Harry Seidler’s Rose Seidler House on Sydney’s leafy north shore reveals much more than the architect's radical vision for his mother's home in 1950. Visiting for a spring picnic is a chance to see up-close the big ideas and design innovation European émigré architects and designers brought to Australia. Those ideas have not only shaped our city contextually, they have made Sydney's cultural heritage so much richer.
The popularity of the Rose Seidler House draws a pilgrimage of local and international visitors from all walks of life who cross the emerald city in their hundreds every year. It's this popularity that highlights a deep felt love for mid-century modern architecture and a new urgency for its wider protection.
Viennese émigré and one of our most celebrated modernists, Harry Siedler made buildings that have shaped cities and suburbs with an optimism and an approach embedded in rational design, uncluttered interiors and the latest technologies. Ideas were influenced by four of the greats – the Bauhaus School’s Walter Gropius, Oscar Niemeyer and Marcel Breuer who he worked with before arriving in Sydney, and the artist Josef Albers. As ongoing collaborators and mentors of Seidler, their modernist ideals have had a lasting influence on the development of Sydney's architecture too.
When the Rose Seidler House was finished in 1950 it became Sydney's most talked about house. It brought the Bauhaus to Sydney for the first time and won Seidler a coveted Sulman Award the following year. What was to be a one-off project for his parents before he returned to work overseas, led to a swathe of commissions and the decision to stay. The rest, as they say, is history.
A testament to mid-century modern architecture in the Australian context, the Rose Seidler House has Seidler's hand on every detail, right down to the furniture The dining table, sofa, coffee table and cabinetry were designed by Seidler and made by fellow Viennese émigré Paul Kafka who had established his reputation as a master craftsman in Sydney with his own factory in Waterloo producing furniture for some of the most exciting houses of this period. In this detail, the Rose Seidler House connects us with the local community of European designers and craftspeople, from Vienna, Berlin and Budapest, who were shaping Sydney's vibrant modern movement in the 1940s, 50s and 60s and creating a diversity of architectural styles that we see across Sydney today.
Bringing this design history to life is a new book – 'The Other Moderns: Sydney's forgotten European design legacy' – that traces the stories and widespread influence of architects, designers, furniture makers and photographers who escaped war-torn Europe and travelled to the other side of the world to make a new home in Sydney.
Leafing through beautiful archival illustrations and photographs is a reminder of just how embedded European modernism is here. Houses by Dr Henry Epstein in Pymble, Killara and Roseville made of concrete, glass and steel channelled the Austrian architect and pioneering modernist Adolf Loos. While architects Hugh Buhrich, Hugo Stossel, Hans Peter Oser, George Reves and Gabor Lukacs were all designing houses that gained attention from the media at the time but more recently those histories have slipped into anonymity.
So it is timely that the call to recognise the legacy of modernism is at a high. At a grassroots level, the Save Our Sirius campaign has gained local and international attention, and the launch of 'The Other Moderns: Sydney's forgotten European design legacy' and the accompanying exhibition ‘The Moderns: European Designers in Sydney’ at the Museum of Sydney, is helping to foster a growing interest in one of the Australia’s most important architectural periods.
‘The Moderns: European Designers in Sydney' is on show at the Museum of Sydney until 26 November 2017. 'The Other Moderns: Sydney's forgotten European design legacy' is edited by Rebecca Hawcroft, co-published by NewSouth Books and Hotel Hotel, and available here.
Space Furniture supports the work of Sydney Living Museums and collaborated with the team to arrange the inaugural spring picnic tour of the Rose Seidler House.