Ms Seidler, who is the daughter of the Honourable Clive Evatt QC, studied at the University of Sydney, first enrolling in philosophy, history and anthropology before changing to architecture. On completion of a Bachelor of Architecture she registered as an architect in 1964 and is ranked as one of the University’s most notable architecture alumni.
For over five decades, Ms Penelope Seidler AM has played a crucial role in not only the sphere of architecture, but also in the fields of arts, culture and education in both Australia and internationally.
"She has left an indelible mark. Her knowledge and advocacy has helped pave the way for crucial change and she has been an inspirational mentor and role model, particularly for women.”
Following her graduation, Ms Seidler joined one of Australia’s most influential architecture practices, Harry Seidler and Associates. As wife and business partner to the late Harry Seidler, she has played a significant role in the operation of the practice while also defining herself as a key figure in the cultural sector. As well as being an architect, Penelope is a qualified accountant in charge of the financial management of the practice. She has held the position of Director of Harry Seidler and Associates since 1966 and is directly responsible for commissioning artists for projects.
Ms Seidler’s ambition and passion have defined her role within the field of architecture and cemented her as a leader of art and architecture in Sydney and internationally. Together with her late husband, she pioneered the integration of modernist art and architecture in Australia. The works of her architectural practice have demonstrated how the principles of modern architecture and urbanism and the values of rational design and innovative engineering can come together with an extraordinary business acumen to create some of the most internationally significant buildings in Australia, including Australia Square.
In addition, Ms Seidler has demonstrated a lifelong dedication to the cultural sector as a patron, advocate and philanthropist. She has held positions on arts boards and councils including the National Gallery of Australia, the Museum of Contemporary Art, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Venice Biennale and is a current member of the National Gallery of Australia Foundation. Ms Seidler has also nurtured the emerging careers of numerous contemporary artists and has been the willing subject of two portraits, including the 2014 Archibald Prize-winning work by University of Sydney alumna, Fiona Lowry.
Ms Seidler’s contributions to architecture and the arts in Australia and internationally will be experienced for generations to come through her advocacy and philanthropy across contemporary art, architecture and education. She donated $1 million to the University of New South Wales in 2014 for the establishment of the Seidler Chair in the Practice of Architecture and also funded a PhD scholarship and an international design studio for graduating students. In 2015, Ms Seidler pledged $750,000 towards the establishment of the Chau Chak Wing Museum at the University of Sydney and two years later, she established the Penelope Visiting Professorship in Architectural History to highlight the importance of Australia in global discussions of architecture and architectural history. The $1 million donation funds the appointment of an international authority in architectural history to undertake work within the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning. She regularly provides private access to buildings of Harry Seidler and Associates to assist cultural organisations with their fundraising projects.
In 2001, Penelope was awarded a Centenary Medal for service to Australian society in business leadership. She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2008 for service to the preservation of cultural heritage, to visual arts organisations and to architecture. In 2011, she was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur by the French government and received an honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of New South Wales. She also received the University of Sydney Alumni Award for Cultural Contribution in 2017.
Honorary degrees are awarded to individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the wider community or who have achieved exceptional academic or creative excellence. Penelope Seidler has been admitted to the degree of Doctor of Architecture (honoris causa).
Photo credit: GFP Events