Tracing / Traces: Architecture and the Archive 2018
On Saturday, October 20, 2018, five Chicago-based architects selected items from the Ryerson & Burnham Archives located within the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the second edition of our Tracing / Traces event. Participants discussed their selections in relationship to their practice. Participants in the event included:
Paola Aguirre discussed several public schools built in Chicago during the 1960s and early 1970s, from the design of the buildings to the ambitions of the architects to create educational buildings that serve as community anchors. Building upon her work at Overton Elementary School, Aguirre selected schools across Chicago designed by Perkins+Will, Bertrand Goldberg Associates, Harry Weese & Associates, McPherson, Swing & Associates, and Loebl, Schlossman and Bennett.
Sarah Dunn selected three items from the Late Entries to the Chicago Tribune Competition Collection. Two of the items were photographs of two of the three proposals submitted by Miami-based architecture office Arquitectonica founded in 1977. The office gained early fame for their the Atlantis Condominium, popularized in the opening credits of Miami Vice. The first proposal, Untitled, was submitted by Bernard Fort-Breccia and Laurinda Spear. The second proposal, titled 1980 Chi Trib Comp(Glass-Clad Obelisk), was submitted by Hervin Romney. The third entry, Untitled, was the proposal submitted by Italian architect, urban planner, and industrial designer Gaetano Pesce (from the Late Entries to the Chicago Tribune Competition Collection, 1980).
Grant Gibson selected three drawings of the first (unbuilt) scheme of the 1952 John Garvey Residence in Urbana, Illinois, designed by Bruce Goff (1904–1982). The client, John Garvey (1921–2006), was a violinist and taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign until his retirement in 1991. The three illustrations, done by renderer Herb Green, showed two plans and a section of the first scheme. Gibson placed the house in the lineage of two other Bruce Goff homes: the 1949 Ford House in Aurora, Illinois, and the 1955 Bavinger House in Norman, Oklahoma (now demolished). After this scheme was considered too wild and expensive, Goff designed a second scheme that was ultimately built in 1955 (from the Bruce A. Goff Archive).
Geoff Goldberg selected several items related to his continued interests in mid-century modernism. He found a rare construction paper and design rationale from 1964 of Marina City’s theater building designed by Bertrand Goldberg & Associates, as well as a copy of Bertrand Goldberg’s design for an invitation to the 1933 Bauhaus Ball; photographs of architect Ludwig Mies van Der Rohe (1886-1969) and Charles “Skip” Genther (1907-1987) on the construction site of 860-880 North Lake Shore Drive Apartments c. 1948. Genther had co-founded PACE Associates, and did the working drawings for Mies’ buildings; also shown was an extremely rare paper by structural engineer Frank J. Kornacker titled “The Frame and Floor Structure in Multi-Story Building” c. 1955 (from the PACE Associates Records); writings, slides, film, and recordings by photographer Arthur Siegel (1913-1978) who studied at the New Bauhaus with László Moholy-Nagy and Gyorgy Kepes. Also included were Siegel’s notebooks from teaching at Harvard University (1967-1968), and Black Mountain College correspondence.
Finally, Ellen Grimes selected a series of photographs by Richard Nickel taken during the documentation and removal of ornamental pieces from soon-to-be demolished buildings such as the Garrick Theater as well as during the Stencil Recovery Project (1961-1967). The photographs depict David Norris and John Vinci, then architecture students, during these efforts. Richard Nickel met John Vinci in 1958 when Vinci was 21 years old (from the Richard Nickel Archive).
Thank you very much to Nathaniel Parks, Tigerman McCurry Art and Architecture Archivist at the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries, for his help in organizing and displaying the selected items as well as his generosity providing access to the archives.
About the Ryerson & Burnham Archives
The Ryerson & Burnham Archives’ collections are notably strong in late nineteenth- and twentieth-century American architecture, with particular depth in midwestern architecture. Architects such as Edward Bennett, Daniel Burnham, Bruce Goff, Bertrand Goldberg, Ludwig Hilberseimer, Mies van der Rohe, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright are represented in a broad range of papers. Major architectural events, such as the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, The Century of Progress International Exposition of 1933–1934 in Chicago, and the World’s Fair of 1939 in New York, are also represented in an individual archive.
MAS Context Fall Talks 2018
Video shot by the School of the Art Institute.
Lecture by architecture critic Alexandra Lange as part of the MAS Context 2018 Fall Talks in Chicago. The lecture took place on Tuesday, October 9, 2018 at the School of the Art Institute. This talk is organized in collaboration with SAIC AIADO and is supported by Perkins+Will.
Childhood is fleeting, but its structures are monumental, both in memory and in urban life. In this lecture, “Preserving Childhood,” Alexandra Lange will discuss the history, design and civic legacy of key spaces for children’s education and recreation, with cameo appearances by Booker T. Washington, the Saarinens, Robert Moses, Paul Friedberg, Buckminster Fuller, Josep Lluis Sert, and the wrecking ball.
Thanks to the Perkins+Will for supporting the event.
Alexandra Lange is the architecture critic for Curbed. Her essays, reviews, and profiles have appeared in numerous design publications including Architect, Design Observer, Dezeen, and Metropolis, as well as in New York Magazine, the New Yorker, and the New York Times. She was a 2014 Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Her new book, The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids was published by Bloomsbury USA in June 2018. Research for the book was supported by a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. She is also the author of Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012), the e-book The Dot-Com City: Silicon Valley Urbanism (Strelka Press, 2012), and Design Research: The Store that Brought Modern Living to American Homes (Chronicle Books, 2010), which she co-authored with Jane Thompson.
www.alexandralange.net | @LangeAlexandra
MAS Context Fall Talks 2018
In Your City by the Lake
On Friday, September 21, 2018, MAS Context, Borderless Studio, and The Night Gallery organized the event “In Your City by the Lake: A Collaborative Chicago Playlist” at the Commons of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
The event, composed of Chicago-centric movie clips, songs, and place-based memories, tackled the myriad lived experiences of Chicagoans. The goal was to go beyond the reductive descriptions of the city as statistics and provide a platform to invite Chicago residents to share their memories in the city. The list of songs and film clips were collected during the weeks ahead of the event through an online open call, while the onsite participation added new memories about the city from those attending the event. All of the memories gathered were placed on a large-scale map using color-coded flags.
The flags marking the location of the film clips overwhelmingly concentrated in the Loop and along the Chicago River, with some exceptions located on the South Side and along Lake Shore Drive. It was telling how narrow of an image of Chicago the films project. The rest of the memories recorded expanded the physical footprint of the city, taking mostly positive and sometimes painful experiences to many of the city neighborhoods and infrastructures, such as riding the L and driving towards the city from the suburbs.
Above all, the event brought together a diverse group of people that thought about important moments in their lives and how those where connected to specific physical places of the city. Let’s continue to create opportunities for people to come together, share, and celebrate their experience in our city by the lake.
Thanks to Gibran Villalobos from the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago for the invitation, and Paola Aguirre of Borderless Studio and Ann Lui of Future Firm for being fantastic partners for this event. Finally, thanks to Wesley Kloss Studio for the illustration.
Below we are featuring 15 of the many memories that were submitted associated with songs:
The song combines all the elements of both the city as personal narrative and the city as concrete, historical narrative that made Chicago meaningful to me at one point: the gauzy nostalgia of meeting someone and falling in love, the city as backdrop and playground to an emergent love story. But the song also captures *why* Chicago served as that backdrop: my affair with its historical might, the way its cultural history expressed itself through its physical form. And with it being Sun Ra, albeit an early incarnation, the song not only captures a city asserting itself in the present but relays a sense of a city and of a future to come. Those slightly discordant, off-kilter sounding chords in the piano vamp during the vocal breakdown of announced “L” stops – it portends dark, beautiful, wonderful things about this place, and its future histories.
I moved back to Chicago after a long year in Boston. My first afternoon back was a beautiful late summer Saturday. I drove down Lake Shore Drive with my windows down and sunroof open blasting Kanye West’s “Homecoming” with lots of bass. So cheesy but so great. People were biking, running, grilling out, playing soccer in the park. White boats out on the bright blue lake. The rush of traffic around me. I knew I was home.
In 2002, I visited Chicago for the first time. I was an exchange student studying architecture and upon seeing Marina City I became very interested in the building, its history, and its architect Bertrand Goldberg. Right about that time, Wilco commercially released their album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” that featured the towers on the cover. Both the buildings and the band have been part of my life in Chicago.
It’s wintertime—my first winter in Chicago. It’s February 2012. I took the train to Garfield Park Conservatory in search of a warm place to feel outdoors. I walked the whole place being amazed by the all the plants. Finally, I sat in the “fern house” and fell asleep in one of the benches. The sun in my face, the warmth and humidity in my body felt so relaxing. When I woke up (probably after 10-15 minutes), “The Way We Get By” song was playing in my phone. I stood up and ventured back to the cold and snow.
I was in high school when this album came out. I grew up in the west suburbs and all I ever wanted to do was come downtown. We’d put this album on and drive into the city to hang out. Coming around the curve on the Eisenhower at Central is where the city skyline comes into full view, glittering and full of promise.
Every time I go to pick up prints from American Color Labs, I walk by the honorary “The Godfather of House Music” Frankie Knuckles Way. It is located on Jefferson Street, between Monroe and Van Buren, near the Warehouse (206 South Jefferson Street), the club where Knuckles was a DJ between 1977 and 1982. Seeing the building now, you would never know about the importance of this location but his influence lives on.
One the last reminders of Cabrini Green is the honorary street for Curtis Mayfield and what is left of the row houses, where Mayfield moved in when he was 12. An important part of Chicago’s history, with positive and negative aspects and home to many that has been erased.
This mixtape fueled an insomnia-driven bike ride around the city, starting around 4am mid October 2013. I was pretty much the only person on the paths and roads I took that morning, while I rode around from empty public place to empty public place as the sun slowly rose. It was probably the first time I experienced the city as an empty object w/o any of the typical activity of a space.
This is the first recording I made to commemorate one year of continued life after nearly committing suicide on December 30, 2014. I had intended on crossing under Lake Shore Drive and jumping into the icy lake that night, surrendering myself to the freezing cold waters of Lake Michigan. I am still alive and making more aural and visual works inspired by this meaningful event that almost ended me.
This song LSD by Chi-town native, Jamilla Woods feat Chance the Rapper gets me everytime. It talks about growing up off of Lake Michigan and true love for Chicago. It speaks directly to my soul. “You gotta love me like I love the lake…” I love that our lakefront is free and clear of any private buildings forever and it is here in perpetuity for everyone. Thanks Burnham!
I was in high-school and I met a lot of new friends who lived on Chicago’s West Side and some of them had cars and I remember us packed into a car driving to the West Side and acting crazy, being so happy reciting this song in unison.
Junior Year in high-school and I went to a hip-hop party and when this song came on, EVERYONE started dancing and singing aloud. It was so beautiful – we were so happy and the party was so racially diverse…it made me truly feel the power of hip-hop to unify youth from different backgrounds and races.
It reminds me of summers in college when I would come up from Houston to escape the heat and hang out with my cousins and their friends. During those summers, I learned that I liked density, walkability and being in a place so tied to history.
I had a serious illness during my freshman year of college that resulted in a hospital stay, brain surgery, and a lot of medicines to keep me on the path to healing. I had a very tough few years following this, largely because I had an invisible disability, and especially as a teenager it is not easy to brush off people saying “why can’t you” “why don’t you” etc. Those feelings of inadequacy also competed with these feelings I had of being so fucking proud that I pulled through such a tough sickness that many don’t survive and feeling like this is SUCH an accomplishment that I’m still here and standing. I remember walking along those flowers on Michigan Ave listening to this song and feeling so open and free and light, and it’s the first time I remember letting those feelings of pride overcome the feelings of “people don’t know I have a disability and they make me feel not good enough.” I felt absolutely invincible. If I could recover from this, I could do absolutely anything and I was so LUCKY and happy to have that chance.
Get to the beginning of Lower Wacker Drive. Ideally in the middle of the night when no one is around. Open all your windows and the moon roof. Turn on Yeasayer’s I Remember. DRIVE AS FAST YOU CAN. If you want—scream.
MAS Context is a not-for-profit organization that addresses issues that affect the urban context. Each publication delivers a comprehensive view of a single topic through the active participation of people from different fields and different perspectives who, together, instigate the debate. Besides its publications, MAS Context organizes a series of public lectures and events throughout the year.
www.mascontext.com | @MASContext
Borderless is a Chicago-based urban design and research studio-workshop founded by Paola Aguirre focused on cultivating collaborative design agency through interdisciplinary projects. With emphasis on exchange and communication across disciplines, Borderless explores creative and collaborative city design interventions that address the complexity of urban systems and social equity by looking at intersections between architecture, urban design, infrastructure, landscape, planning and civic participatory processes.
www.borderless-studio.com | @borderless_USMX
The Night Gallery is a nocturnal exhibition space in Bridgeport, Chicago. Open from sunset to sunrise, The Night Gallery features film and video works by architects, designers, and artists, and also screens feature-length films. Situated in a storefront window, The Night Gallery occurs on the sidewalk in public space, connecting pedestrians and passerby. Founded in 2017, The Night Gallery is a project by Future Firm, an architecture practice founded by Craig Reschke and Ann Lui, that focuses on designing spaces for people to come together in new ways.
www.thenight.gallery | www.future-firm.org | @FutureFirm
MAS Context Fall Talks 2018
Video shot and edited by Axel Olson.
Lecture by AGENCY principals Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller as part of the MAS Context 2018 Fall Talks in Chicago. The lecture took place on Wednesday, September 19, 2018 at Perkins+Will.
AGENCY principals Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller presented recent work that reveals emerging–and often invisible-forces which erode public space and degrade democracy. AGENCY is a design and research practice which leverages spatial design and spatial information to counteract nascent forms of global and urban insecurity. From the practice’s position on the US/Mexico border, which provides a base of operations and context for discrete interventions, AGENCY’s work reveals and enacts emerging publics. Working in protracted, conflictual contexts, the practice consistently shifts the narrative, developing targeted methods to identify, appropriate, and subvert subperceptual urban and atmospheric phenomena.
Kripa and Mueller are the authors of FRONTS: Security and the Developing World (Applied Research and Design, forthcoming), which uncovers a growing geography of codependence between the global security complex and the urban morphologies of the developing world which it increasingly incriminates. Kripa and Mueller will elaborate on their work to: expose hidden geographies; countermap targeted communities; uncover the infrastructure of secretive detention networks; reveal the shifting space of sovereignty at the border; forge postnational assemblies from shared urban metrics; and exploit airborne vectors of cultural and biological exchange.
Thanks to the Perkins+Will for hosting the event.
Ersela Kripa is an Assistant Professor at Texas Tech College of Architecture and a founding partner of AGENCY. Ersela is the recipient of the 2018 Emerging Voices award from The Architectural League of New York, the Rome Prize in Architecture from the American Academy in Rome in 2010, and residency fellowships at the MacDowell Colony in 2009 and 2013. Ersela was named a Fellow of the New York Foundation for the Arts in 2010. Her work has been published in Scapegoat, The Architect’s Newspaper, MONU, Volume, Domus, Texas Architect, and others. Ersela teaches in the El Paso campus of TTU–a vibrant architectural program steps from the US-Mexico border, where she focuses on curriculum directly related to binational relations as they affect infrastructure, public space, and migration. Ersela holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University.
www.agencyarchitecture.com | @AGENCYARCHITECT
Stephen Mueller is a registered architect and a founding partner of AGENCY. Stephen is the recipient of the Rome Prize in Architecture from the American Academy in Rome in 2010, and the Emerging Voices award from The Architectural League of New York in 2018, among other honors. Stephen is a frequent contributor to The Architect’s Newspaper, with a co-authored, recurring feature highlighting architectural, infrastructural, and technological agents impacting the built environment in the borderland. Stephen holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Distinction from the University of Kansas, and a Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Stephen has taught at a variety of institutions, including Washington University in St. Louis, and the Texas Tech University College of Architecture – El Paso program, a school uniquely situated on the US-Mexico border.
www.agencyarchitecture.com | @AGENCYARCHITECT
MAS Context Fall Talks 2018
Harry Seidler: Modernist
On Friday, September 7, MAS Context organized the screening of the film Harry Seidler: Modernist by award-winning film director Daryl Dellora as part of MAS Context’s 2018 Fall Talks series. Hosted at the offices of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in Chicago, the film was introduced by Vladimir Belogolovsky, founder of the New York-based Intercontinental Curatorial Project and curator of the traveling exhibition “Harry Seidler: Painting Toward Architecture.”
The first documentary retrospective of Harry Seidler’s architectural legacy, Harry Seidler: Modernist reveals an intimate portrait of his extraordinary life and internationally recognised work. Seidler is acclaimed as one of the greatest modernist architects. He won every architectural major prize in Australia, is represented in every major city, and was embraced internationally by the likes of Norman Foster (the London Gherkin) and Renzo Piano & Richard Rogers (Pompidou Centre, Paris). During a career that spanned almost sixty years he worked in New York, Paris, China, and Mexico, reshaped Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Vienna and prompted architects and artists from all over the world to look to his work as an inspiration.
As a recap of the event, we are featuring here a text by Vladimir Belogolovsky originally included in his book Harry Seidler: The Exhibition published by Oscar Riera Ojeda Publishers in 2017. [Purchase book from the publisher].
Harry Seidler (25 June 1923, Vienna – 9 March, 2006, Sydney) was the first architect in Australia to fully express the principles of the Bauhaus in that country when he built his first project there, a house for his parents. The structure, known as the Rose Seidler House (1948-50), is located in Wahroonga, a northern suburb of Sydney. Seidler came to Australia to build the house at the request of his mother, Rose, who stated in a business-like letter to him: “We not only want you to come and visit, but we want to commission you to design us a house.” 
The offer Harry could not refuse came after many attempts to lure him to his parents’ adopted country: at the time, Seidler was apprenticing at the office of Marcel Breuer in New York City.  The 25-year-old believed he lived in the most exciting city in the world and worked for the best architect in the world. Why would he even consider going to Australia?  But the opportunity to realize his first commission for his mother, whom he considered his perfect client, was too sweet to miss. He accepted the challenge that ultimately changed his life, and with it altered architectural culture of the entire continent. Seidler lived and worked in Australia for the rest of his long and prolific career.
Seidler didn’t just come to Sydney to design and build his mother a house, he brought the house with him—all meticulously thought out, pre-drawn, with a completed scale model in his hands, ready to build. In fact, the house was originally designed in 1947 for Rolland Thompson’s family for a site in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Thompson also worked at Breuer’s office. The house was never built, but it was published in Arts & Architecture magazine in January 1948. It was this house that Harry decided to realize in Sydney for his mother, and he found the matching site for it. The only visible discrepancy between the project for Massachusetts and the final house, as built in Sydney, was the placement of the sun protecting awnings—they had to be moved to work in the southern hemisphere.
The house, complete with chairs by Jorge Ferrari Hardoy, Charles and Ray Eames, and Eero Saarinen, as well as modern light fixtures, were all brought by Harry from New York, and landed in Australia like an alien spaceship. It singlehandedly delivered a complete package of Bauhaus and Modernist principles to the continent. It was an instant icon and a model for local architects to follow. Historian Philip Drew wrote, “This house was to become the yardstick of all later Modern buildings in Australia.” 
It was clear from the outset that Seidler did not come all the way to Australia just to build interesting houses. He wanted to change peoples’ lifestyles, their appreciation for urban living, and attitude toward architecture as integral part of culture. Immediately upon his arrival, he expressed his criticism and offered a progressive vision by posting a sign in his tiny apartment where he set up his sole-practitioner architectural studio: “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.”  His work quickly grew in scale and in its variety of building types; more importantly, throughout his long career, he remained a true student of architecture, always open to new ideas, explorations, and collaborations with leading architects, engineers, and artists.
The house that Seidler was originally commissioned by his mother turned into three houses for his extended family; they were all eventually built within a stone’s throw of each other. Masterfully placed on a sloping bushland site, the houses celebrated modern living; they attracted strong interest and, in a way, helped market Seidler’s wide-ranging capabilities as a modern architect. His strategy worked and soon the young architect found himself swamped with commissions for similar houses all over Sydney.
To be sure, these progressive structures were not Seidler’s inventions; they largely relied on concepts developed by the architects he admired most. As Australian architect and social commentator Robin Boyd pointed out, “These possessed in common a character unfamiliar in Australia. They were sure, mechanically precise things. They were square, straight, white, and challenging. Australia had many of their elements before… stylistic copies of the original European. But these were Gropius, Breuer, Niemeyer, welded with understanding sincerity by an imaginative disciple.” This was all true and intentionally so, as the architect himself said, “I don’t think one can say that I am a disciple of anyone’s. It is an amalgam. One lives in the world and is like a sponge: seeing and absorbing influences, especially during one’s formative life. You digest those and produce them in your own way finally when you get the opportunity to work.”  Despite incorporating other contemporary architects’ principles, layouts, materials, forms, and techniques, Seidler proved to be particularly meticulous in his details and level of precision, as his houses and buildings almost always looked more vigorous and finessed than the originals.
In his own words, Seidler was “the torchbearer of Modern architecture” and a sincere missionary for the cause of Modernism and its ideology, to make the world a better place. Yet, the architect was more than that. He succeeded in developing a visual language of his own–transitioning from merely reorganizing the familiar to make more seductive compositions, to establishing an original architectural hand. Seidler’s instantly recognizable body of work, marked by a strong sense of geometry that was baroque in origin. He was very much influenced by it, as he spent a lot of time in Rome in the 1960s and rediscovered particularly the work of Borromini, and incorporated the curving fluidity of it all into his own ever-evolving architecture. Seidler was gaining a feel for robust, balanced compositions, knowledge of structure and materials, and the use of inventive shading devices effectively responding to the intense Australian sun. They distinguished 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.
The architect’s work embodies numerous sources and influences, which he strategically sought out and refined over the course of his career. From Walter Gropius, confidence, social purpose, and a methodological and collaborative approach to design. From Marcel Breuer, residential types, the power of concrete, and the warmth of wood; from Pier Luigi Nervi, standardized building systems, and expressive structural language; from Oscar Niemeyer, sculptural fluidity and lyrical forms, and from Josef Albers a profound understanding of how our eyes react to visual phenomena. As Alice Spigelman wrote in her 2001 biography of Seidler, Almost Full Circle, “The visual Fundamentals he learnt from Josef Albers became Seidler’s core approach to design for the rest of his career.”  Seidler learned the visual rudiments of spatial perception and the phenomena of vision from Albers, and these teachings became a core aspect of his designs. He learned how to support his instincts with factual laws of vision. “Fundamental principles, why our eye responds in predictable ways to visual stimuli, that is just absolute truism, there is no way you can argue against it. It had nothing to do with architecture, purely your eyes, giving you reasons why that is better than this.” 
From the mid-1960s, Seidler’s hand became increasingly influenced by the modular works of American abstract expressionist painters and sculptors, particularly Norman Carlberg, Charles Perry, and Frank Stella, evolving into a distinctly personal artistic language yet to be recognized by the profession internationally. Early on, Harry was introduced to European avant-garde artistic movements, including abstract expressionism, the Bauhaus, Cubism, Futurism, Neoplasticism (de Stijl), Pop Art, and Russian Suprematism, and he attended painting exhibits while a student at Harvard religiously. It was then that he wrote to his parents in England right before their immigration to Australia, “I find myself appreciating a completely new realm of aesthetics, that of abstract art. It is amazing what a direct bearing it can have on architectural design.”
Paintings and sculpture increasingly began to influence and define the architect’s creative vision. His sources of inspiration clearly started to shift from the architectural precedents of his mentors to the spatially adventurous artworks of American Abstract Expressionists. Over time, Seidler’s architectural vocabulary became more organic, yet modular and systematic. While his earlier architectural references did not fade away in the process, other forces began to take hold. Geometry—particularly circular and modular geometry based on the works of Carlberg, Perry, Stella, and other painters and sculptors—gradually became a dominating theme, uniting Seidler’s projects from that moment on. It is this geometric code that holds the key to understanding Seidler’s vision. It brings self-organizing discipline and structure to his consistently rigorous and powerful works. And it is this reliance on geometric code that allows the architect to be endlessly inventive and free.
Seidler’s diverse work, however free and sculptural, is never arbitrary. His majestic forms were perpetually defined by rational planning, efficiency of standardized construction, social and environmental considerations, always aiming to achieve the greatest artistic effect with the least effort. Even in his most exuberant works, Seidler’s striving for systematic and disciplined structure is apparent. This approach is demonstrated in various projects throughout Seidler’s career. The architect’s own Offices and Apartments building (1972) features scooped-out beams that express the stress pattern within them—a design element first introduced by Sydney engineer Peter Miller and developed with Nervi, and frequently used in Seidler’s subsequent buildings. In addition to their economical profile, from a structural standpoint the ceiling openings in between the beams are utilized as cavities for placing exposed air-conditioning ducts with indirect lighting on top. Similar T-beams on the main façade of the Hong Kong Club change gradually in section at the supports—to better resist shear—to a T-section at the mid-span—to better resist center-span bending. Even the frivolous-looking balconies of the Horizon Apartments in Sydney are perfectly rational, as the glass parapets’ extensions below in a form of solid partial walls have a purpose. They strengthen the balconies’ deep cantilevers and act as sun shields for lower floors. There is nothing accidental about Seidler’s work.
Looking at so many distinctive and memorable Seidler’s buildings in Sydney alone it is startling to see their impact. The architect’s first true skyscraper, the 50-story circular Australia Square tower with its split-level public plaza, a place of repose and civic arena on private land, remains among the most iconic towers in Sydney’s central business district; it is one of the most beloved destinations in the city. Photographer Patrick Bingham-Hall called it “Australia’s finest tall building, a perfect resolution of rational geometry, structural ingenuity, and heroic form.”  An even taller tower, the 60-story MLC Centre is successful both as an assertive landmark in the sky with its strong horizontals and tapering and twisting verticals, and as a bustling plaza at the ground level. The Centre’s Nervi-designed ceilings are among the most gorgeous ceilings anywhere.
Overall, there are about a dozen of Seidler buildings here. They share such a profound character that it would not be an exaggeration to refer to downtown Sydney as “Seidler City.” Such an urban ensemble created by a single visionary architect has rarely been achieved anywhere else in the world. A constellation of these emphatic towers—Australia Square tower (1967), MLC Centre (1975), Grosvenor Place (1988), Capita Centre (now 9 Castlereagh St., 1989), IBM Tower (1991), Horizon Apartments (1998), and Cove Apartments (1999)—assert a powerful visual continuity and constitute a rare urban ensemble of a grand vision by a single master.
In addition to Sydney’s many other public buildings and dozens of single-family houses, the architect built major projects in every Australian city, including such landmarks as the Shell Headquarters (now One Spring Street) in Melbourne (1989), Trade Group Offices (now the Edmund Barton Building, Australian Federal Police Headquarters) in Canberra (1974), Riverside Centre in Brisbane (1986), QV1 Office Tower in Perth (1991), and the 53-story Riparian Plaza in Brisbane (2005). Seidler’s projects were realized all over the world, from multistory residential and office towers to civic, sports, and cultural centers, as well as important government commissions built in Australia, Austria, France, Israel, Italy, Mexico, and Hong Kong. Three of them are most noteworthy. The Australian Embassy, in Paris (1977), in the form of two opposing quadrants in plan, oversees the Seine and in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. The Hong Kong Club (1984), across from Stature Square in Central, Hong Kong, with its sensual interplay of contrasting curved planes and lines on its main façade has a fantastically hollowed atrium, which Kenneth Frampton described as, “a pyrotechnic display of plastic exuberance and if any recent work should merit the designation ‘Baroque,’ this surely is it.”  Finally, Seidler’s biggest project, Wohnpark Neue Donau (1998-2001), a social housing community built on top of an eight-lane expressway along the Danube River.
Surprise and delight—these are two key feelings that strike anyone who experiences Seidler’s architecture, no matter how familiar one might be with his work. His forms are never illogical, yet they are always remarkable and beautiful, so much more so as they are achieved through the economy of means, as if to asserting Otto Wagner’s dictum, “What is impractical can never be beautiful.” The architect’s houses and towers are thoroughly referential in their sources of inspiration and yet they are unmistakably Seidleresque. Above all, Seidler’s architecture has become an integral part of the Australian identity.
1. Harry Seidler interviewed by Brendan Hutchens, Radio National, 2004.
2. Harry Seidler worked at the office of Marcel Breuer from September 1946 to March 1948 after studying at the Black Mountain College under Josef Albers (summer of 1946) and earning his Masters at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard under Walter Gropius (1945-46).
3. Harry’s parents immigrated to Australia in 1946 from England where they spent War years after fleeting from Nazi-occupied Vienna in 1938.
4. Philip Drew, “All the Glisten of Paradise“ introduction to exhibition catalog, Harry Seidler 1948-85 (January 1985).
5. In September 1948, when 25-year-old Seidler had just arrived in Australia to establish his practice out of his tiny apartment in Point Piper, an eastern harbor side suburb of Sydney, he posted this dictum for all his visitors to see.
6. Interview by Philip Vivian with Harry Seidler, May 1987.
7. Alice Spigelman, Almost Full Circle, p. 157, 2001.
8. Graduate School of Design News, fall 1995, Great Teachers – Marcel Breuer.
9. Patrick Bingham-Hall, Austral Eden (1999).
10. Kenneth Frampton, Isostatic Architecture, Harry Seidler: Four Decades of Architecture, p. 95, 1992.
Vladimir Belogolovsky is the founder of the Intercontinental Curatorial Project with a focus on organizing, curating, and designing architectural exhibitions worldwide. Trained as an architect at Cooper Union, he has published several books as well as over 150 articles appearing in American, European, and Russian publications. His exhibition “Harry Seidler: Painting Toward Architecture” has been exhibited internationally, most recently at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.