Painting Toward Architecture is a traveling exhibition celebrating the ninetieth anniversary of the birth of Harry Seidler, the leading Australian architect of the twentieth century. The exhibition traces Austrian-born Seidler’s key role in bringing Bauhaus principles to Australia and identifies his distinctive place and hand within and beyond modernist design methodology.
“Harry Seidler : Painting Toward Architecture”
January 21, 2016 – January 31, 2016
LaSede COAM, First Floor
C/ Hortaleza 63,
The fifteen featured projects—five houses and five towers in Sydney, and five major commissions beyond Sydney—focus on Seidler’s lifelong creative collaborations, a pursuit he directly inherited from Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, with progressive artistic visionaries: architects Marcel Breuer and Oscar Niemeyer, engineer Pier Luigi Nervi, photographer Max Dupain, and artists Josef Albers, Alexander Calder, Norman Carlberg, Sol LeWitt, Charles Perry, Frank Stella, and Lin Utzon.
This exhibition was developed by Intercontinental Curatorial Project with Penelope Seidler of the Seidler Architectural Foundation in Sydney and is presented through architectural models, sculpture maquettes, photographs, films, correspondence, books, scrapbooks, periodicals, drawings, and original sketches—provided by the architect’s family, Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, The Josef & Anni Albers Foundation, The Marcel Breuer Digital Archive at Syracuse University, and the private archives of artists Norman Carlberg, Charles Perry, and Lin Utzon.
“Harry Seidler: Lifework” (Rizzoli, April 2014) by Vladimir Belogolovsky contains additional texts by Chris Abel, Norman Foster, Kenneth Frampton, and Oscar Niemeyer; design by Massimo Vignelli; available for purchase on Amazon and Rizzoli websites, as well as bookstores woldwide.
“As much as the needs of fact, the needs of the spirit and the senses,
must be satisfied. Architecture is as much a part of the realm of art as
it is of technology; the fusion of thinking and feeling.” (Harry Seidler, 1963)
Harry Seidler (25 June 1923 Vienna – 9 March 2006 Sydney) was the first architect to fully express Bauhaus principles in Australia, exemplified by his first project, which was built in 1950 for his parents—the Rose Seidler House in Wahroonga, north of Sydney. All his life, he was, in his own words, “the torchbearer of modern architecture”—a sincere missionary for the cause of modernism. Seidler left a distinct mark on our world, most noticeably with his Australian Embassy in Paris, Hong Kong Club in Central Hong Kong, Wohnpark Neue Donaularge residential community in Vienna, and, above all, through his many characteristic towers, which essentially define the skyline of contemporary Sydney.
A native of Vienna, Seidler was the second son in the upper middle-class Jewish family of Max Seidler, a self-made textile business owner, and Rose Seidler, who came from a large family that owned a timber cutting business. In 1938, at the age of fifteen, he fled to England soon after Nazi Germany invaded Austria. In May 1940, he was interned by British authorities as an “enemy alien,” transported first to the Isle of Man and then to a detention camp near Quebec City in Canada. In October 1941, he was released on parole to study architecture at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.
Seidler received his master’s degree at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, where he studied on scholarship from 1945-46 under Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, a lifelong mentor and friend. He then attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he studied under the painter Josef Albers, followed by employment as Breuer’s first assistant in New York. In 1948, Seidler was invited by his mother to come to Australia, where his parents immigrated after the war, to design a house for them. En route to Australia, Seidler worked at Oscar Niemeyer’s office in Rio de Janeiro for a few months.
In September 1948, Seidler established a practice in Sydney. The ambitious twenty-five-year-old’s tiny studio/apartment featured a prominently displayed statement: “Australia’s present day building practices are outdated. They cry out for rejuvenation. It is the policy of this office to create new standards which will produce a progressive contemporary architecture.” The architect’s prolific career to follow, spanning almost sixty years, proved him right. Nearly 160 of his projects—from single family houses to apartment buildings, multi-story office towers to civic and cultural centers, as well as important government commissions, were realized in Australia, Austria, France, Israel, Italy, Mexico, and Hong Kong.
Seidler’s instantly recognizable body of work, marked by a strong sense of geometry, baroque in origin, a feel for robust balanced compositions, a knowledge of structure and materials, and the use of inventive shading devices that effectively respond to the intense Australian sun distinguish him as the most uncompromising and artistic architect in his adopted country, and one of the most persevering and ingenious architects of his time anywhere. His architecture embodies numerous sources and influences that he strategically sought out and refined over the course of his career—confidence, social purpose, and a methodological and collaborative approach to design from Gropius; residential types, the power of concrete, and the warmth of wood from Breuer; standardized building systems and expressive structural language from Nervi; sculptural fluidity and lyrical forms from Niemeyer; and a profound understanding of how our eyes react to visual phenomena from Albers.
From the 1970s on, Seidler’s hand became increasingly influenced by modular works of American abstract expressionist painters and sculptors, evolving into a distinctly personal artistic language yet to be recognized by the profession internationally. Seidler’s late work, however free and sculptural, is never arbitrary. His majestic forms were perpetually defined by rational planning, efficiency of standardized construction, and social and environmental considerations.