Friday, March 10, 2006

Harry Seidler leaves a great legacy for Sydney

I was saddened to hear of Harry Seidler's death yesterday. At age 82 it is a great tribute to his work that even today his buildings are being constructed around the town including Council's own $40 million Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre on Harris Street Ultimo and just down from Town Hall on George Street the Meriton Tower half finished but showing it's signature sensual Seidler curves. I think Harry is one of Australia's greatest architects and he has certainly left his mark for a century to come. When I moved to East Sydney more than a decade ago controversy was flaring over Seidler's Horizon Apartment tower complex on the old ABC radio site. The member for Bligh and consistant NIMBY was campaigning against it as usual but I was thrilled by the powerful assertion of the proposal. Today towering over William Street the building is an iconic Darlinghurst landmark and very popular with its vertical village. I never fail to be impressed each time I visit.

In a break from my office career I was running a small garden shop on the corner of Bourke and Liverpool Streets in the shadow of the growing tower. One day I looked up from my garden design desk deep in the shop to be greeted by non other than Harry Seidler himself who wanted to discuss the design of pots for the balcony of one apartment he had purchased. We had some dialogue and a transaction eventually occurred - the proceeds of which I used to purchase the definitive Harry Seidler book - Four decades of Architecture by Frampton and Drew.

The last time I spoke to Mr Seidler was at the 2005 Opera House New Year's eve Party. He was standing alone in his familiar bow tie licking a giant traditional single vanilla ice-cream cone looking contently across the harbour towards his Blues Point Tower. I interrupted his solitude and reminded him of our earlier meetings and my admiration for his work and he asked after my current career. With forewarned trepidation I informed him I was now a City of Sydney Councillor. The response was a broad sword swipe that 'no great architecture can be built in this country whilst local Council's exist'. Then back to his ice cream. Such was the creative power and force of opinion of the man.

Tim Dick in today's Sydney Morning Herald pays a person on the street tribute whilst Elizabeth Farrelly gives another architects opinion.

Sydney's towering dynamo dead at 82
By Tim Dick

March 10, 2006

Know him by his works...Harry Seidler, who died yesterday, transformed Sydney.Photo: Michelle Mossop
Photos: Seidler's buildings
FOR a memorial to Harry Seidler, look around Sydney.
This is his city.
You could look for one around Australia, or the world, but it his adopted home town that he changed the most.
The country's most celebrated architect had more standing memorials in Sydney at the time of his death yesterday than most great people ever do.
His legacy to the city is the greatest since Francis Greenway built his sandstone marvels for Governor Macquarie two centuries ago.
It is in Australia Square, the MLC Centre, Grosvenor Place, the Horizon, the Cove, the contentious Blues Point Tower and the celebrated Turramurra house that he built for his mother, Rose. It will also lie in his final works - the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre in Ultimo and Meriton Tower on George Street.
Together, his buildings pay testament to his place as the influential founder of modernist architecture in this country.
Harry Seidler died at his Killara home with his family by his side, aged 82. He had been ill since suffering a stroke in April. He is survived by his children, Tim and Polly, and wife, Penelope.
"Harry was a passionate Australian and his genius was recognised internationally. He was a loving husband and father, and will be sadly missed," Mrs Seidler said. The family plans a private funeral, with a later public memorial service to be arranged.
Seidler was born in Vienna in 1923 but fled to England in 1938. He was interned in a camp in Canada during the war and on his release stayed in the there to study, finishing his work at Harvard. In 1948 he came to Sydney.
The University of Sydney's chair of architecture, Tom Heneghan, said Seidler pioneered a new wave of Australian architecture. "I tried to imagine the Horizon located in London and it's out of the question. It epitomises all that's optimistic, energetic and fresh about the Australian spirit, and everything about its climate."
Seidler was never "seduced" by technique, he said. Instead his work was about emotion. "He carried the flame of expressionist architecture." Another architect, Glenn Murcutt, said he brought art to architecture. "Whilst he wasn't everyone's cup of tea ... he actually brought a level of architecture that few architects have seen in this country."
A former occupant of Blues Point Tower, the federal minister Joe Hockey, defended Seidler's most contentious work: "That building's ageing a hell of a lot better than many people."
Seidler's run-ins with councils, bureaucrats, Luna Park and other detractors - even a cartoonist - are well known, but Bob Nation, president of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, said behind the manner was a determination to avoid compromise. "So much of the work that we see today ... dilutes the strength of the original idea and Harry would not subscribe to that," he said. "We're all the richer for it. He was a great character and we'll miss him greatly."
Even in illness Seidler could still make news. Last July, he discovered the Government had revoked his citizenship, even though he was a Companion of the Order of Australia. It was taken because he had been bestowed Austrian citizenship, a gesture for the wartime wrongs suffered. The damage was swiftly undone when the matter became public.
Seidler won many awards - five Sulman Medals and the Royal Institute of British Architects' Royal Gold Medal - but he will have the longest of last words, and a short walk around Sydney will show that.

More profiles by Elizabeth farrelly who always raises a few heckles from eCouncillor readers..

When Harry met Sydney
People either loved or hated the architect and his work. But then Harry Seidler was never one for dithering over opinions, writes Elizabeth Farrelly.

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