The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Building of the month

November 2001 - The Rose Seidler House, New South Wales, Australia

The Rose Seidler House by Harry Seidler
Chosen by Duncan Bainbridge, Committee member

The house that was to become the beginning of his Australian career was strongly influenced by his work on a house with Breuer called the Thompson House. Never built, it was however published in the January 1948 issue of Arts and Architecture, an impressive example of Breuer’s complex interplay of various influences. His experience with this and other examples of American timber housing that were crucial respecters of site and location was used to formulate the style of the Rose Seidler House. The site of the house was to be the North Shore suburb of Wahroonga. Now part of Sydney’s prime real estate and home to large family houses on generous blocks in bushland settings. In the immediate post war period the area had been the home of the Sydney Adventist Hospital (The San) and had only seen some small-scale pre war residential development. Covered in lush bushland, the site was a world away from the dense city blocks of his childhood and the small terraces of traditional Sydney suburbia.

Undaunted by the somewhat alien and unfamiliar Australian landscape, though impressed by its marked similarities to the landscape of his formative time at Black Mountain in North Carolina with Josef Albers, Seidler was convinced of the areas natural beauty and set about designing his first Australian project. It was to be one that espoused and cemented his philosophy that “architecture is not just drawing up plans and specifications for a building. It is a total attitude to the physical environment around you.”

The 200m_ house is designed around a concrete slab floor that supports a timber superstructure. This features a hollowed out square plan that is exposed on all sides, reflecting Seidler’s desire to maximise interior space. The living space and sheltered outdoor dining area or terrace has been opened out in order to take advantage of the sites spectacular views of the rugged Ku-ring-gai National Park. The house’s living and sleeping areas are separate, linked by a central family room. This family room can be joined with the alcove-type bedrooms or be made part of the living space by a dividing curtain.

The mass of the building is relieved by the opening up of the central terrace and an adjacent two storey high light well that is used to vertically separate the structure, allowing bright natural daylight to penetrate right into the heart of the living space.

The main rectangular form of the living accommodation structure is connected to the landscape by a series of ‘arms’ that fan out around it. These are made up of the ramp, (a common feature in much of Seidler’s later work), the rough hewn sandstone retaining walls and the drying yard wooden louvre fence. They all serve to cement and blend the structure into the site. It was intended to link the house to an in-ground swimming pool that would be common to another house on the site, built later by Seidler, The Rose House. However it was never completed and the site remains pool-less to this day.

Internally, the house utilised the latest in state of the art technology and for the first time ever in Australia appliances and white goods were integrated into the deign from the beginning. In effect, Australia’s first built in kitchen. Strong bold colours like blue; yellow and red were utilised on doors, curtains and built in cabinets. Furniture was a mixture of modern classics, all chosen to compliment the mural designed and painted by Seidler in bold colours on the wall of the outdoor living space. It included chairs by Eames and Saarinen and lighting that accented the rough, warm coloured sandstone features of the living space.

The Rose Seidler House marked a turning point in not only Australian architecture, but culture as well. It acts as a beacon illuminating the nations march away from the mother country of Great Britain towards the rising tide of US popular culture. A tide that would not cease significantly until the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Seidler’s legacy is an enduring monument of functionalism and flexibility to modern design.
The Rose Seidler House
71 Clissold Road
NSW, Australia

The house is open to visitors and is now the property of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW.

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