Monday, December 26, 2016

A Visit to the Seidler Offices & Penthouse

Seidler Penthouse by Penelope & Harry Seidler (1988), including artwork L-R by Frank Stella ("Midnight Aloft", 1988), tall Aboriginal poles from Tiwi Islands (c. 1960s), Hilarie Mias ("Gaea", 1988), and Rover Thomas (1990).
Photo ©Darren Bradley

Just prior to my most recent trip back to Australia, I was contacted by Polly Seidler, daughter of architects Penelope and Harry Seidler, and invited to stop by the Seidler offices for a chat. As a long-time admirer of the Seidlers' work, it was quite an honor for me, and a real treat. 

Seidler Offices & Apartments
Seidler Office entrance at 2 Glen Street, Milsons Point. The building was completed in 1973, and won a Sulman Award in 1981. The curved concrete beams were designed in collaboration with Pier Luigi Nervi. The sculpture on the left is by Robert Owen ("Tracing Light - For Harry 3D/4D", 2011). Photo ©Darren Bradley

Readers of my blog or my Instagram feed are well aware of my obsession with Harry Seidler's work. I never miss an opportunity to visit one of his buildings, wherever I find them. 

seidler residences north sydney
Seidler-designed office building in at 41 McLaren Street in North Sydney, not far from the offices at Milsons Point. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Seidler fled Austria in 1938 prior to World War II due to his Jewish heritage, and moved to England where he began his studies in architecture and construction. But he was soon interned there as an enemy alien, and eventually sent to an internment camp in Quebec, Canada. From there, he was released on probation so that he could continue his studies in architecture at the University of Manitoba. He then studied at the Harvard School of Design under Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, and also worked for Breuer in New York City. 

Robert C. Weaver Federal Building (US Department of Housing and Urban Development)
Robert C. Weaver Building in Washington, DC is an archetype example of Breuer's work, and his brilliant mastery of concrete forms . Photo ©Darren Bradley

But his interests were broad and he was extremely interested in art and color theory, as well, which also took him to Black Mountain College, where he studied under Josef Albers. Finally, he also worked for Oscar Niemeyer in Rio de Janeiro for a spell before coming to Australia. Seidler would retain the influence of all of these great masters in his own work (as well as many others, including architects dating back to the baroque era), while creating an architectural language that was uniquely his own. 

Australia Square
The lobby at the Seidler-designed tower Australia Square features a mural by artist Sol LeWitt. The ceiling detail was designed in collaboration with Pier Luigi Nervi. Photo ©Darren Bradley 

He came to Australia originally just for a visit, and to design a home for his parents, Rose and Max Seidler, who had emigrated there after the war. The home he would design and build for them, completed in 1950, was ground-breaking and led to many more commissions in Australia. Seidler saw the opportunity to establish a meaningful career in that country, and so decided to stay. 

Rose Seidler Residence
Rose Seidler Residence, completed in 1950. Photo ©Darren Bradley

From these humble beginnings, he would go on to design many homes but also other buildings such as high-rise office towers and residential buildings that would define Sydney's skyline. 

Australia Square
Another view of iconic Australia Square, which won a Sulman Award in 1967. This photo is directly inspired by the famous shot by photographer Max Dupain, of course.
Photo ©Darren Bradley
MLC Centre
MLC Centre by Harry Seidler, designed in 1972, completed in 1978, with canopy in foreground added in 1993. Project won a Sulman Award in 1983. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Commercial Travellers' Association
The Commercial Travelers Association is part of the MLC Centre complex by Harry Seidler. Photo ©Darren Bradley

He also designed landmark buildings in other countries, such as the Australian Embassy in Paris, a major residential complex in Vienna, and the Hong Kong Club. 

Australian Embassy
Seidler designed the Australian Embassy in Paris in 1973, (completed in 1977, opened in 1978), with his old mentor Marcel Breuer and close collaborator Pier Luigi Nervi serving as consulting designers on the project. Photo ©Darren Bradley

His own architectural offices sit perched on a bluff in Milsons Point, overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the downtown skyline. 

seidler office 1
Harry Seidler's office at Milsons Point, with central Sydney and the Harbour Bridge in the background. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Another Seidler-designed landmark, the Blues Point Tower, sits directly on the other side of an inlet. 

blues point tower
Blues Point Tower. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. Edited by me. 

The offices are part of an office and residential complex designed by Seidler that represent his architectural language in the mid to later part of his career, with heavy use of rough-cut board-form concrete and concrete window shades. The glass and flowing forms contrast beautifully with the right angles of the board-form concrete. 

Front of Seidler Offices and Apartments at Milsons Point. Photo ©Darren Bradley

I had been by the office several times to look at the exterior, but had never had the chance to see inside. 

Seidler Offices & Apartments
Entrance to one of the Seidler-designed buildings at Milsons Point. Photo @Darren Bradley

It was frankly moving to stand in Harry's office and imagine him there, working. 

I had always known about Harry's love of modern art, and how that informed his own designs. But that became even more apparent in seeing the beautiful artwork displayed throughout the place - a legacy that continues with Penelope and Polly to this day. Seeing the work of Albers, Stella, Lichtenstein, LeWitt and others around the offices and apartment, and how they played off each other, was very revealing. 

Penthouse designed by Penelope and Harry Seidler in 1988. The art behind the dining table is by Hilarie Mias ("Gaea", 1988). The gold and ceramic piece to the right is by Lin Utzon, Jorn Utzon's daughter ("Captia 2", 1989). A piece by Roy Lichtenstein is visible on the upstairs wall. Photo ©Darren Bradley

I love that curved glass feature in the upstairs living room. Art by Roy Lichtenstein. Photo ©Darren Bradley

View from the upstairs bedroom, looking down. Art by Roy Lichtenstein on the far wall. A painting by Kenneth Noland can be seen on the upper floor on the right. Noland studied under Albers at Black Mountain College at the same time as Seidler. Hilarie Mias's piece ("Gaea", 1988), can be seen below a bit. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Having the opportunity to visit and meet Polly and Penelope was a real privilege for me.
And seeing the adjacent penthouse apartment, designed by Penelope and Harry together in 1988, was almost too much to handle. I even got to spend some quiet time in the penthouse, taking it all in. What a day! 

Taking it all in... view from dining room alcove looking back at apartment. Note the furniture that was purpose built for the space, and the stone floors made from stone that came from another Seidler project. The artwork on the wall behind the staircase is by Frank Stella ("Midnight Aloft", 1988). Photo ©Darren Bradley
I'm very grateful to Polly and Penelope for their kindness and generosity. It was such a pleasure to meet them both. 


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