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media representations of Rose Seidler House

Bogle, M. Modernism and the Media: Rose Seidler House 1948-52, 1993

The architect's extensive press archive reveals that from the moment of his arrival, Australian daily newspapers were fascinated by Harry Seidler and paid special attention to his American connections with Walter Gropius and the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. There were several newspaper articles in 1948. The first magazine treatment of his interior design and architecture, however, does not seem to appear until 1949 when Sydney Ure Smith's Art and Design was the first to report on the interior design of Seidler's studio flat (and office) at 4 Wolsley Crescent, Point Piper The language of this 200 word feature is a cool, objectified discourse that implies familiarity with the related design work of Breuer and Gropius.

The second popular magazine feature on the architect's work appears in the August 1949 Australian Home Beautiful. Although there were no completed commissions in 1949, this magazine was so enthusiastic about the Waks House, Northbridge that their journalist wrote a three page feature on the architect's model Philip Drew, the Seidler scholar, gives the Waks House a completion date of 1951, two years after this feature.6 In April 1951, Australian Home Beautiful returns to the house to give it a colour cover and main feature status.

A similar pattern appears with the magazine treatment of the Hutter House, Turramurra. It also receives two pages of editorial support and photographs at the model stage in the March 1950 issue of Australian Home Beautiful; again two years before this domestic commission was complete.

But in late 1950, the completion of the architecture begins to catch up with journalists' interest when the Rose Seidler House is completed in December, 1950. In this same month, however, the T. P. Meller House, Castlecrag also appears as a model (and two page feature) in the December issue of Australian Home Beautiful. But it took over two years to complete this project after it was rejected by local authorities. The New South Wales Minister for Housing, Clive Evatt ultimately bypassed the Willoughby Council by authorising its construction as a "demonstration home". Even after this reprieve, the house ran afoul of the Castlecrag Estate's architect, E.M. Nicholls (a former Walter Burley Griffin partner), who evoked the Estate's covenants to force changes in construction materials. This led to further delays and the house didn't receive full magazine attention until the Australian Women's Weekly treated the completed Meller House in a colour feature in 2 September 1953, nearly three years after the commission began.

In 1951, the pattern of reporting solely on architectural models changes following the completion of the Rose Seidler House. This finished work for his parents appears on two colour covers: Australian House and Garden (January) and Australian Home Beautiful (February) Then, only one issue later, the Waks House earns the architect an unprecedented second colour cover in the April Australian Home Beautiful. Now, for the first time, these completed projects and colour treatments allow magazine journalists to respond less guardedly and to subjectively analyse the handling of interior volumes, sightlines and the architecture's site plan. Other features appear during this year reporting on a model of a Newport residential commission and a proposal for the Ithaca Gardens Apartment project (not completed until 1961).

In the following year, the Rose Seidler House receives the 1951 Sulman Award in August 1952. Although this Seidler commission had certainly been well-publicised prior to the award, the attention it received afterward made this residence what the Sydney Herald called "The Most Talked About House in Sydney''. This official acceptance of the architect's domestic work by his professional peers also seemed to attract additional coverage from the more traditional magazines such as the Australian Womens' Weekly, A.M. The Australian Monthly, Pix, Woman's Day and the weekend supplements produced by the metropolitan dailies. After 1952, the media coverage for Harry Seidler's work (domestic and commercial) increased almost exponentially.

The Seidler press archive for the period 1948-52 reveals that much of the media coverage from the daily newspapers arose from the formidable resistance that Sydney's metropolitan Councils offered to the innovations of the architect's domestic commissions. This is not a new issue, of course, as Sydney Ancher's struggles for Councils permits in the 1940s reveals. Like Ancher, Harry Seidler was often forced to resort to legal remedies to gain the necessary permits.

Seidler was inevitably supported by the Sydney dailies in these legal battles . There were protracted struggles with the Kuring-gai Council (a Roseville commission), the Willoughby Council (the Meller House, Castlecrag) and the Manly Council (the Breakspear House, Clontarf). All of these legal wrangles ended in victory for the architect and there are few Australians (and journalists) who could fail to smile at the sight of a bumbling Council in headlong retreat.

These cases provided colourful copy. For example, Harry Seidler is quoted at length in the Sunday Herald on 26 March 1950 as saying "The building inspector of Willoughby Council rang me up and asked me to come out personally and explain my blueprint because he didn't understand them. Yet, on his advice a bunch of butchers, grocers and so on, tell me, a qualified architect that my ideas of a home have no aesthetic value." Editorial support appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Herald, The Age, Melbourne Herald and other dailies. Naturally, these on-going controversies also helped draw the attention of the magazine writers to new work.

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