Harry Seidler, the ‘nice disruptor’ of recent Australian structure

hat would Harry do? Since 1961, not a faucet nor a tile within the house that internationally celebrated trendy architect Harry Seidler designed for the Weinreich household was modified with out his recommendation.

With its round eating room and spherical desk set with lime-green desk mats and orange napkins below an enormous skylight, the Weinreichs’ glass-fronted house in Sydney’s east is frozen within the swinging ’60s.

“I wished mild as a result of we have been within the darkness in the course of the Holocaust,” says Aneta Weinreich, now in her 90s. Practically all of Aneta and Joseph Weinreich’s households have been killed by the Nazis in Poland.

What would Harry do? Joseph and Aneta Weinreich in their Seidler-designed home.

What would Harry do? Joseph and Aneta Weinreich of their Seidler-designed house.Credit score:James Brickwood

Born in Vienna in 1923, Harry Seidler was an Austrian Jewish refugee who was interned in the course of the conflict.

When the younger architect arrived in Sydney in 1948, he discovered “lethal, uninteresting suburbia” and an oppressive “sea of crimson brick and tile”.

Seidler, who died in 2006, introduced modernism to Australia within the late 1940s and 1950s when the nation was thought of “the arse finish of the world”, says award-winning architect Shaun Carter. “Seidler had huge concepts and large expertise – as huge as his persona – and he virtually grabbed Australia by the scruff of the neck and shook it.”

His award-winning designs modified the skyline, lifting it larger and better, and reworked how we lived and labored in Australia and abroad. They included Sydney’s Australia Sq. tower, a round skyscraper that contrasted in opposition to the oblong blocks that surrounded it; McMahons Level’s Blues Level Tower, which Seidler stated was one in every of his finest but nonetheless attracts controversy; the Australian Embassy in Paris; and, in Darlinghurst, the Horizon residences and their curved balconies.


The Weinreichs’ love affair with Seidler’s optimistic imaginative and prescient of the long run started years earlier once they visited the house that the 27-year-old Harry Seidler had constructed between 1948 and 1950 for his mom Rose.

At its first open home 70 years in the past on December 17, 1950, Rose Seidler Home’s whopping massive glass partitions prompted this masthead to warn “People Who Live In Glass Houses Must Warn Their Guests”. The Herald reported a person ran into the glass, considering it was a gap to the backyard: “Neither he or the glass was broken.”

One of the most talked about houses in Sydney: Rose Seidler House.

Some of the talked about homes in Sydney: Rose Seidler Home.Credit score:Harry Seidler, with permission from Penelope Seidler

The Herald visited individuals who nonetheless reside in Seidler-designed properties and residences, and stay true to his authentic imaginative and prescient a long time later, and spoke to architects about how his imaginative and prescient formed the way in which Australians reside in the present day.

The ‘nice disruptor’

Crowds flocked, usually 4 deep, to Rose Seidler Home. It was one in every of three modernist homes that Seidler constructed for his prolonged household on a former pottery clay mining web site on Clissold Highway, Wahroonga.

“It was a sensation, probably the most talked about home in Sydney,” architect Penelope Seidler, his widow and director of Seidler & Associates, informed guests in December.

It made such a splash that Mrs Seidler recalled listening to about it as a 12-year-old from her father Clive Evatt, the then-housing minister. It was nothing like the encircling brick properties and bungalows, together with the close by heritage-listed Georgian house “Parklands” the place Penelope grew up.

From that second on, Seidler – described because the “nice disruptor” by main architect Caroline Pidcock – was hardly ever out of the media.

Seidler “supercharged the trendy structure motion” in Australia, main the way in which with new approaches on the right way to reside on this nation and sculptural options to solar management, says Pidcock.

Whereas different architects shied from controversy, Seidler sought it, says Carter, the founding architect of Carter Williamson Architects.

Inside a couple of years, Seidler’s willpower to modernise Australian structure was described as a “crusading zeal” in newspaper interviews. He received dozens of awards, together with 5 Sulman Medals (the distinguished award for structure), purchasers and media consideration.

Individuals journal described Seidler as an impatient younger man, and “a convert to a brand new faith” of modernism, in an article in 1950 heralding “the Excessive Priest of the Twentieth Century”.

Earlier than arriving in Australia, Seidler had labored and studied with the who’s who of modernism. They included Walter Gropius, the founding father of the Bauhaus College; Marcel Breuer, the architect who additionally designed the eponymous well-known mid-century chair; and Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. The Chinese language architect I.M. Pei, who designed the well-known Louvre glass pyramid, was amongst his classmates finding out below Gropius at Harvard.

Seidler stated his time finding out in america with Bauhaus artist Josef Albers – whose work impressed Blues Level Tower – had taught him extra about visible perceptions than “any structure college”.

Harry Seidler in People Magazine in the 1950s.

Harry Seidler in Individuals Journal within the 1950s.

Sydney lapped up Rose Seidler Home, a tiny, space-aged dice of 150 sq. metres. Glass partitions let the sunshine in, and gave a view of the bush that surrounded it. It was additionally lit from inside by an inside terrace adorned with a shiny Brazilian-inspired mural painted by Seidler himself.

It additionally had an uncommon sloping entry ramp – prepared for take off right into a pool that by no means materialised – down its facet.

At the moment, most Australian properties have been variations of designs from cooler climates with small home windows. Using glass and the versatile format with separate areas for youngsters and adults was “extra suited to an bold younger nation with a hotter local weather”, says Carter.

Quickly after the constructing was accomplished, Seidler stated the modern architect considered an “atmosphere for residing” fairly than of empty box-like rooms. “He designs precise areas within the inside for particular functions and designs the furnishings and gear that go into them,” he informed the Sunday Telegraph in 1952.

It was totally different inside too. Together with his mom’s approval, Seidler had furnished the brand new house with kitchen cabinets with doorways of various main colors, built-in cabinets, adjustable cabinets, and Eero Saarinen and Eames furnishings he’d introduced from New York.

It additionally had the most recent in trendy expertise: a dishwasher, which Seidler later stated was then the “latest factor on the earth”, plug-in radios, exhaust followers and drainage that was hidden from view.

Penelope Seidler gives guests a tour of Rose Seidler House in December.

Penelope Seidler provides visitors a tour of Rose Seidler Home in December.Credit score:Dominic Lorrimer

Seidler wasn’t Australia’s first or solely modernistic architect, however he “put design on the map and within the papers”, says Ian Innes, director of heritage, belongings and museums, at Sydney Dwelling Museums.

Working with photographer Max Dupain, Seidler developed a Sydney trendy look that captured properties just like the Weinreichs and created a picture of what trendy structure ought to appear like, Innes says.

Every new venture resulted in a battle with councils stuffed with individuals Seidler disparaged, variously, as “butchers and grocers” who made “idiotic judgments” on aesthetics and could not learn subtle plans.

Councils stated glass partitions weren’t actually partitions. Partitions have been bricks or tiles. They stated his ceilings within the split-level designs have been too low. They puzzled about drainage. (He usually hid it contained in the buildings.)

They queried the form of his roofs. Some have been arched, just like the “igloos” of the storage on the Williamson home on the Spit. Some had waves, corresponding to Meares Home in Birchgrove and the Berman home at Joadja. Many have been flat, like Rose Seidler Home. Others have been butterfly formed, just like the Meller Home in Castlecrag.

And councils questioned the trendy engineering that used strengthened concrete to create cantilevered balconies and flooring, and made constructing on steep rocky websites attainable.

Julian Rose House in Wahroonga, designed by Harry Seidler.

Julian Rose Home in Wahroonga, designed by Harry Seidler.Credit score:Max Dupain with permission from Penelope Seidler

In 1952, the Herald reported on a knockout win by Seidler in opposition to Ku-ring-gai Council the place council opposed his use of glass, saying it was a “brick space”.

The media protection popularised the dialogue of structure, says Innes.

‘Seidler authorized’

When John Zwar, a younger scientist in Canberra, requested Seidler within the mid-1950s to design a modest household house, he gave Seidler freedom to decide on the whole lot, together with the brightly colored doorways.

Ted Meller House in Castlecrag.

Ted Meller Home in Castlecrag. Credit score:Marcell Seidler with permission from Penelope Seidler

Zwar informed author Milton Cameron his pals thought him mad for following Seidler’s recommendation faithfully. “What, you are letting your architect dictate your style?”

Seidler’s trainer at Harvard within the US, Walter Gropius, believed in democratising structure by giving individuals of all incomes entry to high-quality housing that was full of sunshine, nicely ventilated, sturdy, versatile, value efficient and used the most recent in expertise.

“Allow us to collectively create the brand new constructing of the long run, which will probably be the whole lot in a single kind: structure and sculpture and portray,” stated Gropius.

The Zwar family, with Nick Zwar as a child, at their Seidler-designed house in Canberra.

The Zwar household, with Nick Zwar as a toddler, at their Seidler-designed home in Canberra.Credit score:Zwar household

Many common Australians approached Seidler wanting one thing apart from the standard brick field. The smallest and least costly house designed by Seidler was one within the southern Sydney suburb of Miranda that was 80 sq. metres and price £2000. It was constructed for an indication author, Ralph Heydon, with “an acute visible sense” who “simply needed to have a contemporary home”, stated Seidler.

Seidler’s affiliate Colin Griffiths informed a 2008 panel that Heydon was typical of purchasers who had embraced modernism however had modest budgets and tiny websites. “It was actually such a pleasure to do these,” stated Griffiths.

The Zwars generally grumbled that the split-level home was noisy due to the open plan. They have been reluctant to vary it, although, says Zwar’s son, Professor Nick Zwar, govt dean of well being sciences and drugs at Bond College.

The home had appeal and it was mild, says Zwar, who grew up within the house. “Within the sunny eating space and with the full-length home windows, you had a way of house and the attractive blue Canberra skies. You’d get up to look out at gum bushes and magpies.

“It was so totally different from different homes children grew up in. They’d partitions and doorways.”

The Zwar house in Canberra.

The Zwar home in Canberra.

He remembers his mother and father asking, “What would Harry suppose?” earlier than making adjustments to the house. A lot later, Seidler additionally oversaw extensions to accommodate the Zwars’ rising household.

A few of Seidler’s early purchasers have been European migrants. Just like the Weinreichs, many believed that solely Seidler – an Austrian Jewish refugee – would perceive their need for a house that might take them into the long run as a substitute of anchoring them to the previous.

Weinreich’s son Henry, a dressmaker who appeared as a mentor on Venture Runway Australia, sums up his mother and father’ perspective: “We have survived the conflict, we have survived Hitler, we survived Stalin; we aren’t going to be jailed inside our personal properties.”

Henry Weinreich with his parents Joseph and Aneta Weinreich inside their Seidler-designed home.

Henry Weinreich along with his mother and father Joseph and Aneta Weinreich inside their Seidler-designed house.Credit score:James Brickwood

Fourteen years after Seidler’s dying, Mrs Weinreich’s finger nonetheless factors as much as the heavens to ask what Harry would do. Failing a response from above, she calls Seidler & Associates.

The Weinreichs have modified nothing. Final week they sat consuming Polish cheesecake on German crockery and cutlery on the desk, the place Aneta wrote her ebook, The Proper Time to Converse, about how she survived the Holocaust and the place Joseph and son Henry at the moment are writing the older man’s story.

Excluding the baked cheesecake, it was all ordained by Seidler, who took Mrs Weinreich procuring to pick out the whole lot. She says he gave recommendation on what flowers to purchase (gladiolus nonetheless unopened) and what artwork to hold – a John Coburn portray hangs close to the entrance door.

“It’s all Seidler authorized,” she says.

Weinreich House in Vaucluse 1962, including a painting by John Coburn.

Weinreich Home in Vaucluse 1962, together with a portray by John Coburn.Credit score:Max Dupain with permission from Penelope Seidler

Many house owners usually are not as loyal, but nonetheless promote their properties as Seidler-designed once they have been altered past recognition, says Seidler’s daughter Polly, a lawyer.

“I usually have to clarify to actual property brokers that the home they’re promoting has been so altered that nothing of Seidler stays, so it’s opposite to client legislation, not to mention false attribution, below the inventive ethical rights provisions of the Copyright Act, to make use of the identify Seidler to explain what they’re promoting.”

Harry & Penelope Seidler Home

A kangaroo hops by way of the backyard of the 1967 house that Harry and Penelope Seidler constructed for themselves in Killara.

“It is cosy is not it?” asks Mrs Seidler. Regardless of the heft that comes from the concrete kind and the dimensions, it’s a restful nest.

Penelope Seidler at her home in Killara.

Penelope Seidler at her house in Killara.Credit score:Kate Geraghty

It’s stuffed along with her cross-stitch work, photographs, artwork, mementoes, tiny fashions of well-known buildings and mid-century furnishings. Harry Seidler’s garments nonetheless grasp within the wardrobe. Structure books pack the research the place nothing has modified, and his plans and designs nonetheless fill the drafting room that overlooks the creek.

In comparison with most of the smaller properties that Seidler constructed, it appears like a concrete mothership.

However the themes are comparable. Like others, the house is sited to the block; its break up ranges comply with the autumn of the gully right down to the creek that runs by way of the property. The kitchen and eating room face the north to get the solar, whereas the research and bedrooms get much less mild. The kids’s playroom and bedrooms, monastic by in the present day’s requirements, are on a special degree from the lounge.

Penelope Seidler at her husband Harry’s drafting desk at her home in Killara, with sculptures by Hilarie Mais behind.

Penelope Seidler at her husband Harry’s drafting desk at her house in Killara, with sculptures by Hilarie Mais behind.Credit score:Kate Geraghty

Seidler stated of his structure: “It shall be snug, it shall be strong, it shall stand as much as the wear and tear and tear, and delight, it needs to be a pleasure to be in and work in.”

“Fashionable-medieval, I name it,” Mrs Seidler informed Monocle Movies in 2016.

The home received the 1967 Wilkinson Award for residential structure, the third in a row for Seidler.

A cuckoo clock within the kitchen sounds. Mrs Seidler had wished to purchase it when she noticed it in a store within the Black Forest in Germany. Did Harry need it? No, however they compromised, shopping for a plain clock in wooden. Over time, although, the person that younger Penelope Evatt married on her 20th birthday in 1958 liked its old style name.

Marrying Seidler, then 35 and controversial, was like going from the “frying pan into the hearth”, says Mrs Seidler, 82.

Harry and Penelope Seidler in 1958.

Harry and Penelope Seidler in 1958.Credit score:Marcell Seidler with permission from Penelope Seidler

Seidler’s expertise within the internment camps had given him “a wholesome disregard for silly legal guidelines”, she says.

Together with 2300 males aged 16 to 60, principally Jewish and practically all civilian refugees fleeing Nazism, Seidler had been shipped from an internment camp on the Isle of Man to the same camp in Canada in 1940.

“The shock was that we have been acquired as German prisoners [of war],” stated Rabbi Schild, now 92, who was on the identical ship as Seidler in 1940. He informed Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail that they have been greeted by troopers carrying machine weapons, and initially housed with Nazi prisoners of conflict who taunted the Jewish refugees.

Within the camp, Seidler attended casual structure lectures. When requested what he was going to do when he was launched from camp, Seidler replied: “Clearly I’m going to check structure.”

A design for a small home he drew whereas within the camp was praised by inmates. The one criticism? The home windows have been too small.

Blues Level Tower

When the NSW authorities stated it was going to zone the harbourside McMahons Level as industrial in 1957, Seidler and different architects agreed to assist the native progress affiliation persuade politicians that the positioning could be higher suited to high-density residential residing.

Collectively they got here up with an idea that included a flight of condo blocks going up the hill, with the tallest on the prime, and staggered so that they did not block one another’s views.

In the long run, solely Blues Level Tower went up – on the positioning the place the sooner idea had situated a lodge.

Surrounded by water on three sides, the 25-storey constructing (plus floor flooring) with 144 residences stood out. Accomplished in 1962, it was then the tallest condo block in Sydney.

Blues Point Tower at McMahons Point.

Blues Level Tower at McMahons Level.Credit score:Louise Kennerley

Seidler thought the constructing one in every of his finest, and was significantly pleased with its “scintillating facade” with its placement of home windows in alternating spots that was impressed by his trainer, artist Josef Albers.

Even today, dwarfed by buildings like the under-construction Crown Casino directly across the harbour, it is still controversial.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet recently put it at the top of his wish list of buildings he’d like to see removed.

However those that reside there adore it, and its views.

After practically 60 years, the block is displaying the indicators of age.

Felicity O’Brien, a resident for the reason that 1970s who’s on the strata committee of the house owners’ company, says they’re decided to revive it to “what Harry would’ve wished”.

The committee is now discussing a heritage restoration venture, which the strata committee expects to value hundreds of thousands, with Seidler & Associates. Referred to as a “home windows, doorways and balconies” venture, it can additionally see the concrete exterior restored to the unique color that Seidler most popular.

“The strata committee is devoted to finishing up the work in a method that Harry would’ve favored,” says O’Brien.

Harry Seidler pictured in 1991 on the balcony of his Milsons Point office with Blues Point  Tower at left in background.

Harry Seidler pictured in 1991 on the balcony of his Milsons Level workplace with Blues Level Tower at left in background. Credit score:Robert Pearce

When the then 31-year-old Ingrid Reynolds moved into her condo on the 16th flooring of Blues Level Tower within the early 1970s, it was very social. “There have been plenty of eligible males round,” she says.

Simply again from working in London, Reynolds, now 79, wished modernity, water views, and a fast journey by ferry to a brand new job at Round Quay. When she went to go to a flat on the market in Blues Level, she was bought – it had views throughout the bush to the west. “I stated sure, and right here I’m.”

Her two-bedroom condo is “untouched, authentic Harry,” she says aside from a toilet renovation. Wallpaper was additionally added at some stage, one thing Seidler did not use.

Blues Point Tower residents Felicity O'Brien and Ingrid Reynolds.

Blues Level Tower residents Felicity O’Brien and Ingrid Reynolds.Credit score:Nick Moir

Responding to altering occasions, the flats have been pitched at younger feminine professionals like Reynolds. A 1971 photograph essay of the tower by Sydney architect Glenn Harper featured single skilled ladies partying by candlelight, ironing within the kitchen and studying on a single mattress.

Now on the heritage committee of the NSW chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects, Harper says Seidler’s work formed the way in which Australians wished to reside within the 1960s. Houses and residences have been effectively deliberate, light-filled and sited to go well with the landscapes.

Reynold’s neighbour O’Brien has the most effective views in Sydney, from Barangaroo to the Sydney’s north. “We simply love residing right here, and we wouldn’t reside anyplace else,” says O’Brien.

Berman Home at Joadja

For Seidler, nothing got here near the Southern Highlands home he designed for the Berman household in 1999. Its roof curls like a wave crashing on a walkway jutting out about half a kilometre above the Wingecarribee River beneath.

“A degree roof could be fairly a uninteresting factor to do on such a marvellous web site,” he stated in 2001. “Because of trendy expertise, we will bend and twist metal like spaghetti into any configuration we wish.”

Andrew Martin, the owner of Berman House, which was built in 1999.

Andrew Martin, the proprietor of Berman Home, which was inbuilt 1999.Credit score:Wolter Peeters

The metal construction of the roof responded to the positioning’s distant location. It allowed Seidler to do extra with much less, and prefabricate and assemble the roof on web site utilizing fewer parts than a timber body.

Seidler noticed structure as a bit of artwork; “frozen music” was the time period he used. He informed Architectural Digest in 2001 that at Joadja he had wished to defy gravity, and create one thing in three dimensions that was “poetic and delightful”.

In the course of the coronavirus lockdown this yr, the home represented isolation and peace to its present proprietor, who decamped there for the length. “It’s my comfortable place,” says funding supervisor Andrew Martin.

It was additionally good for retailer David Jones throughout isolation, which used the suspended walkway jutting out over the valley for its virtual fashion show.

Shopping for the four-bedroom home in 2009 within the midst of the worldwide monetary disaster was a daring resolution, says Martin. So the household rents the secluded home out as a luxury getaway – at round $2000 an evening – attracting architects and mid-century design lovers.

Architect Antony Westwood can be “in love” with the home, which he labored on as a brand new graduate with Seidler within the 1990s. It was one in every of Seidler’s most dramatic designs: “The stone anchors the constructing, and using glass and metal make it seems like it’s hovering. It truly is out of this world.”

Nothing escaped Seidler’s consideration, he says. He designed the kitchen, the bar stools, espresso tables, and even trestle beds that the unique proprietor’s youngsters would use for sleepovers.

Inside Berman House at Joadja.

Inside Berman Home at Joadja.Credit score:Wolter Peeters

For all of the glamorous homes, Westwood says Seidler constructed many humble and easy household properties together with social housing. “That impressed me about Harry; he got here from a technology who survived conflict, and wished to construct a greater world. That’s the place his ideology got here from … he noticed modernism as an aesthetic and a method of constructing higher high quality homes and constructed atmosphere.”


Seidler stated modernism wasn’t a mode, however a wedding of artwork, expertise, and social wants that was at all times altering and adapting.

“It was a conviction that what man’s eye seeks in our period, in our time, isn’t the ponderous solidity of conventional structure the place the whole lot was constructed to 4 partitions round a room and areas that have been finite,” stated Seidler. “However fairly our eyes search transparency, lightness, with the ability to look by way of issues,” he stated in a 2004 interview for the video Frozen Music.

In his first years with Seidler, Westwood was usually known as out like a casual handyman to assist these individuals who would not do something with out consulting Seidler: “I might change lightbulbs and unclog sinks,” he says.

He helped Joseph Weinreich in Vaucluse select and set up lights, design a wall for a letterbox, and exchange faucet fittings.

Many purchasers remained loyal to the Seidler imaginative and prescient for many years.

That is as a result of, says Carter, they noticed their properties as artwork.

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