Harry Seidler has been called ‘the father of Australian modern architecture’.
There’s no doubt his iconic architectural style ushered in a new era of home design in Australia. We take a look at some of the Seidler-designed buildings found in Sydney’s east.
Australian architecture’s ‘great disruptor’
Harry Seidler, an Austrian Jew, was born in Vienna in 1923. When the Germans invaded his homeland in 1938, he fled to England. There, Seidler was interned as an enemy alien and shipped off to Canada. He was released in 1941 to study architecture and graduated from the University of Manitoba with first-class honours. This led to a scholarship to study at Harvard Graduate School of Design under modernist luminaries Walter Gropius (founder of the Bauhaus School) and Marcel Breuer.
Meanwhile, Seidler’s parents had emigrated to Australia. When his mother wrote to him in 1947 asking him to come to Sydney and design her a house, the young architect couldn’t resist. Seidler arrived in Sydney in 1948, and Rose Seidler House was built in Wahroonga the same year.
Seidler was determined to overhaul Australian architecture (he found Sydney to be “deadly, dull suburbia” when he arrived). His vision for his architecture: “It shall be comfortable, it shall be solid, it shall stand up to wear and tear, and delight, it should be a pleasure to be in and work in.”
Seidler may not have been Australia’s first or only modernist architect, but he undoubtedly amplified the modernist movement in this country, making it a talking point with his high-profile buildings, such as Blues Point Tower, Australia Square, and the MLC Centre, and his outspoken (sometimes controversial) media presence. He died in 2006, leaving a legacy of more than 180 houses, apartment blocks, offices and public buildings, including several here in Sydney’s east.
12 Ithaca Road, Elizabeth Bay
It has been said that Harry Seidler’s designs shaped the way Australians wanted to live in the 1960s. In a break from the architecture of old, his houses and apartments were filled with light, sited to suit the geography and environment of their block, and designed for efficiency.
Sydney’s east is home to a collection of classic Seidler apartment buildings. Elizabeth Bay’s Ithaca Gardens was completed in 1960 and won the NSW Architecture and Arts Award the same year. The block stands out for its distinctive ‘folded’ entrance canopy and panoramic harbour views. Seidler and his wife Penelope lived at Ithaca Gardens for seven years before they built their home in Killara.
50 Roslyn Gardens, Rushcutters Bay
Another of Seidler’s innovative medium-rise apartment buildings, Aquarius, can be found in Rushcutters Bay. Built in 1965, like Ithaca Gardens it used European apartment design features to maximise natural light and cross breezes. The original design for Aquarius included an unadorned concrete façade, but this stark modernist look has been tempered in recent years with a paint job.
351 Edgecliff Road, Edgecliff
Arlington, circa 1965-66, was designed with long-term, generational living in mind. The generously proportioned apartments in this large complex enjoy classic Seidler light-filled floorplans. The building is an icon of modernist architecture, constructed from concrete and masonry with a striking drawbridge entry. Seidler’s interest in bridges, roof terraces, multi-level apartments and cleverly planned spaces with large windows ushered in a new era of Australian apartment design.
85 Elizabeth Bay Road, Elizabeth Bay
Ercildoune is a blond brick and concrete apartment building built in 1966. It features several Seidler hallmarks, including a rooftop terrace (complete with a pool) and windows arranged in a well-composed gridded formation across the block’s primary facades. Brutalist architectural influences can be seen in the shape and structure of the rear of the building.
40 Victoria Street, Potts Point
Gemini is the Latin word for twins, making it the perfect moniker for this twin-tower apartment complex built in two stages in 1961 and 1969. The two towers are linked by a footbridge, giving the complex an ‘H’-shaped footprint reminiscent of the symbol for the Gemini astrological sign. In a design first, the buildings’ windows were fitted with external aluminium roller shutters to filter the afternoon sun. The shutters still work today.
100 Elizabeth Bay Road, Elizabeth Bay
International Lodge (originally known as the Ling Apartments), built in 1970, consists of two buildings. Seidler design trademarks include the main building’s northerly orientation to capture the winter sun and the rear building’s rooftop terrace and pool. International Lodge’s Brutalist-style façade is dictated by its concrete frame, which cleverly reduces the number of internal load-bearing walls to allow for open-plan interiors. The building was sold to a developer in 2014, and the apartments no longer feature Seidler’s original fit-outs.
184 Forbes Street, Darlinghurst
Perhaps Seidler’s most well-known apartment building in our neighbourhood is the Horizon. At 43 storeys, it’s certainly the tallest. Built in 1998 on the old ABC radio studios site, the building is famous for its curved balconies that give the façade the appearance of undulating waves. The Horizon was designed to provide as many of the apartments as possible views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The Horizon apartments enjoy flexible floorplans with living spaces and bedrooms interchangeable to suit the residents’ needs. The site also includes landscaped gardens, a pool, a tennis court and a subterranean 500-car garage.
Seidler didn’t only design apartment buildings in Sydney’s east; a handful of local homeowners also commissioned him to design freestanding family houses. From Weinreich House and Hamilton House in Vaucluse (built in 1961 and 1989-91, respectively) and Bland House in Rose Bay (built in 1982 and renovated by Harry Seidler and Associates in 2005), Sydney’s eastern suburbs are home to several Seidler-designed houses.
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Photo credit: Wikipedia