Harry Seidler

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Harry Seidler
Harry Seidler with model.jpg
Born (1923-06-25)25 June 1923
Vienna, First Austrian Republic
Died 9 March 2006(2006-03-09) (aged 82)
Sydney, Australia
Cause of death Stroke and septicemia
Citizenship Australian
Occupation Architect
Known for modern houses and Skyscraper designs

Harry Seidler, AC OBE (25 June 1923 – 9 March 2006) was an Austrian-born Australian architect who is considered to be one of the leading exponents of Modernism's methodology in Australia and the first architect to fully express the principles of the Bauhaus in Australia.

Seidler designed more than 180 buildings[1] and he received much recognition for his contribution to the architecture of Australia. Seidler consistently won architectural awards every decade throughout his Australian career of almost 58 years across the varied categories – his residential work from 1950, his commercial work from 1967, and his public commissions from the 1970s. He was a controversial figure throughout his long career as he regularly publicly criticised planning authorities and the planning system in Sydney.[2]

Early life[edit]

Seidler was born in Vienna, the son of a Jewish textile manufacturer. He fled as a teenager to England soon after Nazi Germany occupied Austria in 1938.


Harry Seidler (right) with Walter Gropius in Sydney 1954

In England, he studied building and construction at Cambridgeshire Technical School. Even though he was a refugee fleeing the Nazis, because he was born in Austria, on 12 May 1940, he was interned by the British authorities as an enemy alien, where he was in internment camp on the Isle of Man before being shipped to Quebec, Canada and continued to be interned until October 1941, when he was released on probational release from internment to study architecture at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, where he graduated with first class honours in 1944.[3]

After working briefly for an architectural firm in Toronto, Seidler was registered as an architect in Canada in early 1945.

Although he was ten years old when the Bauhaus was closed, Seidler's analysts invariably associate him with the Bauhaus because he later studied under emigrent Bauhaus teachers in the USA. He attended Harvard Graduate School of Design under Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer on a scholarship in 1945/46,[4] during which time he did vacation work with Alvar Aalto in Boston drawing up plans for the Baker dormitory at MIT. He then attended Black Mountain College under the painter Josef Albers in mid 1946.

Early career outside Australia[edit]

Seidler then worked as the first ever assistant to Marcel Breuer in New York from late 1946-mid 1948.[3] For 3 months in mid 1948, Seidler also worked in Rio de Janeiro with the architect Oscar Niemeyer, whose use of external sunshades was echoed by Seidler in his mid-late 1950s office buildings (such as Horwitz House in Sydney) and whose curves were seen in Seidler's work from the 1970s.

Life in Australia[edit]

Rose Seidler House, Wahroonga, Sydney, 1948–50
Australia Square, Sydney, 1961–67

Seidler's parents migrated to Sydney and later in 1948 commissioned him to design their home which became known as the Rose Seidler House (1948–1950), in Wahroonga, in remote bushland of a suburb on Sydney's Upper North Shore. This project was the first completely modern domestic residence to fully express the philosophy and visual language of the Bauhaus in Australia and won the Sulman Award of 1951. From the huge publicity of this house, others approached Seidler to design their homes. With so many clients and enjoyment of the Sydney climate and harbour views- Seidler decided to stay in Australia. The Rose Seidler House is now a house-museum.

In the 1960s Seidler again broke new ground with his design for the Australia Square project (first designs 1961, plaza building 1962-64, tower 1964–67). At the time, the Australia Square tower was the world's tallest light weight concrete building. The design introduced the concept of a large public open plaza and prominent artworks to office towers in Australia.[3]

In 1966, he helped lead the protests to try to keep Jorn Utzon as the principal architect of the Sydney Opera House.[5]

He was a founding member of the Australian Architecture Association. In 1984 he became the first Australian to be elected a member of the Académie d'architecture, Paris and in 1987 was made a Companion of the Order of Australia, an honour which he accepted in his trademark suit and bowtie. Over the years Mr Seidler was also awarded five Sulman Medals by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, as well as the Royal Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1976, and the Royal Gold Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1996.

"For 50 years Harry Seidler has played a vital role in international architecture. His work is widely recognised as an original and intensely creative contribution to the architecture of the second half of the 20th Century."

— Dennis Sharp in his introduction to the book Master architects: Harry Seidler

Personal life[edit]

Seidler married Penelope Evatt, daughter of Clive Evatt on 15 December 1958, they had two children.

Seidler enjoyed photographing architecture around the world and some of these are documented in his photography book The Grand Tour. He also enjoyed skiing.

Penelope Seidler, herself an architect, gained her Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Sydney and joined Seidler and Associates in 1964 as architect and financial manager.[6]

On 24 April 2005, Seidler suffered a stroke from which he never fully recovered, and died in Sydney on 9 March 2006 at age 82.

Modernism and principles of design[edit]

Horizon Apartments, Darlinghurst, Sydney, 1990–98

Seidler said the term "International Style" was a misnomer and so he objected to the term being used to describe modern architecture or his work [7]-

Seidler's work shows a mix of influences from four great modern masters from whom he studied under or worked with: Walter Gropius, Marcell Breuer, (artist) Josef Albers and Oscar Niemeyer. Seidler maintained relationships with his four mentors even after he came to Australia. Seidler was instrumental in having Walter Gropius address the RAIA Convention in Sydney in 1954. Seidler collaborated with Marcell Breuer for the Australian Embassy in Paris (as Breuer had a Paris office) and Seidler was Breuer's project architect for the Torin Factory in Penrith NSW in the 1970s. Seidler commissioned Josef Albers artworks for MLC Centre in the mid-1970s. Seidler also maintained a close friendship with Oscar Niemeyer through letters and visits to Rio .

Gropius' teachings had a big influence on Seidler. Seidler's designs upheld a Modernist design methodology, which he considered to be an amalgam of three elements: social use, technology and visual aesthetics. He always insisted that he had no fixed 'style', since these three elements were in constant flux, and so his work constantly evolved throughout his 57 years of designing in Australia.

The form of Seidler's work changed as building technology changed: from his timber houses in the 1950s (many of which echoed Breuer's bi-nuclear house form), to reinforced concrete houses and buildings in the 1960–1980s,[8] and the development of curves with advances in concrete technology in the 1980s and later, as well as developments in steel technology that allowed for curved roofs in the 1990s onwards (e.g. Berman House). Seidler is on record as stating that Oscar Niemeyer's interior of the Boavista Bank in Rio of 1946 (which Seidler would have seen in 1948) with its interacting curves must have influenced Seidler especially in his work from the 1970s onwards. Upon celebrating 50 years of architectural practice in Australia, Seidler noted that developments in building technology allowed for more richness of form in his then soon-to-be completed Horizon apartment tower: "I could not have built Horizon twenty years ago...in earlier building technology (the way one could) span distances, it was very limited. (But Horizon) is made (possible) by devices such as pre-stressed concrete which is ...economic and quick. And that also gives you greater freedom of the shapes that you can use. Nowadays we can span huge distances and to do so (by) not just putting steel mesh or something into the concrete but to put steel, high tensile steel wire into it and pull it tight and that makes it easy to span distances and give this kind of change of shape of a building which would have been very difficult to achieve any other way." [9]

In the 1960s and 70s Seidler worked with the Italian structural engineer Pier Luigi Nervi for the design of the Australia Square and MLC Centre office towers, in Sydney, his own Seidler Office building in Milsons Point (Sydney), the Edmund Barton Building (formerly called Trade Group Offices) in Canberra, and the Australian Embassy in Paris in the 1970s. Seidler later worked with Nervi's successor Mario Desideri for the Riverside Centre in Brisbane.

Seidler learnt from Gropius (as one of the 3 required elements of good architecture) to devise efficient "systems" for constructing buildings - other than for individual houses, this involved "making things easy to build in accordance with a system that allows repetition of identical elements".[10] This is why Kenneth Frampton labelled Seidler's non-house designs "isostatic architecture".[11] in the 1970s-1980s, Seidler used the geometry of the quadrant which connects the straight line to the curve and allowed for structural beams of the same size spanning across the radius of the quadrant. This is seen in Seidler's design for the Australian Embassy in Paris and Karralyka (previously called Ringwood Cultural) Centre.

Seidler saw parallels of good modern architecture with the underlying structural geometry of baroque architecture, especially the designs of Italian architect Francesco Borromini[12] (which was illustrated in the book Space, Time & Architecture by Sigfried Gidieon which Seidler read as an architecture student). Seidler's architecture from the 1980s (e.g. Hannes House, Hong Kong Club) often incorporated flamboyant curves (in plan) so some commentators have labelled as the start of Seidler's "baroque" period.

Seidler's visual approach to two-dimensional and three-dimensional spacial arrangement was consistent throughout his whole career and reflected what Seidler learnt from Josef Albers. Seidler stated he learnt more about design from Albers than he did at any architecture school.[13] Albers stated that designs which visually had a high centre of gravity were more dynamic than solid earth bound designs- which is why Seidler used (for non-tower designs) "cantilevered slabs hovering in mid-air"which seem to 'negate the fact that mass is something solid and heavy". Seidler would claim "aesthetically we want dematerialisation".[14] Seidler, following Albers, also shunned traditional symmetry or grid-like modern designs as static (and thus dull), instead Seidler "offset" opposing elements to create "scintillation" and "visual tension" to be more visually dynamic and thus interesting to the eye [15]- which is seen in the window pattern of Seidler's Blues Point Tower (1958–62) and three-dimensionally in the syncopated balcony arrangement of this Horizon Tower (1995–98). Seidler articulated his visual-spatial aesthetic which includes "dissolution of conventional solidity"[16] in his first work, the Rose Seidler House. "This house explodes the surfaces that enclose a normal house or space, and turns it into a continuum of free standing planes, through which the eye can never see an end, you are always intrigued what's beyond, you can always see something floating into the distance, there is never an obstruction to your vision, it is a continuum (of space), that I believe 20th century man's eye and senses responds positively to that, we crave this".[17]

In 1991, Seidler acknowledged that his first house (Rose Seidler House) which was built of timber, despite the north facing sunshades "is generally too vulnerable to temperature changes...I didn't fully appreciate the intensity of the Australian sun".[17] Thus, later in his career, he sought to use more thermally stable materials like reinforced concrete and to respond to Australian climate by the extensive use of sunshades and flamboyantly-shaped rain protecting canopies on his skyscrapers, (such as Grosvenor Place, Riverside Centre, and QV1), large covered balconies in his houses, as well as shaping his designs to maximize views and enjoyment of the outdoors from inside.[18]

Collaboration with visual artists[edit]

Seidler was a frequent and enthusiastic collaborator with visual artists in the creation of his buildings. While his collaborators include famous or notable figures such as Alexander Calder, Le Corbusier, Frank Stella, Lin Utzon, Victor Vasarely, Norman Carlberg, Charles O. Perry (the last two were fellow but later student of Josef Albers), Helen Frankenthaler, Sol LeWitt and many others, by far the most important of the collaborators was his mentor Albers. Seidler included works by Albers – perhaps the single person most influential on his design philosophy – in a number of projects (notably the MLC Centre with 'Homage to the Square' (later repurchased by the Albers Foundation, and Albers' last commissioned-design 'Wrestling' on the eastern side of MLC Plaza) . As Paul Bartizan indicates in his obituary tribute to Seidler, these works of art were not mere 'plop art'; they were really planned to be integrated with and complementary to the buildings into which they were placed: "In many of his projects, Seidler worked with artists whose works became an intrinsic component of his designs."[1]

List of buildings[edit]

MLC Centre, Sydney, 1972–75
Wohnpark-Neue-Donau, Vienna, Austria, 1993
Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, Ultimo, Sydney, 2001–07




by Harry Seidler[edit]

  • Internment: The Diaries of Harry Seidler May 1940 – October 1941, Unwin Hyman 1987, ISBN 0-86861-915-9, in co-operation with Janis Wilton, Judith Winternitz (out of print)
  • The Grand Tour, Travelling the World with an Architect's Eye, Taschen 2004, ISBN 978-3-8228-2555-6 (English, 704 pages).

about Harry Seidler[edit]

  • Peter Blake: Architecture for the New World: The Work of Harry Seidler, Sydney 1973, ISBN 3-7828-1459-2
  • Peter Blake: Harry Seidler – Australian Embassy Paris. Ambassade d'Australie, Paris, Sydney 1979, ISBN 3-7828-1443-6
  • Philip Drew: Two Towers. Harry Seidler, Australia Square, MLC-Center, 1980, ISBN 3-7828-1457-6
  • Kenneth Frampton: Harry Seidler, Riverside Centre, Horwitz Graham, Sydney/ Karl Kraemer, Stuttgart, 1988, ISBN 0-7255-2056-6
  • Kenneth Frampton, Philip Drew: Harry Seidler: Four Decades of Architecture, Thames & H. 1992, ISBN 0-500-97838-7
  • Dennis Sharp (introduction): "Harry Seidler: Selected and Current Works", The Master Architect, Series III, Images Publishing 1997, ISBN 1-875498-75-3
  • Alice Spigelman: The Life of Harry Seidler, Brandl & Schlesinger 2001, ISBN 1-876040-15-7
  • Chris Abel (introduction): Harry Seidler – Houses & Interiors, Volume 1 (1948–1970) & Volume 2(1970–2000), Images Publishing, Mulgrave (Melbourne) 2003, (Vol. 1) ISBN 1-86470-104-8, (Vol. 2) ISBN 1-86470-105-6, Boxed Set ISBN 1-920744-16-9
  • Wolfgang Förster: Harry Seidler, Wohnpark Neue Donau Wien, Prestel 2002, ISBN 3-7913-2703-8

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Modernist architect Harry Seidler dies in Australia". World Socialist Web Site. 2006-06-20. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  2. ^ "Modernist architect Harry Seidler dies in Australia". 20 June 2006. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c "Biography: Harry Seidler AC OBE LFRAIA". architecture.com.au. The Australian Institute of Architects. 2005-05-06. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  4. ^ a b c Dennis Sharp (2006-03-14). "Harry Seidler: Innovative modernist architect". Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  5. ^ "The man who fixed the 'plain illegal' Sydney Opera House". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 31 January 2016. 
  6. ^ "Penelope Seidler". Specifier. 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  7. ^ Harry Seidler essay “Planning and architecture at the end of our century” heading ‘Opposition to Modern architecture’ in Harry Seidler: Four Decades of Architecture by Kenneth Frampton and Philip Drew (Thames & Hudson, London & New York, 1992) page 381; Harry Seidler, ‘Movement Against Style’ Keynote address at Royal Australian Institute of Architects' International Convention 'Challenge of Excellence', Melbourne, 9 March 1992 (video at Deakin University) or online at https://vimeo.com/16877925; "in the mind of the architect" Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV series episode 1 (2000) see full transcript at http://www.abc.net.au/arts/architecture/ep_trn1.htm
  8. ^ Harry Seidler filmed illustrated lecture "Habitat, Its Detail and Totality "University of New South Wales (UNSW), 8 May 1980 (online)
  9. ^ Express TV, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 7 October 1998.
  10. ^ Harry Seidler filmed illustrated lecture "Principles in the Mainstream of Modern Architecture"University of New South Wales (UNSW), June 26, 1980 (online); Harry Seidler filmed illustrated lecture "Consequence of Design and Detail "University of New South Wales (UNSW), 24 April 1980 (online); Peter Blake "Architecture for the New World. The Work of Harry Seidler" (Horwitz, Sydney; Wittenborn, New York; Karl Kraemer Stuttgart, 1973) pp12-20
  11. ^ Kenneith Frampton "Isostatic Architecture 1965-91" Pages 85-111 in Harry Seidler: Four Decades of Architecture by Kenneith Frampton and Philip Drew (Thames & Hudson, London & New York, 1992).
  12. ^ Harry Seidler illustrated filmed lecture: "Form Relations in Baroque and Modern Architecture (Part 1)" University of New South Wales (UNSW) 17 April 1980 (online); Harry Seidler illustrated filmed lecture: "Form Relations in Baroque and Modern Architecture (Part 2)" University of New South Wales (UNSW) 1 May 1980 (online); Peter Blake "Architecture for the New World. The Work of Harry Seidler" (Horwitz, Sydney; Wittenborn, New York; Karl Kraemer Stuttgart, 1973) pp38-40; Vladimir Belogolovsky, "Harry Seidler: Lifework" (Rizzoli, New York, 2014) pp31-41
  13. ^ "Harry Seidler: A Dialogue with editor Yoshio Futagawa" GA HOUSES 69 (January 2002) pages 42-47 at 43.
  14. ^ Harry Seidler, "Painting Toward Architecture" in Architecture (RAIA journal forerunner to Architecture Australia) 37(10) [Oct 1949] page 120-21; Peter Blake, Architecture for the New World. The Work of Harry Seidler (Horwitz, Sydney; Wittenborn, New York; Karl Kraemer Stuttgart, 1973) pp21-23
  15. ^ Harry Seidler filmed illustrated lecture "interaction of architecture and the visual arts" University of New South Wales (UNSW), April 10, 1980 (online); Harry Seidler, "Painting Toward Architecture" in Architecture (RAIA journal forerunner to Architecture Australia) 37(10) [Oct 1949] pp. 119-124; Peter Blake "Architecture for the New World. The Work of Harry Seidler" (Horwitz, Sydney; Wittenborn, New York; Karl Kraemer Stuttgart, 1973) pp28-33
  16. ^ Harry Seidler filmed illustrated lecture "Principles in the Mainstream of Modern Architecture" University of New South Wales (UNSW), June 27, 1980 (online)
  17. ^ a b Harry Seidler quote from Rose Seidler House – the House that Harry built Review, Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV, 14 April 1991
  18. ^ Harry Seidler, "In Search of an Australian Style" in the "Why Australia is the best place in the world to live" issue of The Bulletin (Sydney) 24 October 1989, pp. 60–4
  19. ^ "Ageing luxury: Brisbane's Hilton reaches milestone", Brisbane Times (7 June 2012)

External links[edit]