Tag Archives: Harry Seidler

Misfits’ Guide to PERTH

As an intermittent returnee to Perth I’m often asked “Hasn’t The City changed?” The question refers to the skyline and usually something is different but, every fifteen years or so, along comes a building that dramatically alters the shape and scale of the city in the same way Minoru Yamasaki’s World Trade Center did for New York in 1970 or Rafael Viñoly Associates’ 432 Park Avenue is doing currently. In Perth, the game changers were 1962’s 18-storey T&G Building [currently refurbished as Citibank House], the circa 1975 trio of AMP Tower, Allendale Square and St. Martin’s Tower all around 33 storeys, and 1992’s 51-storey Central Park.

Before the use of tinted, reflective and solar glass became widespread, it was common for tall buildings in Perth to have some form of external sun control device. This made them place-sensitive. It also made sense. Some of the first buildings in Western Australia were Georgian cottages with verandahs but other building types received similar enhancements.

Council  HouseHowlett & Bailey, 1963
27–29 St. George’s Terrace, Perth

Without its sun shading, Perth’s Council House would be standard issue International Style. Its T-shaped elements are decorative yet successfully ameliorate all but direct west sun. Once deemed an eyesore and out of keeping with the then government’s plan to make a new heritage [?] precinct, the building was given a makeover in 1999 and, since 2010, multicolour LED light washes have made “the ‘technicolour’ building one of the city’s most appealing night-time landmarks.” 

QV.1, Harry Seidler, 1991
250 St. George’s Terrace, Perth

This was designed by Australian Gropius, Harry SeidlerThere’s much to dislike about this building but not the thoroughness of its passive sun control. QV.1 is currently Perth’s fourth tallest building and is widely known for being both energy efficient and unattractive – something only possible if a building is trying to be beautiful. “… the QV1 building is based on the famous photo where Marilyn Monroe is standing on a grate and air is blowing her skirt up. The twin towers of the QV1 represent her legs, and the rippled awning you walk under when you enter the building is her skirt. The red, curved structure in the forecourt of the building are her lips.”  I fear there may be some truth in this. 

The smoochy floor plate is also suspect.

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Despite it’s overeagerness to mean something to anybody, QV.1 remains a good example of vertical shading devices blocking the west sun which is particularly fierce in Perth, and horizontal shading devices blocking the north summer sun. This is something also done with much gusto by the next building that regularly tops ‘Ugliest Building in Perth’ lists.

East Perth Train StationAnthony (Tony) Brand, circa 1970

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The building is lazily described as Brutalist because concrete figures somehow but has less to do with Le Corbusier and Maisons Jaoul and more to do with the Brutalism of Greater London Council that liked its buildings sturdy and low maintenance. Brick fins on all sides function as shading devices with the angle of the fins differing for each facade as it should. Mr. Brand may have laid himself open to charges of over-robustness. Perth sunlight may be fierce but, at the end of the day, it’s still only light.

Kessel House, Iwan Iwanoff, 1975
4 Briald Street, Dianella, Perth

Bulgaria-born Iwan Iwanoff’s buildings are lazily described as Brutalist because concrete figures somehow.

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Iwanoff studied architecture in Munich but his qualifications weren’t recognized in 1950 when he arrived in Perth as a refugee so he decamped to Melbourne. Fifteen years later and registered, he moved back to Perth where his career proper began. Iwanoff’s belief that architecture was an art would have produced distinctive buildings anyway, but he succeeded in channeling his acquired disrespect for Australia’s architectural establishment into an unconventional architecture of concrete block. His Kessel House is a good example. You can see interior photographs and other work by Iwan Iwanoff on Andrew Murray’s blog perthsbest, and also here and here.

Harold Krantz & Robert Sheldon employed Iwanoff in 1950 when he first arrived, and again in 1965 when he returned from Melbourne. Krantz & Sheldon are notable in their own right. They pioneered European architectural styles in Perth and were prolific designers of apartment blocks. [Harold Krantz will be Architecture Misfit #27.]

Mt. Eliza Apartments, Krantz & Sheldon, 1964
3/71 Mount Street, Perth

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My favourite Krantz & Sheldon building, I seem to have admired it forever and, as it was constructed in 1964, probably have. It was the first circular apartment building in Australia, Western Australia’s first modern apartment block and at the time Perth’s 2nd tallest building. Emporis tells me it has 25 apartments, two per floor for floors two through eleven and one each for the top five. The prime location means these were never to be low-cost investment apartments. This real estate listing will hopefully still take you around the interior of one which is as you’d expect.

What’s surprising is not only the extreme economy of plan and structure but how fully integrated they are. These guys were good. Never before have I seen a core where the elevator lobby, access corridor and escape stairwell landing are one and the same thing. Never before have I seen a building where the water tank is part of the design. This is no stylistic affectation as structurally the water tank is in the best possible place. Moreover, that water tank is oversized as the building is on the highest ground in Perth and thus above the level of the nearby Mt. Eliza Service Reservoir.

Speaking of water, Krantz & Sheldon were also responsible for Windsor Towers on other side of Perth Water and which can be glimpsed at the end of the street in the view above.

Windsor Towers, Krantz & Sheldon, 1966
9 Parker Street, South Perth

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There are four apartments per floor, as you’d expect. Estate agent websites show no apartment plans but what I really wanted to see was how the core is organised.

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The false floor addition makes the view more accessible and the windows non-compliant.

It’s odd nothing taller has been built since. Windsor Towers seems to have become to South Perth what Tour Monparnasse is to Paris. I don’t think it’s due to its scant twenty stories. Its original European White has been overpainted Pale Heritage-y Ochre but the absence of balconies and the egalitarian pinwheel ignoring the pull of the view both mark this building as unAustralian.

Accordingly, there’s a proposal to fully assimilate this building by giving all apartments balconies that add value and restore the Australian birthright to barbecue.

It makes me want to be a planning officer so I could refuse permission on the grounds of the proposal destroying the building’s pinwheel integrity. I would helpfully suggest rotationally-symmetrical balconies on axis with the arms. I would menacingly suggest creating outdoor areas by subtracting volume from the living areas.

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Except for when they appear on postcards of capital cities, high buildings and high densities are repectively deemed American or European and thus unAustralian. The City of Subiaco is a local municipality three kilometers from central Perth. Its planning guidelines limit residential development to four storeys as anything higher is deemed not in keeping with the heritage nature of the town centre. Refer to the Draft Subiaco Activity Centre Plan if you enjoy reading planning guidelines and pondering their logic.

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This is what happens.

Policies such as these fuel outer-suburb development and pressure inner suburbs to be re-developed at higher densities. The left side of this aerial view of Osborne Park shows residential blocks with a single house while the right side shows blocks the same size block redeveloped with four.

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The result is a reduction in the number of mature trees and very long driveways accessing houses that, incredulously, are still detached.

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What we learn from this is that increased density is welcome as long as it involves no increase in height and doesn’t look like increased density. Tricky.

Gen Y Demonstration Housing Project, David Barr, 2016
Corner of Hope Street and Mouquet Vista, White Gum Valley, Perth

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White Gum Valley isn’t as far out of town as it sounds, but what is meant by the byline “Density by Stealth”? Is ArchitectureAU for or against this proposal?

This proposal is for a new type of triplex house that gives the appearance of a single-family dwelling.

Rather than the step and repeat of earlier years, this housing type proposes adding a degree of inscrutability rather than any net gain in density. [3 x 1-bed. @ 2 persons max. = 1 x  3-bed. @ 6 persons max.] The difference is that now three kitchens and living rooms are needed. Density is a red herring – this isn’t about land use efficiency or saving of resources.

The name House for Gen Y suggests these are small houses sized and priced to stimulate the housing market by creating more FIRST-TIME BUYERS! to prevent them from wanting to live in apartments or [mercy!] live together with others in a similar situation.

Foyer Oxford, Chindarsi Architects, 2014
Oxford Street, Leederville, Perth

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Some people don’t have the choice. Foyer Oxford is co-housing run as a refuge for young people. You can find out more about the building from the architects’ link here, and about what it does from here. This type of project never has a huge budget. Chindarsi Architects have used theirs well, spashing out sparingly but effectively on clustering a range of architectural devices of individually nondescript materials of varying colour and texture around the central space in an abundance of care.

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Amana Home Care Services
416 Stirling Hwy, Cottesloe WA 6011, Australia

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The building began life as the Sundowner Hotel in the mid-1970s. It’s a good example of the social utility of co-living and generic functionality and is now part of the Amana Group offering various types and levels of care for the aged. The original hotel building is used to provide respite care.   

Co-living exists in Perth as youth refuges, as care facilities and as backpackers hostels. They’re all successful because the residents have an awareness of being in a similar situation. Togetherness is a plus when you find yourself in a situation. Co-living is yet to appear as an option for the general population as there isn’t the sense of a shared society to make it work the way it does in Switzerland.

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Glick House
18 Tennyson Street, Leederville

Glick House was designed in 1999 for the sculptor Rodney Glick in 1999. Its architect was Geoff Warn of Donaldson & Warn. A state heritage listing describes it as being in the Late Twentieth Century Functionalist style. The 1999 Winter Edition of ‘The Architect’ describes it as ‘an engineered aesthetic’ and an ‘ambiguous and confronting house’.

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https://www.realestate.com.au/property/18-tennyson-st-leederville-wa-6007

My friend Ruth Durack lived in this house the last five years of her life. The photographs above show the house much as I remember it. To this day it is the most humane house I’ve ever been in.

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Some further information and resources but first, big thanks to Johann and to Josh for their contributions to this post.

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Career Case Study #4: Sir Roy Grounds

This is Sir Roy Grounds, “one of Australia’s leading architects of the modern movement”.

roy groundsRoy Grounds (1905 – 1981)

For someone born in Australia and who’s spent a large amount of their life learning about buildings, I’ve never known his name until recently. His Wikipedia entry seems to say all there seems to be to say and, for that matter, all we seem to need to know. It’s odd then, that he was awarded the Royal Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1968, made a life member of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 1969 and the same year made Sir Roy Grounds by Queen Elizabeth in 1969. It’s fair to assume he was knighted for his services to architecture but strange there’s no memory of what those services might have been.

It’s not the case with his contemporaries Robyn Boyd and Harry Seidler – two names I do remember. Robyn Boyd was born into the Boyd dynasty of Australian artists and painters. His first job was a studio for his cousin, the painter Arthur Boyd. Robyn Boyd developed a low-slung regional style with lots of timber. Although this was sometimes derided as the “nuts and berries” school, this high-fibre architecture appealed to Australians in general and university tutors in particular.

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sketch design for the Baker House – Barcelona Pavilion meets gumnut babies

Boyd completed about 200 mostly small scale projects but is better known for being a prolific writer, commentator, content provider and The Voice of Australian Architecture. His 1960 book The Australian Ugliness was widely praised and admired for railing against suburban sprawl but, going by what’s happened in the 65 years since, was totally useless IF its true object was actually to change things for the better. If. We shouldn’t assume courting media controversy was something invented with the internet.

McClune House, Robyn Boyd

Harry Seidler was born in Austria in 1923. After attending the Harvard Graduate School of Design under Walter Gropius, being Marcel Breuer‘s first assistant, doing vacation work for Alvaar Aalto, doing a stint at Oscar Niemeyer’s studio and being taught art by Joseph Albers, he and his parents rocked up in Australia in 1948. Seidler was 25. His parents immediately asked him to design their new house in their new country. I’d love to know more about these parents of his. The preliminaries over, Seidler’s career proper began.

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Although only ten when the Bauhaus closed shop, Seidler positioned himself as the first architect to fully express its principles in Australia. In short, he became The Other Voice of Australian Architecture. He wore bow ties, spoke in quotes, seemed to live forever, and was Australia’s Gropius.

As part of a double act though, he was the Le Corbusier to Boyd’s Frank Lloyd Wright and all Australian architectural debate whether in magazines, schools or office, could be framed in terms of one or the other. The media history of Australian architecture, Australian architecture and Australian architects had no need for Roy Grounds and his or any other third way.

Roy Grounds

1905: Born in Melbourne
–1932: His work at a a firm called Blackett, Forster and Craig led him to receive an award that let him work in the UK and the US for two years.
1934: Returned to form a partnership with Geoffrey Mewton that is said to have introduced the international style to Melbourne.
1936: Partnership dissolved (why, we don’t know) and Grounds returns to the UK.
1939–1942: Sole practitioner between 1939 and 1942 and designed a series of houses and flats including Moonbria (1940–41) which established his reputation.
1953: Formed a successful and influential practice with Frederick Romberg and Robin Boyd who were also well established at the time.
1962: Grounds left the practice “acrimoniously” Wikipedia tells us.

It’s not much to go on. Let’s take a look at the buildings. First is Moonbria. It has its own website these days.

MoonbriaIt’s a building with 21 apartments arranged around a courtyard and a circular stair feature.

Circles were to feature largely Grounds’ work. Here’s a 1953 house.

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Grounds designed the Roy Grounds House for himself and his family in 1953.

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The main house is at the front of the site and there are three ‘investment houses’ at the rear. (In the late 20th century, many single detached dwelling were to be demolished and replaced by triple-houses occupying a greater percentage of the site and contributing to the ongoing deforestation of Australia.)

Roy Grounds House planThe main design feature is the circular internal courtyard within a square plan. The house was widely publicized and praised at the time, winning the Victorian Architecture Medal in 1954.

Ground’s first major public building was the Shine Dome of the Australian Academy of Science, Canberra (1959).

3815768067_f76a3b8b41_oThis building has a special place in my heart for it was probably the first building I remember thinking was pretty cool. (I might have been about eight.) By the time I came to know Kenzo Tange’s Tokyo Olympic stadiums I’d become more aware of this thing called architecture.

I’d never seen Shine Dome mentioned anywhere outside of Australia. It’s from 1959, it’s  completion coinciding with the conception of the Sydney Opera House. It’s a dinosaur – no, more of a fossil. It’s the missing link between Googie and Post-Modernism some 20 years earlier than claimed – and, ultimately, the iconic building. It satisfies all the criteria.

  1. It looks different from anything seen around it.
  2. It looks different from anything known to exist at the time, including Eero Saarinen’s 1955 Kresge Auditorium and Pier Luigi Nervi’s 1957 Palazzetto dello Sporto. 
  3. It looks like something not a building – a bit like it landed from the future.

When these three conditions are satisfied, the result is a building that merely looks alien, not iconic. Yet, it’s this alien-ness about it that satisfies the fourth condition for an iconic building – 4. It has an association of place – or at least it does if you know that Canberra is Australia’s diplomatic capital. This is no enigmatic signifier. It is the Martian Embassy.

WOBLTD06-500x500Anyway. There’s a lot of circles happening. Grounds did a lot with circles. And rectangles. Here’s his 1959–1968 National Gallery of Victoria. Grounds was appointed the sole architect for this building, usually considered his masterwork. This seems to have been the reason for  aforementioned acrimonious split.

EPUB000157The National Gallery is the high-lighted box of his own house with some Martian Embassy entrances. It has three square courtyards. The spire in the model was to be later redesigned by Grounds to become The Arts Centre.

There’s nothing wrong with reusing motifs. Many architects do. It’s no secret, but neither is it common knowledge that Fallingwater is Wright’s first Usonian House, the 1940 Pew House, pimped.

pewhouse_perspectivecolor2In the same vein, SANAA have repeatedly used thin roofs on many slender columns, the only wonder coming from the absence of visible cross-bracing. It works for them.

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History is a curious thing. Just as the Futurists always get to fill the gap in history because the 1920s was a slow decade for architectural history, things tend to get simplified when there’s too much happening. Boyd and Seidler were all that was needed. We’ll never know if the acrimonious split with Grounds hurt Boyd’s career but it certainly didn’t hurt his reputation. The Robin Boyd Award for Residential Architecture is an Australian architectural prize presented by the Australian Institute of Architects since 1981.

One thing many of the misfit architects featured in this blog have in common with Sir Roy Grounds is a lack of interest in media, marketing and self-promotion.

However, Grounds is a Career Case Study #4 and not Architecture Misfit #19 because he seems to have fitted in rather well. He didn’t go against any grain. He did a few things well and had a few ideas typical of the time and place. He was well-connected enough to obtain decent commissions. Media-wise, all he really had to do was impress his peers and not offend the public and he seems to have done this.

Boyd and Seidler reached a little bit further into the mass-media landscape of general circulation newspapers and magazines – which was all the media landscape there was. There, they were easily pigeonhole-able as Aussie-Regionalist vs. Euro-Modernist. Roy Grounds was neither. Compared to these two, his branding was vague.

Nor did Grounds appear to offer an agenda for Australian architecture at a time when it seemed to be wanting one. Together, this is what Boyd and Seidler did as a pair of media constructs, each defined in terms of what they weren’t as much as for what they were. It worked better with two and it did work co-dependent synergy until Glenn Murcutt came along and became both of them.

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Further reading

further reading