Harry Seidler is acknowledged as not just one of Australia’s greatest Modernist architects and one of the first exponents of the Bauhaus style in this part of the world, but one of Australia’s best architects of any style.
In a career that lasted almost six decades and included more than 180 Harry Seidler buildings, Seidler won numerous awards for his work, including the Sir John Sulman Medal five times from 1951 to 1991, and the 1976 RAIA Gold Medal from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. In 1966, he received an Honorary Fellowship from the American Institute of Architects; in 1984 he was named a Member of the Académie d'architecture, Paris; in 1987 he was named a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC); and in 1992 he became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Born in Vienna on June 25th, 1923, Harry Seidler was the son of a Jewish clothing manufacturer. Fleeing Austria after the Nazi invasion in 1938, he moved to England as a teenager. Later he moved to Canada where he studied architecture and then, in 1946, he migrated with his parents to Australia.
Harry Seidler buildings
In 1948, he designed a house for his mother Rose. His first work in Australia, that house (Rose Seidler House) won the Sulman Award of 1951 and is now a treasured part of Australian architectural history (and a museum, which many members of the public visit).
From that time, Seidler’s career never looked back. Through the 1950s many Harry Seidler houses (such as Berman House) featured timber; then through the 1960s and 70s he started to use a lot of reinforced concrete in his houses, structures and buildings (many of which, by this time, were high rise). Later still, in the 1990s, he took advantage of the developments in steel and used that material to great effect in his structures.
Never content with remaining static (in an artistic sense), Seidler also collaborated with several visual artists. The most notable of these was the German artist, Josef Albers. On top of this, he wrote a number of books, namely - Houses, Interior, Projects in 1954; Internment: The Diaries of Harry Seidler (1940); and 2004’s The Grand Tour, Travelling the World with an Architect's Eye.
Harry Seidler was married to Penelope Seidler from 1958 until his death in 2006. He had two children, Polly, and Timothy.
Harry Seidler architecture - some of his best-known work
1. Rose Seidler House (completed in 1950)
Designed for Seidler’s mother Rose, this house at Wahroonga on Sydney’ leafy North Shore is now owned by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. Built in the mid-20th Century in the Modernist style, Rose Seidler House has two-storeys and includes 12 rooms. It sits on a 2.5-hectare site, and it also has a noteworthy garden and floor plan.
2. Blues Point Tower (completed in 1962)
Blues Point Tower, a residential Tower overlooking Sydney Harbour on a piece of real estate that is as prime as anything in Australia, has a problematic relationship with Sydneysiders. While in 1993 it was added to the local heritage register, many people simply don’t like it. The main criticism has tended to be that it simply doesn’t fit with its surroundings. For his part, however, Seidler had no time for the criticism and believed it to be one of his best buildings.
3. Australia Square (completed in 1967)
An office building located on George St in the Sydney CBD, Australia Square is a much-loved building that some have even called the most beautiful in Australia. Though it is now dwarfed by surrounding tower buildings, it measures 305m in height and at the time of its completion in 1967 held the title of the tallest building in Australia. In 1967, Australia Square won the Sir John Sulman Medal and in 2012 it won the Australian Institute of Architects’ ‘Enduring Architecture: National Award’.
4. Harry and Penelope Seidler House (completed in 1967)
The house Harry Seidler designed with his wife Penelope Seidler – and the house in which he died in 2006 – Penelope and Harry Seidler House is an excellent Australian example of Brutalist architecture. Located on Sydney’s suburban north shore at Killara, Seidler was said to love the Killara house.
5. MLC Centre (completed in 1977)
Though now officially known as 25 Martin Place, most know this office building in central Sydney as the MLC Centre (a name that refers to the insurance company that was its main tenant for many years). A massive modernist structure, the building was awarded the Sir John Sulman Medal by the Australian Institute of Architects.
6. Australian Embassy, Paris (completed in 1977)
Like a lot of Seidler's buildings, the Australian Embassy in Farnce is built from precast modularised concrete. It features a quartz and granite faced exterior as well as prestressed precast floors. Designed in the modernist style, the Embassy includes two separate buildings on a triangular bock along Le Champ de Mars.
7. Horizon Apartments (completed in 1988)
Like Blues Point Tower, Horizon Apartments has received its share of criticism. Though generally not as intense as that aimed at the former, the criticism tends to centre around the height of this residential tower and its location in Surry Hills, a location in which most neighbouring buildings are definitely not high rise.
8. Shell House (completed in 1989)
Located on the corner of Spring St and Flinders St, nearby the Victorian state parliament building, Shell Melbourne is a 28-floor tower built by the Grollo family in 1989. Interestingly, Shell Melbourne is the only Seidler building in Melbourne to have been added to the Victorian Heritage Register. It received that honour in 2017.
9. Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre (completed in 2007)
Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre is one of the last buildings that Harry Seidler designed before his death in 2006. In fact, the building, which includes three swimming pools as well as other fitness facilities, didn’t open until after he died. Located in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Ultimo, the centre’s curved roof – which recalls the movement of waves – makes it instantly recognisable to passers-by.