of these have been the lively Riverside Development (1983–86) in Brisbane, typical of his concrete structural system, sun control aesthetic, and the Albers-influenced two-and three-dimensional forms; the more angular Capita Center office tower (1984–89) in Sydney, with a full-height stepped central space open to the weather with occasional terraces land-scaped with 20-meter-high trees; and the elegantly sophisticated Hong Kong Club and Office Building (1980–84), whose baroque plan and interior spaces meld perfectly with an expressive and exposed-concrete structural system. The exclusive club occupies the lower 4 floors with 17 above for rental. Seidler has said that his desire to instill an aura of timeless serenity and yet elegance and pleasure led to the use of curvilinear geometry and forms throughout. …The curved forms, however, are used within the geometric disciplines imposed by structural considerations [and] harks back to…the Baroque era of the 17th and 18th centuries This building’s “poetic geometry” suggests how his Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking headquarters might have appeared if he, rather than Norman Foster, had won the competitive commission.

For the Vienna city government, Seidler has designed a complex of about 800 apartments in a 35-story triangular tower (similar to Lincoln Centre, 1996–98, in Kuala Lumpur) and seven blocks of four to eight stories in a terraced garden (1993-c.2001), each with views across the Danube to the old town. Diagonals, curves, and swirls exaggerate structure and function and act as counterpoints to rectilinear elevations. They are a further elaboration of forms found earlier, including the Horizon Apartment Tower (1990–98) at Darlinghurst, Sydney, that provides a vigorous alternative response to the glossy glass towers rising everywhere.

It is reasonable to compare Seidler’s work with that of a graduate student colleague at Harvard, I.M.Pei. Both exhibit clarity of concept, a high level of sophistication, a love of fluid geometry and plain forms, a certain monumentality, a correct and economical use of expertly detailed materials, and a preference to boldly express structure.

Not from memory of days with Niemeyer but appearing as a reflective homage to the nonagenarian Brazilian’s present-day white free forms is Seidler’s Berman house (1996– c.2001). Sitting proud above a rugged stone and bush landscape, it is distinctly fresh, from a young inquiring mind.

In the cause of architecture, Seidler has transcended earlier, merely visual precepts to extend modernism (logically he believes) to avoid “transient fashion” and “‘post-mod’ cliches,” as he puts it, and engage in a most lively, rational architecture. His honorary degrees, visiting teaching positions, and significant international awards attest to a continuing influence.

DONALD LESLIE JOHNSON

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE
   

25 June 1923 Born in Vienna, Austria ;

1941–44 Attended the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg ;

1944 bachelor’s degree in architecture, the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg ;

1945–46 studied at Harvard University under Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer ;

1946 master’s degree in architecture, Harvard University;

1946 studied design under Josef Albers, Black Mountain College, Beria, North Carolina ;

1946–48 Chief assistant to Marcel Breuer, New York ;

1948 worked with Oscar Niemeyer, Rio de Janeiro ;

1948 emigrated to Australia ;

from 1948 Principal, Harry Seidler and Associates, Sydney ;

1958 naturalized in Australia ;

1966 Honorary fellow, American Institute of Architects ;

1970 life fellow, Royal Australian Institute of Architects ;

1972 Officer, Order of the British Empire ;

1976–80 trustee, Art Gallery of New South Wales ;

1976–77 Visiting professor, Harvard Graduate School of Design ;

1976–80 councilor, University of New South Wales ;

1977–78 visiting professor, University of British Colombia, Vancouver ;

1978 Thomas Jefferson Professor of Architecture, University of Virginia, Charlottesville ;

1979 fellow, Australian Academy of Technical Sciences ;

1980 visiting professor, University of New South Wales, Sydney ;

1982 member, Académie d’Architecture, Paris ;

1984 visiting professor, University of Sydney ;

1987 academician, International Academy of Architecture, Sofia ;

1987 Companion, Order of Australia ;

9 March 2006 Died in Sydney, Australia.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
FURTHER READING
   

Since 1948 publications about Seidler have appeared worldwide in journals and books. Reports, project reports, and cassettes and videos of lectures and seminars given by Seidler are held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, and the National Library, Canberra. Abercrombie, Stanley, “Four by Seidler,” Interior Design 61 (May 1990) Blake, Peter, Architecture for the New World: The Work of Harry Seidler, Sydney: Horwitz, and New York: Wittenborn, 1973 Blake, Peter, Harry Seidler: Australian Embassy; Ambassade d’Australie (bilingual English-French edition), Paris, Sydney: Horwitz, and New York: Wittenborn, 1979 Boyd, Robin, Australia’s Home: Its Origins, Builders, and Occupiers, Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1952; 2nd edition Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin, 1968 Drew, Philip, “Sydney Seidler,” Architectural Association Quarterly 6, no. 1 (1974) Drew, Philip, “Harry Seidler. Australian Embassy, Paris,” A+U 100 (January 1979) Drew, Philip, Two Towers: Harry Seidler, Australia Square, MLC Centre, Sydney: Horwitz, 1980 Farrelly, E.M., “Capita Center,” Architectural Review 189 (August 1992) Frampton, Kenneth and Philip Drew, Harry Seidler: Four Decades of Architecture, London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 1992 Frampton, Kenneth, “Structure and Meaning,” World Architecture 7 (1990) Frampton, Kenneth, Riverside Center, Sydney: Horwitz, 1988 Freeland, J.M., Architecture in Australia, Melbourne: Cheshire, 1968 Geran, Monica, “Harry Seidler,” Interior Design 65 (January 1994) Hohl, R., Bürogebände: International Office Buildings, Teufen, Switzerland: Niggli, 1968; as Office Buildings: An International Survey, translated by E.Rockwell, London: Architectural Press, and New York: Praeger, 1968 Johnson, Donald Leslie, “Bauhaus, Breuer, Seidler: An Australian Synthesis,” Australian Journal of Art 1 (1978) Johnson, Donald Leslie, Australian Architecture, 1901–05: Sources of Modernism, Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1980 Odoni, Geovanni, “Harry Seidler: Rose Seidler House,” Abitare 339 (April 1992) Space Design 197 (February 1981) (special issue entitled “Seidler, 1948–1980”) Taylor, Jennifer, Australian Architecture since 1960, Sydney: Law Book, 1986; 2nd edition, Melbourne: National Education Division, the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, 1990 Towndrow, Jennifer, “Seidler’s Poetic Geometry,” RIBA Journal 96 (July 1989) Tsakalos, Vasilios, “Vienna Housing,” Architecture Australia 83 May (1994) “Waverley Civic Center,” Architecture Australia 77 (July 1988)

Selected Publications

“Painting toward Architecture,” Architecture (Sydney) 37 (October 1949) Houses, Interiors, Projects, 1954 Harry Seidler, 1955–63, 1963 Australia Square, 1969 Planning and Building Down Under: New Settlement Strategy and Current Architectural Practice in Australia, 1978 “Afterword” in The Australian Ugliness, by Robin Boyd, 2nd edition, 1980 “A Methodology,” RIBA Transactions 3, no. 1 (1983–84) Internment: The Diaries of Harry Seidler, May 1940–October 1941, edited by Janis Wilton, translated by Judith Winternitz, 1986 “A Perspective of Planning and Architectural Directions,” Architect (Sydney) 27 (April 1987) Towers in the City, 1988 “Losing by the Rules,” World Architecture 7 (1990) Harry Seidler: Selected and Current Works, edited by Stephen Dobney, 1997

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
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