1300 814 768
Architect: Harry Seidler & Associates, 1972
Water Street, Wahroonga
$ - For Sale
Ownership of a property is not an automatic right to vandalism. In today’s overheated market, buildings change hands and skyrocketing land values have either destroyed or mutilated many great buildings, only to make room for the new and bigger. It is both a pleasant surprise, and remarkable event, when one encounters, as in the Gissing house, a modest domestic work by Harry Seidler that has survived the depredations of the market and developer, and retained, down to the smallest detail, the original quality and atmosphere of a total work it possessed at its completion in 1972. The Gissing House is that exceptional thing, a distinguished survivor whose authenticity is uncompromised by time, as if, by some miracle, it was kept captive in a time capsule for the past forty years.
Janet Gissing met Penelope Evatt at Presbyterian Ladies College. Later she would come to admire Harry Seidler’s architecture. Her husband, John Gissing, bought land at Wahroonga. As dinner guests at the Seidlers in the Harry & Penelope Seidler House, they asked Seidler if he could design them a house just like theirs. The family would go on to live in the house for thirty-six years till 2008. This is an unusually long residence in today’s fast moving society, which has ensured its perfect preservation.
Seidler submitted a comprehensive questionnaire to determine the client requirements for a residence on lot 3, No. 9 West Street, to accommodate the Gissings and their three children and completed his design in 1970. The house would take a year to complete and is a smaller version of the Seidler’s own house, with some quite important departures: it half as large though the accommodation--there are only two to three less rooms—is not much less in a smaller package. This has a marked advantage, the scale of the Seidler house is intimidating and less comfortable by comparison, though both houses share the same split level arranged with two adjacent floors separated by a void that accommodates the connecting half-stair. The Gissing House, for all its formal geometry, is enticing in its apparent randomness and feels more private and intimate and less imposing and less like a public monument.
The house is situated on a large irregular block surrounded by neighbouring properties. It is accessed by a long drive that further reinforces the impression of self-contained isolation. Unlike so many Sydney residences that press up against the boundary fence, the Gissing house is in the center of its block and never faces a boundary, instead, it faces in every direction and is independent of the surveyor’s dictum.
Seidler disregarded the lot boundaries and sited the main Living room north to make the most of the sun. Consequently, rooms look outwards through extensive floor to ceiling glass onto gorgeous landscaped areas, thus, the Living expands onto a terrace and pool. Luckily the original landscape scheme by famed landscape architect, Bruce Mackenzie, has been maintained and complements the architecture. This is a house which cannot be thought of without its landscaping, the two contribute to an enrich one another, the house extends its formal geometry into its surrounds, whilst the landscape garden intrudes and softens the insistent geometry of the interior and offers complementary textures: the bark of the trees against the pattern of the off-form timber shuttering, pebble walks against quartzite floors, delicate foliage of plants against the unique Boral white concrete block and simple elegance of Modern furniture. The entire thing melds into a contrasting dance of nature and architecture as the visitor circles around the outside. It all resembles a coral Pacific island atoll floating in a green lagoon of garden. There is little feeling of neighbours encroaching.
The present owner, Chris Colls really sums up its impact: “I used to drive home to wind down, but it is really the opposite of that—instead, I come home to a new day—it’s refreshing to come home. Everything has been resolved to make it happen. It is so exciting all the things Seidler has resolved and dealt with.”
The Gissing House builds on and perfected Seidler’s earlier achievement of his own Killara house completed three years previously in 1967. After 22 years in Sydney, by 1970 Seidler’s confidence was at its peak. He had by then completed a string of distinguished houses, mainly on the North Shore, for a variety of clients. His fame was established initially after 1950 by a series of defiantly avant-garde modern houses. Australia Square tower (1960-67) designed with the assistance of the famed Italian engineer, Pierre Luigi Nervi, started in collaboration with I.M. Pei was the commencement of a much more lucrative commercial career that would see major towers constructed in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
The Gissing House was designed around the same time as the M.L.C. Centre, Sydney (1971-75), Ling, Arlington, Rushcutters Bay Apartments, Elizabeth Bay apartments, and the important Trade Group of Offices within the Parliamentary Triangle, Canberra (1970-74). This was typically a time of great concentration and intense design activity for Seidler that marked a transition and consolidation of his career.
Seidler was a systematic architect, his details were standards that are repeated and updated from building to building, his choice of materials is consistent, the same blue-grey basalt rubble walls, grey concrete block blade wall and U-shaped stiffened floor plates recur over and over. They are all manifestations of Seidler’s consistent application of an underlying Modernist ideology which was closely identified and repeated many of the practices, and colour schemes developed by his New York master Marcel Breuer (1902-1981).
In both the Seidler and Gissing houses, Seidler resorted to a split-level arrangement of adjacent floor plates separated by a full height void that opened the interior so the spaces flow in dynamic fashion between the different levels. The Seidler house, on an altogether different scale and budget has four levels, the Gissing House just three and the sloping mono-pitched skillion roof is inclined with the fall in the former and against it in the latter. This makes the two seem the same at first, but the changed orientation of the roof slope in the Gissing House sees the space rise whereas it falls in the Seidler example.
The same spatial means are deployed, the block work blade walls which support the upturned floor plates promote the flow of space and views across the depth of the house and rhythmically punctuate the axis of the tall void between opposing floors. Daylight enters from the ends and accentuates the timber shuttering patterns in the concrete, and the forms punch through the glass and extend the interior outside as a single continuum.
The Gissing House is especially notable for a number of arresting features, besides is hared spatial dynamic with the Seidler: attests to Seidler’s growing fascination with circular geometry, the deliberate juxtaposition of the circle motif against a rectangular grid framework. The circle is admitted, reiterated, removed and reappears in different sections of the design as a contrapuntal counter point and thematic juxtaposition. It is this play of circle and rectangle that for all the similarity with his own house, sets the Gissing achievement apart and properly distinguishes it from much of his other work. That, and the excellence of its execution--the off-form concrete is unrivalled and the white Boral concrete block walls are a unique element not repeated anywhere else.
We encounter the circle in the fireplace where the black masonry radiant shield has been repeated in the bar that concludes the axis of the living room and is expressed externally in the white block work semi-cylinder protrusion. The washroom and mechanical spaces of the cabana pool change cabin have semi-circular ends, and in a nice commentary to this, the gravel roof gutter sump is also circular.
The open hollow of the bar, concealed by two louvered doors takes on an almost sacred aspect as the focus of the living room that elevates its function to an almost symbolic level.
Throughout, the same material palette has been applied, timber off-form finish is matched by the immaculate white concrete walls, oiled Tasmanian Oak, quartzite floor, and the choice of an artwork, a Josef Albers composition by Seidler, for which the work ‘Baum’ (1973) by the German artist, Dorothea Reese-Hiem (b. 1943-) was substituted on a visit and still occupies pride of place in the void overlooking the living room.
One thing deserves comment and this is a curious connection with the Californian ranch house after 1932 in the hands of Cliff May. The May ranch house was a clever re-creation of the 19th century vernacular that imitated the random character of its model but with the additional advantage of a modern spatial approach in which rooms flowed into one another and out onto terraces and enclose patios. The sensation of openness of the ranch house was very agreeable which explained their success. Seidler quite obviously did not imitate May’s recipe, yet both his house in Killara and Gissing house evince much the same freedom and strong connections between interior space and the surrounding outdoors environment. Also as a surprise, May adopted the split-level pulled apart concept for added movement and interaction between the floors.
What is very special about Seidler at this transitional moment in the late 1960s into 1970 is the creation of a Pacific type that suits the benign landscape of then Pacific coast. It is durable, open and sheltering and connected to its landscape surrounds, joins with sandstone rock ledges, and projects itself outwards, while simultaneously on the inside, reflecting in its dynamic openness, the Pacific culture that brought it into being.
Text: Philip Drew, co-author of the definitive biography, Harry Seidler: Four Decades of Architecture
Biography: Harry Seidler AC OBE LFRAIA
Australian Institute of Architects, 2005
Harry Seidler is arguably Australia’s most internationally recognised iconic architect. For 57 years, he has been changing and influencing the shape of architecture in Australia. He is best known for buildings that have changed the skyline of Sydney’s CBD and surrounds over the past 45 years. These include Australia Square, the tallest light weight concrete building in the world at the time it was built, the 43-storey Horizon Apartments, and one of the most maligned buildings in Australia - Blues Point Tower. He has lectured extensively at universities in Australia and overseas, and has received a plethora of honours, state, national and international architecture awards.
Harry Seidler was born in Vienna on 25 June 1923, arriving in Australia in 1948 after studying in the United States. For more than five decades, he has been recognised as one of Australia’s leading architects, and as a key proponent of the modernist movement.
He has designed an extensive range of award-winning and important residential and commercial buildings, introducing new ideas and construction techniques, and making a major contribution to the architecture of Sydney in particular.
Consequently, Harry was awarded Australia’s top architectural prize, the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) Gold Medal in 1976 and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Gold Medal in 1996.
His background and training are unlike that of other local Australian-educated architects. He studied at the Wasagymnasium in Vienna from 1933-38 and escaped to England six months after the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. He went to Cambridge Technical College in England but was interned on the Isle of Man in 1940 and later transported to an internment camp in Canada. Released in 1941, he studied architecture at the University of Manitoba in Canada, graduating in 1944 with a Bachelor of Architecture (1st class honours).
Harry then won a scholarship to the Harvard School of Design, studying there under two of the 20th century’s most iconic modernist masters - Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus movement, and Marcel Breuer. He received his Master of Architecture from Harvard in 1946 before undertaking a design course at Black Mountain College in North Carolina with famous artist Joseph Albers.
During this period, Harry was also fortunate enough to work with more of the architectural professions biggest names. In 1945-46, Harry worked as an assistant to Alvar Aalto at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He followed this with a stint as chief assistant to Marcel Breuer from 1946-48 before travelling to South America to work with modernist master architect Oscar Niemeyer.
He decided to live and work in Sydney in 1948 after visiting his parents, who had re-located to the city. He formed his own private practice in 1949. Harry Seidler & Associates is today based at 2 Glen Street, Milsons Points - a building for which Harry received the RAIA Sulman Award for public or commercial architecture. Fellow tenants in the building include some of Australia’s best known architects - Alex Popov, Tony Caro, Bob Nation and Mick Viney.
Over the past 57 years, Harry has been responsible for some of the most important, innovative, commented upon, multiple award-winning, and controversial buildings in Australia.
Harry’s first and best known house was one commissioned by his mother - the Rose Seidler House at Turramurra (1948) on Sydney’s North Shore. The glass walled, elevated cubiform house was revolutionary, introducing the Bauhaus principles of Gropius and Breuer into Australia for the first time. He continued to use these principles in following years, designing many houses in either the box-like form of Le Corbusier or the ‘H’ plan of Marcel Breuer. From the 1960s, he was also known for his use of geometric curves, in both his residences and public and commercial buildings.
He is best known for houses in NSW such as the Hutter House in Turramurra (1952), the Meller House at Castlecrag (1950), the Muller House at Port Hacking (1963), the Gissing House in Wahroonga (1971-72) the Hamilton House in Vaucluse (1989) and the Berman House at Joadja in the Southern Highlands (1996).
25 June 1923 – 9 March 2006
Built for a family of five, the Gissing House is surrounded by mature gardens with high trees.
The house is orientated to the sun, facing north with the living area opening onto a paved terrace around a swimming pool. The gentle ground slope was used to create a lower ground floor (with dining, kitchen and family room) and above it, a bedroom level. The three levels are connected by centrally placed half-flights of stairs. At the meeting of the levels, the section of the house is ‘open’ to create a void, which spatially connects the different parts and creates changing vistas from one area to another as one moves through the house.
Recurring circular elements contrast with the rectangular outline of the plan and its screen wall projections. Construction is of hollow concrete block piers vertically reinforced, evenly spaced three metres apart, supporting concrete floors and roof.
In 1973, Peter Blake neatly summarized Harry Seidler’s role as a member of the third generation of 20th century architects, he noted that Seidler was, ‘special in the sense that he is a true child of the International Style’, insofar as he produced ‘an idiom that is an amalgam of the best of several cultures. In producing and polishing that idiom he has probably become the best architect now practicing in Australia.’ Unlike other contemporaries, Seidler remained a faithful disciple of Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, his teachers at Harvard in 1944, and did not discard their teachings, rather he remained true to, and built on, their splendid heritage.
Seidler left Vienna when he was just 15 years old, following Anschluss. Gropius’ connection with the the Bauhaus at Dessau ceased in early 1928. Seidler had no direct exposure to its ideas, prior to Harvard, and only came to know about it through Gropius and Breuer during the American phase of their careers based on the legend. It was their American example, rather than European practice, that he absorbed. This is especially the case in terms of Seidler’s subsequent contact as Breuer’s first assistant in New York, from 1945-46. This shows in the early Sydney houses which are effectively Breuer inspired designs for New England sites such as he had assisted on.
Seidler would outgrow Breuer in time, but his commitment to concrete construction and the later influence of the Italian master, Pier Luigi Nervi, would transform his practice and be reinforced with the aid of Nervi’s son in his later office towers.
A further intellectual influence is Sigfried Giedion whose Space Time and Architecture published in 1941 served as his bible on architecture and authorised his later excursions into Baroque geometry which became such a feature of his architecture from the 1980s on. A further influence and an indication of his changes in his aesthetic is reflected in his choice of art, initially Josef Albers’ (under whom he studied at Black Mountain) reiteration of the square, subsequently extended to include the sculpture of Norman Carlberg, the quadrant compositions of Frank Stella, and Sol LeWitt’s iteration series. With the exception of Albers and Le Corbusier tapestries, Seidler mostly selected Americans whose working out of Modernist themes he could more directly relate to.
As an International Style proponent deeply loyal to the mission as he perceived it of Modernism to represent its own time, Seidler, unlike earlier Vienna compatriots such as Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra, who moved to Los Angeles and developed a regional version of Modernism, Seidler resisted the call for a regional inflexion. His work is only regional in the sense that Seidler exploited what he perceived as the very best local construction technology, where this was lacking or insufficient for his aims, he unhesitatingly looked to the best outside Australia to avoid compromise.
Text: Philip Drew, co-author of the definitive biography, Harry Seidler: Four Decades of Architecture
Wahroonga is known for its tree-lined, shady streets. The wide avenues east of the railway line are the most sought after; Burns Road, Billyard Avenue, Kintore Street, Braeside Street and Water Street.
Water Street is regarded by many as the most desirable. A wide, tree-lined street with houses on large blocks set back from the street. The architecture consists of a mix of architectural styles including, Federation, Californian Bungalows, Edwardian and Georgian-style residences.
Nearby are the shops, cafés and restaurants of Wahroonga Village, having a wide variety of specialty and boutique shops set in a true village atmosphere. The main shopping centre of Westfield Hornsby is just 5 minutes away, having David Jones, Myer, Coles and Woolworths as its anchor stores.
The home is within walking distance of the highest calibre of public and private schools. Water Street is within the catchment areas for Wahroonga Public School (also known as the Bush School), Turramurra High School as well as Wahroonga Preparatory School and Kindergarten and Wahroonga Adventist Primary School. Private schools include Abbotsleigh senior and junior schools, and Knox Grammar School and Preparatory School.
Surrounded by the many manicured green open spaces and parklands of Wahroonga, Water Street is also within easy reach of the National Parks of NSW; Garigal, Ku-ring-gai Chase, Berowra Valley Regional Park and the water based attractions of Pittwater. The Northern Beaches are north and to the east, Mona Vale being only a 20 minute drive.
Originally developed as an out-of-city suburb for Sydney’s businessmen, Wahroonga is 22 kilometres northwest of the Sydney CBD, and historically enjoys good transport links. By car the Pacific Highway is one of the main commuter links to the city and a regular train service runs directly to the CBD, taking 39 minutes to Wynyard Station. Wahroonga station is on the North Shore line of the City Rail Network, with trains leaving for the city every 5 to 10 minutes.
It is little wonder Water Street is one of the most prized residential streets of Wahroonga, offering superb access to all the amenities required for today’s lifestyle.
• 5 bedroom, 3 bath, 2 car
• Approximate gross internal living area: 291 sq m / 3,132 sq ft
• Approximate gross land area: 1,688 sq m / 18,169 sq ft
• Mature and intact, original Bruce Mackenzie Landscape Design
Significance: Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) 20th Century Register of Significant Buildings, Number: 4703437
Heritage: Currently being assessed for Local Council and NSW State Heritage Listing
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MODERN HOUSE ESTATE AGENTS 1300 814 768
Architect: Harry Seidler & Associates
Designed and built: 1969-72
Architect: Harry Seidler & Associates
Design Architect: Harry Seidler
Landscape Architect: Bruce Mackenzie
Engineers: Miller Milston & Ferris Consulting Engineers
Contemporary Photography: © Chris Colls
B/W Photography: © Harry Seidler & Associates / Photography: Max Dupain