Many words have been written and spoken about Harry Seidler. There are books and articles, both by and about him, that chronologically categorise his life and buildings and delve into his design dogma.
Here we celebrate his life through a series of revealing remembrances from some of his friends and colleagues. They talk not only about his architecture and legacies but Harry Seidler the man and mentor, his humanity and friendship.
I first became aware of the work of Harry Seidler around the time that his first monograph was published. The book Harry Seidler 1955-63 became a point of reference for us in the basement office of Douglas Stephen and Partners in Wimpole Street, London. He appeared to us then as yet another distant hero of the postwar world prospering in the remote, beneficent climate of sunny Australia after the renowned achievement of his mother’s house.
I went to work for Harry in 1953. He was fairly notorious from press publicity but was very active in promoting modern architecture and design, giving talks, arranging exhibitions and upsetting some of the profession.
More than 45 years ago, as a third year architectural student, I approached Harry Seidler for a job in response to an advertisement that my mother said she had seen. I got the job even though there had been no advertisement (mothers! I had been set up). Harry, who was looking after Gropius in Australia in 1954, remembered that I had written to him while still at school, some four or five years earlier. This youthful interest in the Bauhaus was sufficient reason for Harry to employ me.
My first meeting with Harry Seidler was in 1980 when I was a 22-year-old architecture student. I had just arrived home from a year in Marcel Breuer’s New York office and I arranged to have a chat with Harry in his office.
A lot has been said and written, and will be said and written, about Harry Seidler the architect. I would like to shed some light on Harry Seidler the person. I had the good fortune to be around Harry for about a quarter of his life, and he was a caring, generous, passionate, modest and compassionate man.
“There are no truths in architecture”, said Aalto, and whether or not you like Modernism, or Seidler’s interpretation of it, he has forced all architects to take their own position in respect of which architectural doctrine they will fight for and defend.
Harry believed that he could make a difference – and to our benefit, he did. Australia would still be a ‘cultural backwater’ without his significant contribution.
I first met Harry Seidler in 1996, the year I graduated from university. I had spent many hours after the completion of my studies walking around the Sydney CBD looking at buildings to glean some direction. Grosvenor Place and the Capita Centre stood out as rigorous, visually exciting and innovative buildings. So in February 1996, with my heart in my throat, I walked into the office of Harry Seidler & Associates and simply asked for a job. I was told there were no positions available. After some negotiation, I managed to secure a few weeks work experience, starting on the following Monday.
Harry Seidler was a key figure in international modern architecture and in the establishment of post-war modern design in Australia. He was a hands-on architect whose output was prodigious, with projects, buildings and developments in Mexico, Hong Kong, France, Austria (where one of his most recent housing projects is to be found) and Australia, where he had practised in architecture from 1948, building many private houses and tall urban buildings in well orchestrated and landscaped city centres.