Many decades ago, when I was studying Architecture at the University of Sydney, Post Modernist Architecture was the rage with all of the young, bright eyed and impressionable architecture students. Post-Modernism was a reaction against the discipline, and material honesty of International Modernsim that was so loved by the corporate world and those with big budgets to spend on their homes. Post-Modernism, which was later abbreviated to just “PoMo”, celebrated applied decorative elements for their own sake, and “witty” historical references that could be read by the architectural elitist, but were usually lost on the typical person, amongst other evils.
Who better to defend the principles of Modernism than Australia’s foremost Modernist, Harry Seidler? Harry was good chums with my architectural history lecturer, Prof. Jennifer Taylor, and every year the Seidlers graciously opened their own home in Killara and hosted a morning tea for Prof. Taylors’ architectural history students. This gave Harry the opportunity to take the floor and warn his impressionable, and captive audience, about the falsity of Post-Modernist Architecture.
Decades later we can reflect on how Harry was right. His own home that he designed in 1966, that I visited inthe 1980’s, has aged gracefully as the landscape has established itself around it. It still has that wow factor and makes a deep impression on all who visit. There is growing appreciation of this style with new fans and friends around the world. Whereas Post-Modernist architecture has not aged well, and has really demonstrated that it was style over substance, with many PoMo buildings looking sad, dated and actually a little but silly.
These plans have been scanned from Kenneth Frampton and Philip Drews’ excellent 1992 book called “Harry Seidler – four decades of Architecture”, published by Thames and Husdon. To help understand the split level plan they explain ” The main aesthetic aim of the house is not only to have horizontal freedom of space but by fusing and opening the various levels into each other and by ‘pulling them apart’ and thereby creating a two-and-a-half storey-high opne shaft between them, to add a vertical interplay of space”
Harry and Penelope Seidler’s Killara Home made a deep impression on me (as it does for most people), but all of the plans, photos and images that I have seen since, have never captured the home to my satisfaction, as how I remembered it. That is until Channel 7’s “Better Homes and Garden” broadcast this segment. Try to ignore the inane chatter of Joh and Pete, and just enjoy how they have captured this beautiful (and timeless) home. Possibly it is enough to bring back Brutalism into residentail architecture? (Five minute video)
Pehaps the final word should go to Italian architect Gio Ponti who said ” You arrive by a high road, you put the car in the garage, and then descend, going down, diving among the tree-tops, which reach the height of the garage, down along their trunks and down to the roots: and from all the great windows of the house, from all its openings, you see the same marvellous green, a fairytale colour humid and pure; and light, for the virgin woods of Australia are not the terrifying forests accursed and menacing with hidden death, but are innocent, maidenly, friendly woods…it is not enough for the architect to create admirable spaces, lines and volumes – but also he must imagine, or discover, or suggest choices about a way of life, marvellous refuges – not so much distant, maybe, but passed over – to the friends who put their trust in him. That is why I admire Seidler, whose works I have visited…” Gio Ponti, Domus magazine, August 1968.
For some contemporary photos of this home follow the link: