ROSE SEIDLER HOUSE BY HARRY SEIDLER
Harry Seidler AC OBE 25 June 1923 (Vienna) - 9 March 2006 (Sydney)
Harry Seidler came to Australia by way of England, Canada, America and Brazil. Born in Vienna, he fled the Nazi's as a young boy only to be interned on the Isle of Man by British Authorities. He was shipped to Canada, still in internment, but gained probational release to study architecture at the University of Manitoba.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the Nazi's closed down the famous Bauhaus school of design. One of the founding members, Walter Gropius, fled Germany for England and eventually emigrated to America, where he ended up as a professor of Architecture at Harvard. Marcel Breuer had studied under Walter Gropius at Bauhaus, and he too fled Germany and made his way to the US where he joined Gropius on the Harvard faculty.
During his studies in Manitoba, Harry Seidler won a scholarship to study at Harvard and it was here where he met Gropius and Breuer. Following years of Seidler studying and working in New York under the former Bauhaus teachers, his parents invited him to visit them in Australia. They had traveled the opposite direction around the world and had landed in Sydney. They requested their son to come and build them a house. Seidler traveled to Sydney by way of Brazil, where he worked briefly with Brazillian architect, Oscar Niemeyer.
Initially uninspired by the terrain to the south of the Sydney, on a drive north through Ku Ring Gai, Seidler became besotted with the charm of the trees and quiet. A block of land was purchased in the bush overlooking the Ku Ring Gai Chase National Park. Seidler set about designing a home for his parents in the park-like setting. The principles learned through the Bauhaus teachings are evident in Rose Seidler House: the division of the home into 'daytime' and 'nighttime' spaces; kitchen adjacent to dining room with panels allowing food to be passed through; open plan, yet compact space where the use of ceiling height was used the make the space feel larger; multi use spaces, with curtains dividing the space; floor to ceiling windows, framing the view and bringing the outside in. This was revolutionary thinking in the 1950s, with Australian home design still largely based in Victorian times, with closed off rooms bearing heavy curtains, shutting out natural light and nature. Seidler also designed a mural for the exterior wall in the courtyard space adjacent to the living room. Influence of Oscar Neimeyer is evident in the shapes and colour. The colour is also picked up in the cabinet panels in the kitchen
Seidler had had the foresight to ship over a container of furniture and light fittings for Rose Seidler house, which were also very modern for the times. The shipment included chairs by Ray and Charles Eames, Grasshopper and Womb chairs by Eero Saarinen.
When the house was finished, Harry Seidler said that there could be crowds up to four people deep gawking in on this modern marvel. Seidler had planned to go back to the US following the construction of his parents home. However, he had seen the struggle and competition Marcel Breuer faced in New York. In Sydney, Seidler saw the opportunity and hunger for modern design. He remained in Sydney, where he opened his own practice in 1949.
Harry Seidler brought modernism to Australia. Rose Seidler House remains as evidence to the humble beginnings of a man who went on to shape the skyline of Sydney with such buildings as Australia Square, MLC Centre, 88 Grosvenor Place, and Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre; as well as making his mark around the world with Hong Kong Club, Hong Kong, Australian Embassy, Paris, and traveling full circle to Hochhaus Neue Donau in Vienna, Austria, his birthplace.
Rose Seidler House is open for tours through Sydney Living Museums: click here for more information on Rose Seidler House and hours of operation.
Harry Seidler Lifework is available on Amazon, click here.