The owners of a modernist Canberra home designed by Harry Seidler in the 1950s are battling with the ACT Heritage Council to overturn a decision to heritage-list the home.

Called Bowden House, it was the first building Harry Seidler designed outside of Sydney, and Seidler claimed it was one of his favourite designs. It was nominated for heritage status 18 years ago, and in November 2018 it was placed on the Register as an important example of post-war architecture.

According to the Heritage Council, Bowden House demonstrates Seidler’s adoption of Bauhaus design principles, and is “one of the most significant examples of early Post-War International Style in a detached residential building in the ACT”.

Current owner Michael Bowden is furious with the decision to heritage list the home, which means a long list of development restrictions.

Bowden has almost finished 10 years-worth of major renovations, modifications and improvements, including alterations and additions. What was once a two-bedroom house now has 12 (soon to be 14), and according to Bowden, almost every element of the house has changed since it was designed by Seidler.

“The family home which now stands bears little resemblance to the two-bedroom house of the 1950s and has irrevocably deviated from the Bauhaus design in almost every sense,” Bowden writes in a statement lodged with the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

“I greatly resent the intrusion of the ACT Heritage Council into my family’s life.

“The restrictions which would be imposed on me and my family, the financial loss which would be borne by me and my family and the disruption of my family’s continued and unfettered enjoyment of our private home … are entirely unacceptable.”

However, Heritage Council chairman David Flannery denies that the heritage listing will be restrictive for Bowden and his family.

“[A heritage listing] does not oblige owners to freeze a place in time or open it to the public as a museum. The Heritage Council recognises that change is often required to ensure heritage homes provide a comfortable and contemporary living standard.”

The Heritage Council has acknowledged the many changes made to the house, but has said they do not diminish its heritage value, especially considering that Seidler himself designed an extension to the home several years after it was built.

The owners’ challenge to the heritage listing will be put to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal later this month.


Image credit: Harry Seidler, courtesy of ACT Heritage Council