Architectural model, 'Meares Residence', cardboard / paper, designed and made by Harry Seidler and Associates, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1995
'Even though this is a modest size house, its visual impact comes from the interior form, the almost cathedral-like vertical spaces and their interaction over split-level floors' - architect's statement 97/190/8-1
Harry Seidler came to Australia in 1948 to visit his parents and to design a new house for them. He intended to return to his blossoming career in the USA. However his parents' house - the Rose Seidler house at Turramurra - was so positively received that Seidler was quickly overwhelmed with requests and commissions to design similar residences. Seidler's reputation was created by these mostly small 1950s houses and he continued to design houses throughout his career, although by the 1980s and 1990s Sydney's overvalued property market meant that architect design was distinctly less affordable and common than during the 1950s.
The Meares residence is a fine example of Seidler's continuing adaptation of modernism to suburban design. Split-level houses and apartments are among the design innovations associated with Le Corbusier, who designed several pioneering split-level houses during the 1930s - Villa Carthage and Villa Errazuriz in Chile were the first. A student and enthusiast for Le Corbusier's work, Seidler used split-level designs for many of his houses starting with the Meller House built at Castlecrag in 1950. This strategy aided the separation of living and sleeping areas while creating a greater sense of spaciousness especially in the double-height living areas that were a feature of these houses.
From the start Seidler employed many of the materials and methods of vernacular suburban architecture. The Meares residence continued this tradition. It is built on concrete slab foundations while the walls are constructed of concrete blocks which effectively create privacy on a narrow site. Only the curve of the corrugated steel roof reads as an 'architectural' statement although its primary purpose is to create height for the main bedroom.
Charles Pickett, Curator Design and built environment.
Harry Seidler (1923-2006) was born in Vienna and fled Nazism via England, Canada and the USA where at Harvard University he was a student of Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. Seidler visited Sydney in 1948 to design a home for his parents. His intended return to the USA was halted by numerous requests to design houses similar to Rose Seidler house.
Seidler was one of a generation of new arrivals who internationalised an Anglophile outpost. Another was Dutch engineer Dick Dusseldorp who engaged Seidler to design numerous projects for his Lend Lease construction company. Among these were sophisticated but affordable apartment blocks which lent glamour and liveability to inner city living. Others included major urban redevelopments designed around office towers; Australian Square was the first of these. Seidler also found success internationally, his Australian Embassy in Paris the best-known of several off-shore commissions.
No architect has had a greater impact on Sydney through both his own work and its influence on others. Although Harry Seidler's Modernism was shaped by Europe and the US, Sydney also formed his work and his social presence. Often caricatured as a doctrinaire modernist, Seidler tailored most of his work to Sydney¬?s climate and topography. Some of his best buildings ¬? Blues Point Tower, Australia Square to name but two - were also his most controversial. As a polemicist, Seidler was less compromising but Sydney¬?s urban culture benefited from his scorn of the second-rate in design and decision-making. His donation of this model, among others, was typical of his generosity to the Powerhouse and the arts community.
In addition to numerous awards received locally, such as the Royal Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal, in 1996 Seidler was the recipient of the Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal.