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97/190/2-1 Architectural model, 'Grosvenor Place', designed by Harry Seidler, made by Arcmod Models Pty Ltd, Sydney, Australia, 1982. Click to enlarge.

Architectural model, Grosvenor Place designed by Harry Seidler, 1982

Designed
Grosvenor Place (completed 1989) is one of three major Sydney city developments designed by Harry Seidler, consisting of an office tower plus retail and public spaces. The others are Australia Square (completed 1967) and the MLC Centre (completed 1977). These projects involved demolition of existing structures and the amalgamation of numerous properties.

These three projects were statements of Seidler's vision for the modern city, creating large and well-defined work and leisure spaces. Seidler wrote that Australia Square was "a unique planning and architectural concept. Not only does the project open up a congestion area of Sydney with its canyon-type narrow streets, but offers a new space concept in the rectilinear street pattern".

Seidler's city developments share Le Corbusier's rejection of the traditional street in favour of city spaces zoned for specific activities, where office or residential towers are spaced in plazas or parks and pedestrians are separated from street traffic. The immediate inspiration for Grosvenor Place and similar developments was the Seagram Building, New York, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and completed in 1958. Mies' removal of the tower from the street line to the rear of a pedestrian plaza was widely copied in the USA, Australia and elsewhere although few were as nuanced or as successful in urban terms as those designed by Harry Seidler. Seidler argued that an office tower should not occupy more than 30% of its site, a condition met by the Grosvenor Place tower, while Seidler designed public spaces which were contiguous yet distinct from their surroundings. The public areas of Seidler's tower + plaza developments, including those of Grosvenor Place, have proved popular and successful.

However the controversy generated by the preservation of heritage buildings on the Grosvenor Street site reflects the continued attraction of the traditional city of diverse streets with their accrued layers of buildings. During the 1980s these arguments began to hold sway in Sydney and the building regulations reverted to an insistence that towers, or at least a podium component, conform to the established street line. Seidler argued that these regulations were effectively anti-urban and anti-pedestrian, that developments like Australia Square and Grosvenor Place are no longer achievable. Grosvenor Place is an artefact of a brief period of Sydney's urban history following the scrapping of the city building height limit in 1957 when building regulations encouraged the creation of open space around city towers.

Grosvenor Place embodies another aspect of Seidler's mature work: From around 1960 when he moved from primarily domestic work to large projects with Lend Lease and other developers, the engineering and expressive character of Seidler's structures became increasing innovative and eye-catching, especially after his work with the Italian architect/engineer Pier Luigi Nervi. The modernist ideal of matching structure and expression is a regular feature of his large projects, which were constructed from a surprisingly small number of identical, prefabricated building elements.

Charles Pickett, Curator Design and Built environment.

Summary

Object No.

97/190/2-1

Object Statement

Architectural model, 'Grosvenor Place', designed by Harry Seidler, made by Arcmod Models Pty Ltd, Sydney, Australia, 1982

Physical Description

Architectural model of Grosvenor Place and neighbouring buildings, made of painted wood and mounted inside a clear, plastic, rectangular box. The central building in the model, Grosvenor Place, is oval in shape with sharp, angular sides. On both sides of the building are tightly spaced horizontal windows with protruding grey, sun shades and green foliage sitting inside some of the balconies. Grosvenor Place comprises forty-four levels, a three storey lobby, five levels of basement car parking, a retail plaza and several historic buildings. At the base of the building is a triangular, perspex roof cover extending from one side, a water fountain and corner building with adjoining gate entry. Next to Grosvenor Place is a brown, square-shaped building with swimming pool (better known today as the Regent Hotel). The other surrounding buildings are all painted grey, without windows, and road ways are represented (including the Cahill expressway) with cars, trees, parks and painted grass.

Dimensions

Height

753 mm

Width

742 mm

Production

Notes

This model was designed by Harry Seidler and Associates and made by Bob Brown of Arcmod Models Pty Ltd in Australia, 1982.

Harry Seidler (1923-2006) was born in Vienna and fled Nazism via England, Canada and the USA where at Harvard University he was a student of Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. Seidler visited Sydney in 1948 to design a home for his parents. His intended return to the USA was halted by numerous requests to design houses similar to Rose Seidler house.

Seidler was one of a generation of new arrivals who internationalised an Anglophile outpost. Another was Dutch engineer Dick Dusseldorp who engaged Seidler to design numerous projects for his Lend Lease construction company. Among these were sophisticated but affordable apartment blocks which lent glamour and liveability to inner city living. Others included major urban redevelopments designed around office towers; Australian Square was the first of these. Seidler also found success internationally, his Australian Embassy in Paris the best-known of several off-shore commissions.

No architect has had a greater impact on Sydney through both his own work and its influence on others. Although Harry Seidler's Modernism was shaped by Europe and the US, Sydney also formed his work and his social presence. Often caricatured as a doctrinaire modernist, Seidler tailored most of his work to Sydney's climate and topography. Some of his best buildings – Blues Point Tower, Australia Square to name but two - were also his most controversial. As a polemicist, Seidler was less compromising but Sydney's urban culture benefited from his scorn of the second-rate in design and decision-making. His donation of this model, among others, was typical of his generosity to the Powerhouse and the arts community.

In addition to numerous awards received locally, such as the Royal Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal, in 1996 Seidler was the recipient of the Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal.

Grosvenor Place is located at 225 George Street, Sydney. It is a premium 45 floor office building near Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House. Grosvenor Place tower was designed as a long span, column-free construction to create clear work spaces on each floor, while the quadrant plan shapes maximise the views. Every structural span and beam, column and facade element are identical. Sunshades of varying angles reduce energy consumption and eliminate glare within the office tower. The tower is cooled mainly by electricity generated during off-peak hours; cool air is stored in an ice bank beneath the building for use during the day. The foyer contains commissioned art works by Frank Stella.

The tower occupies only 30 % of the site which also features dining, retail and public spaces.

History

Notes

Grosvenor Place is located on a Government leasehold site at the northern end of Sydney's Central Business District with panoramic views of the harbour, the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and Darling Harbour. From 1980 negotiations proceeded between the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority (SCRA) and the private sector on proposals for mixed development and recycling on the land bounded by George, Grosvenor, Harrington and Essex Streets. SCRA's redevelopment strategy was that that rent-producing high-rise structures would finance the conservation and reuse of the numerous historic low-rise structures of the Rocks precinct. The agreement for the Grosvenor Place project signed in June 1983 stipulated the renovation of Royal Naval House and four adjacent buildings, Federation Hall, Johnson's Building, 231 George Street and the Brooklyn Hotel.

This condition frustrated Harry Seidler, especially as the Johnsons Building and neighbouring Brooklyn Hotel were in poor condition and only their exteriors were required to be preserved. He campaigned publicly: 'It has robbed the public areas we have created around Grosvenor Place from being a genuine public asset. Particularly hypocritical is that you don't have to keep the entire building, only its facade'.

In 1986 the two contentious structures were severely damaged by fire but their demolition was forbidden by the NSW government on the grounds that fire damage should not set a precedent for demolition of heritage buildings. In the end the buildings were restored during 1989 and have remained in use. Both were designed 1912 by former NSW Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon in association with a former student of Charles Rennie Macintosh.

Grosvenor Place was awarded the 1991 Sulman Prize for public architecture.

Cite this Object

Harvard

Architectural model, Grosvenor Place designed by Harry Seidler, 1982 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 4 March 2021, <https://ma.as/156688>

Wikipedia

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