Thoroughly Modern Harry

Harry Siedler, without a doubt was one of the most influential architects to call Australia home. Born in Vienna, Austria in 1923 to Max and Rose. As a teenager Siedler fled nazi occupied Vienna in 1935 to England where he studied building and construction at polytechnic school in Cambridge. In May 1940, he was interned by the British authorities as an enemy alien, before being shipped to Quebec, Canada and continued to be interned until October 1941, when he was released on parole from internment to study architecture at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

Harry Siedler 1945

 

Although the Bauhaus school of design and architecture closed in 1933 at which time Siedler was only 10,  invariably he is associated with the Bauhaus because he later studied under emigrant Bauhaus teachers in the USA. He attended Harvard Graduate School of Design under Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer on a scholarship in 1945-46, 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, and then worked for Marcel Breuer,  the architect who also designed the eponymous famous mid-century chair. The Chinese architect I.M. Pei, who designed the famous Louvre glass pyramid, was among his classmates studying under Gropius at Harvard.

Siedler also worked in Rio de Janeiro with the architect Oscar Niemeyer, who heavily influenced some of his early residential works, such as the Rose Siedler House and the Meller House.

Ted Meller House - Harry Siedler 1950

Ted Meller House | Castlecrag NSW 1950

Siedler said his time studying in the United States with Bauhaus artist Josef Albers had taught him more about visual perceptions than "any architecture school". He insisted that he had no “set” style, and that instead he chose to base his work on three key principles: social use, technology, and aesthetics. Seidler said of his architecture: "It shall be comfortable, it shall be solid, it shall stand up to the wear and tear, and delight, it should be a pleasure to be in and work in."

 In 1948 two years after his parents Rose and Max migrated to Sydney he was beckoned after his mother wrote him and commissioned him to design their home. With no intention to remain in Australia but only to stay until the house was finished. The house became known as the Rose Siedler House (1948–1950), in Wahroonga, in remote bushland of a suburb on Sydney's Upper North Shore.

Rose Siedler House 1949
Rose Siedler House | Wahroonga NSW 1948-1950

 

Once completed, the Rose Siedler house inevitably caused a stir as it was the first domestic residence that fully expressed the design philosophy of Bauhaus in Australia. Its success helped launch his Australian and soon after international career. The radical design both inside and out integrated architecture, art and technology in a bold and optimistic vision for a new way of living. The home included a dishwasher, which Seidler later said was then the "newest thing in the world", plug-in radios, exhaust fans and drainage that was hidden from view.

Rose Siedler house interior kitchen

Rose Siedler House | Interior Kitchen

 

Seidler no doubt lead modern architecture movement in Australia, demonstrating new approaches on how to live in this country.

Within a few years, Seidler's determination to modernise Australian architecture was described as a "crusading zeal" in newspaper interviews. People magazine described Seidler as an impatient young man, and "a convert to a new religion" of modernism, in an article in 1950 heralding "the High Priest of the Twentieth Century".

People magazine 1950 - Harry Siedler. The Hight Priest of the Twentieth Century

People magazine excerpt | 1950

Over the course of six decades, he designed more than 180 buildings including residential properties, commercial and government building with varying degrees of controversy and resistance from local councils early in his career. None more polarising than the Blues Point Tower apartment block thrusting up from McMahon's Point, Sydney harbour, like a single-fingered salute to the old world. Completed in 1961, and the first of many skyscrapers to march across Australian cities from the Seidler studio, Blues Point Tower was named after Billy Blue, an illiterate Jamaican transported in 1801 for stealing a bag of sugar. For many years, Blue worked a ferry across Sydney harbour and lived in a cottage where Seidler's still controversial tower has stood for the past 59 years.

The tower was commissioned by Dick Dusseldorp's newly formed Civil and Civic and the Lend Lease corporation in the late 1950s. Reacting to a 1957 suggestion that the area be zoned for industrial use, Seidler proposed that McMahons Point could instead house hundreds of apartments, all with harbour views. Seidler's dream was for the tower to be the first of 28 high rise buildings for the whole suburb. Although the industrial zoning was rejected, political support for Seidler's plan quickly faded due to widespread public opposition, and fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one's point of view, Blues Point Tower was the only element of the plan to be built.

Blue Points Tower NSW - Harry Siedler

Blue Points TowerMcMahons Point. NSW | 1959-61

  

Certainly Seidler’s buildings could be seen as works of art in their own right , but he always collaborated with pre-eminent artists of the modernist movement such as Josef Albers, Alexander Calder, Norman Carlberg, Sol LeWitt, Charles Perry, Frank Stella and Lin Utzon to punctuate his architecture and added to the visual impact upon entering all of his buildings.

Sol Le Witt in Australia Square foyer

Sol Le Witt in Australia Square foyer.

 

Frank Stella Grosvenor place

Frank Stella in Grosvenor Place foyer


Le Corbusier tapestry in Australia Square tower foyer

Le Corbusier tapestry in Australia Square Tower foyer

 

It’s easy to forget just how radical the Modernist or “International Style” as Siedler despised it’s description as such was when it first made its appearance in Australia during the Mid-Twentieth Century. However these buildings truly are monuments to moments in time, signifying in stone, glass and steel the various layers of history that define the evolution of a place and the vision of how man and woman should co exist with their evolving landscape.

Harry Seidler early years
Top Left | Julian Rose House 1950. Top Right | Williamson House 1951
Bottom Left and Right | Harry and Penelope family home in Killara 1967

 

Australia Square Tower Images - Harry Seidler

Australia Square Tower | 1961-67

 

Harry Seidler MLC Centre and Australian Embassy Paris

Top left/centre | The MLC Centre 1972-75. Bottom centre and far right | The Australian Embassy Paris 1973-77

 

Shell headquarters Harry Seidler
Shell Headquarters | Melbourne 1985-89

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