1990s

1996 - Harry Seidler 1923 - 2006

Meriton Tower, 551 George Street, Sydney

Designer: Harry Seidler & Associates
Copyright: Danielle Tinero/RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection (2007)

Every list of award winners contains its surprises and Harry Seidler continues to surprise as it did at the time. Although the award to this arch-modernist on the other side of the world can be read as a riposte to the Prince of Wales for his intervention into a business of which he had only a partial understanding, it should rather be seen as representing the RIBA’s commitment to the ideals of modernism. Indeed the citation refers to him as an ‘old style modernist turned hard-nosed commercial sector architect' and overtly states that 'the award underlines the RIBA's support for the principles of modernism'.

 

But the jury, of Owen Luder (an old Brutalist if ever there was one), Michael Manser, Brian Jefferson, Colin Stansfield Smith, Norman Foster, Peter Palumbo and David Rock (four past or future RIBA Presidents, two Gold Medallists and a Mies groupie), also said in celebrating his achievements that he was 'a designer of great integrity who demonstrates complete mastery of his art ... the formal lines of his buildings express through their structural clarity and economy a clear conviction about, and understanding of, the appearance of modern materials.'

 

Born in Vienna and an escapee from the Nazis in 1938 via the UK and Canada, he went to the US in 1946 to study at Harvard under Walter Gropius. Afterwards he worked with Marcel Breuers and then with Oscar Niemeyer in Rio.

 

Rose Seidler House, 71 Clissold Road, Wahroonga

Designer: Seidler, Harry (1923-2006)
Copyright: Danielle Tinero/RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection (2007)

With these impeccable modernist credentials in his portfolio, he moved to Sydney in 1949 and began an independent career with commissions for one-off houses before graduating to the tower bocks for which he is best known. The most significant of these are the MLC Centre in Sydney and Blues Point Tower, an 83 metre high apartment block, controversial for its proximity to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.