When it comes to the architecture of Australia, the first thing that comes to mind is the Sydney Opera House - undoubtedly the most famous building on the continent, but still the work of a foreigner - Dane Jorn Utson. Then I remember the only Australian Pritzker Prize winner to date - Glen Mercat, whose work, however, is almost exclusively bungalows in the countryside. At the same time, half of the country's population lives in Sydney and Melbourne (not counting the inhabitants of other cities), and they are surrounded by buildings of completely different authors.
One of those who defined the face of the present Australian "built environment" was Harry Seidler, whose contribution is actually much greater: he brought there the latest architectural ideas from Europe and the USA, when local architects were just mastering the language of modernism. But Seidler's name often falls out of the history of world architecture (despite the fact that his buildings are very interesting outside his "progressor" role), and Vladimir Belogolovsky's book addressed to an international audience
Harry Seidler LifeWork (Rizzoli, 2014) aims to correct this injustice.
The Moscow public is already familiar with Seidler thanks to this spring
in the VKHUTEMAS Gallery exhibition; this exhibition, created by Vladimir Belogolovsky as a curator, has been shown in many countries around the world, from Brazil to Estonia. The story of the life and work of Harry Seidler has also acquired special relevance due to its echo with the theme of the current Venice Biennale "The Absorption of Modernity", because Belogolovsky's book tells about the Australian version of this "absorption" much more vividly than the pavilion of this country in Venice, dedicated to large unrealized projects of the past centuries.
Harry Seidler was born in Vienna, was forced in 1938, after the Anschluss, to move to England, where he was interned and transported to Canada. Once freed, he entered the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Manitoba, where he received an education with a strong engineering bias, and then completed his master's course at Harvard under the direction of Walter Gropius. Seidler also studied under Josef Albers and became the first employee of Marcel Breuer's workshop, so he mastered the principles of modernism in the Bauhaus version. He also managed to work a little with Alvar Aalto in the USA, and for a longer time with Oscar Niemeyer in Rio de Janeiro, and the influence of Brazilian architecture in Seidler's works is very noticeable.
The architect came to Sydney in 1948 to design a house for his parents who settled there, but he stayed there forever. He immediately noted that Australian architecture is lagging behind world standards, and set himself the task of correcting this situation by proposing, instead of traditional brick cottages and public buildings in the form of Art Deco, buildings in the mainstream of modernism. But despite a very successful career (he has completed almost 120 projects, including large residential, office and administrative complexes in Australia and abroad, received many Australian awards and the RIBA Gold Medal), Seidler constantly met with resistance from the officials responsible for coordinating his projects. colleagues and journalists, as his work (and his international style in general) was perceived by them as non-Australian. At the same time, it is difficult to understand what could then be considered Australian: all earlier buildings were typical export from the metropolis for the British colonies. Nevertheless, Australia was in no hurry to “absorb modernity,” and the resistance to the new mid-20th century was replaced at the end of the century by postmodern criticism, which also accused Seidler of neglecting national identity. Perhaps he would not have received large orders if it had not been for another immigrant - the Dutch developer Gerardus Düsseldorp, founder of the Lend Lease Corporation, did not believe in him. It is especially striking to read in the interview of the widow of the master Penelope Seidler, included in the book, that it was only after his death in 2006 that they began to truly respect her husband and his work.
Perhaps part of this rejection is rooted in Seidler's uncompromising approach to work: he thought through projects to detail, and sometimes very quickly, in a few days, and was even ready to abandon the project, just to keep his idea intact - albeit only on paper.
His creative method, described in detail in the book of Belogolovsky, is indicative for a student of Gropius, Albers and Breuer, but unusual for a representative of late modernism, a trend that lost its position, among other things, because of the weakened connection with contemporary art. Seidler worked very closely with painters and sculptors and was clearly inspired by their work. Especially interesting are two schemes created specially for Belogolovsky's book - the main geometric "matrices" of Frank Stella's Protractor series and plans for Seidler's buildings: the number of analogies convinces of the close connection between the architect and the artists who worked with him. In addition to Stella, they were sculptors Norman Karlberg (a student of Albers) and Charles Perry, ceramist Lin Utson, daughter of Jorn Utson. Seidler carefully selected a place for their works in the public areas of his buildings, often indicating to the authors what colors and materials should be used for the works ordered by him.
For the publication, Vladimir Belogolovsky interviewed not only Penelope Seidler, but also the artists who worked with the master; it also includes texts written specially for him by Norman Foster, Oscar Niemeyer, Kenneth Frampton. The actual work of Harry Seidler is presented in the book by a selection of 30 buildings. 10 private houses in Sydney, perhaps, most clearly demonstrate the creative evolution of the master over half a century: from imitating Breuer through his interest in Le Corbusier's "rough concrete" to light "neo-modern" villas; but Seidler never accepted postmodernism. A dozen large buildings in Sydney show how much he influenced the appearance of this city: its rounded and multifaceted skyscrapers with complex facades that protect the interior from the sun are almost always equipped with thoughtful, comfortable public spaces in which you can see the influence of the Italian Baroque, the Burle Marx. And the final ten buildings are Seidler's buildings in other cities of the country and abroad, including the Australian Embassy in Paris - perhaps the most easily accessible to the Russian reader of the architect's work, executed, like his other key works, with the participation of Pierre Luigi Nervi.
Vladimir Belogolovsky's book about Harry Sideler fills an important gap in the history of modern architecture, allowing one to look at the architecture of modernism not as an army of the same type of faceless projects that trampled on the identity of individual countries and regions, but as a diverse landscape that prepares many discoveries for an inquisitive researcher.