Seidler’s Australia Square celebrates 50th anniversary

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Australia Square Tower by Harry Seidler (1967).

Australia Square Tower by Harry Seidler (1967). Image: Harry Seidler and Associates

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Australia Square Tower by Harry Seidler (1967).

Australia Square Tower by Harry Seidler (1967). Image: Harry Seidler and Associates

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Australia Square plaza by Harry Seidler (1967).

Australia Square plaza by Harry Seidler (1967). Image: Harry Seidler and Associates

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Australia Square site plan by Harry Seidler (1967).

Australia Square site plan by Harry Seidler (1967). Image: Harry Seidler and Associates

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Harry Seidler’s Australia Square complex in central Sydney has celebrated the 50 year anniversary of its completion in 1967. Seidler completed the design for the complex in 1961 for Lend Lease founder Gerardus Dusseldorp. The complex is composed of Australia’s first high-rise office tower – a 50-storey, 20-sided polygonal tower – a 13-storey office building and a bi-level public plaza.

Australia Square occupies an entire city block on George Street which was formed through the amalgamation of 30 separate properties. With the tower occupying only 25 percent of the site, much of the space was given over to a public area containing trees, sculpture and a fountain.

Australia Square site plan by Harry Seidler (1967). Image:  Harry Seidler and Associates

Architect Penelope Seidler, wife of the late Harry Seidler, said, “I remember when Harry excitedly told me in 1959 that he had been commissioned to assemble a whole city block to enable a huge urban redevelopment, this was to be a pioneer development for Sydney.”

Penelope Seidler said that the tapered columns that enclose the tower were inspired by a “world tour” the couple had taken together. “Harry and I went on a quick world tour in 1960, from which he got much of his inspiration for Australia Square.” The project also marked the start of Seidler’s long collaboration with the well-known Italian architect and engineer Pier Luigi Nervi, who acted as the structural engineer on Australia Square and who was responsible for designing the UNESCO Building in Paris (1950) and the George Washington Bus Terminal in New York City (1963).

With its bi-level public plaza, Australia Square was one of the earliest examples in Australia of a private development that included public open space. “This was a grand time for modern architecture, creating public space on private land which is still enjoyed by Sydney every day,” said Penelope Seidler.

Australia Square won the John Sulman medal in 1967, the Civic Design Award in 1967 and the Enduring Architecture award in the 2012 National Architecture Awards.

Seidler designed a number of other buildings in central Sydney. Among these are the 67-storey MLC Centre (1975), which was the tallest building in the southern hemisphere at the time of its completion, the curving Grosvenor Place (1988) and the Capita Centre (1989), which featured an early experiment in vertical gardening, with ledges planted with trees and shrubs. 

To commemorate the occasion of the anniversary, an exhibition in the lobby of the tower will be held until 12 May that features a collection of thirteen photographs taken throughout the construction of the buildings by photographer Max Dupain. Also on display will be a Lego model of the buildings taken from the touring Towers of Tomorrow with Lego Bricks exhibition currently on show at Ipswich Art Gallery.

Seidler was born in in the Austrian capital of Vienna in 1923 and started a practice in Sydney in 1949 after being educated in the UK, Canada, US and Brazil. Credited with being one of the most influential champions of modernism in Australia, Seidler completed more than 180 buildings before his death in 2006.


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