Raw But Precise

ZOOM — Tall, phallic buildings fronted by empty plazas and larger-than-life Calder sculptures are back! Or so a viewing of Barbie would suggest. I thought about the summer blockbuster’s (fictional) depiction of the Mattel HQ as curator and author Vladimir Belogolovsky flashed slides of Sydney’s Australia Square during his recent talk for the Skyscraper Museum. When it opened in 1967, the Harry Seidler–designed cylindrical office tower was feted for its innovative use of concrete, putting it in line with other cementitious skyclimbers like the CBS Building in New York and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s DeWitt-Chestnut Apartments in Chicago. (Both were the subjects of presentations hosted by the Skyscraper Museum earlier in the summer.) Belogolovsky, who published a monograph on Seidler nearly a decade ago, discussed the architect’s penchant for concrete, as evidenced by his many Australian projects, as well as a Kuala Lumpur tower. In the post-lecture discussion, Thomas Leslie, an architect and a writer of a book on Pier Luigi Nervi, expanded on the Italian engineer’s influence on the design of Australia Square, which went far beyond his trademark waffle slabs. “The work that Nervi and Seidler accomplished as collaborators can be considered, as Vincent Scully called it, Precisionism. The idea that concrete can both be very raw and precise,” Leslie said. Seidler’s fifty-story tribute to the material doesn’t strike me as raw so much as precise. Of the phallic preoccupations, the two speakers were silent.