The Trouble with Harry: Seidler’s Tall Urban Design Legacy in Melbourne

Marfella, Giorgio

Ngā Pūtahitanga / Crossings: A Joint Conference of SAHANZ and the Australasian UHPH Group

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Despite the wealth of publications on Harry Seidler’s life and works, some aspects of the architect’s career remain relatively unknown or under-appreciated. This paper points the architect’s contribution to urban design through lesser-known high-rise projects designed for the inner city of Melbourne.

The chronicle of Seidler’s jobs in Melbourne speaks more of an unsuccessful office unable to convert major prospects into realised outcomes than of the commercial projects and landmarks for which his work is widely acclaimed. Over 40 years, Seidler conceived several high- rise projects for Melbourne’s Central Business District, but apart from the notable exception of the heritage-listed Shell House, those projects remained unbuilt.

At the core of Seidler’s scarce professional success in the second-largest Australian city, there was a problematic relationship that developed with local culture and city planning authorities. Seidler’s conflict with Melbourne erupted on the occasion of the planning approval of Shell House, surging in contrast to the rise of an overreaching and somewhat still pervasive post-modern urban design culture in the Victorian city.