Penelope Seidler AM, 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 among the University’s most notable architecture alumni. For over five decades, Ms Seidler AM has played a crucial role in not only the sphere of architecture, but in the cultural life of Sydney and Australia.
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. An architect and accountant, she took 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.
Together with her late husband, she championed the advancement 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 Sydney’s 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 those of 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. Through her generosity the University of New South Wales in 2014 established the Seidler Chair in the Practice of Architecture. And in 2015, she pledged a substantial gift to support the establishment of the Chau Chak Wing Museum at the University of Sydney. She regularly provides private access to buildings of Harry Seidler and Associates to assist cultural organisations with their fundraising projects. Her gift to establish the Penelope Visiting Professorship extends her support of the University, and of architectural debate in Australia, in an exciting new direction.
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, and was in 2021 made an honorary Doctor of Architecture by the University of Sydney in recognition of her outstanding contribution to architecture, the arts and the cultural life of Australia.