A true Fremantle treasure was lost with the death of celebrated architect Bernard Francis Seeber on August 15, but he leaves a legacy embodied in visionary built environments throughout Perth.
Seeber, who grew up in Joondana and began honing his craft in 1979, was known for his innate ability to find architectural solutions that are modest, sensitive to their surroundings and delicately balanced, regardless of size and budget.
In the port city alone he was responsible for much of the built landscape, including the Fremantle Leisure Centre, his nationally acclaimed design for the Hilton Community Centre, the distinctive changing rooms at the Leighton Beach redevelopment with their staccato roofline, the Kadampa Meditation Centre in East Fremantle, South Street Housing Community and Fremantle Cemetery.
His practice also intends to implement his vision for South Beach’s future public facilities.
Also in demand for his sympathetic approach to historic buildings, Seeber led the conservation and restoration of the Sister Martin Kelly Center and MercyCare’s The Stables in Wembley, and the Cancer Wellness Center in Cottesloe, which housed three community cancer groups through the extension of Wanslea’s significant heritage site .
He also oversaw the refurbishment of the Fremantle Railway Station, the WA chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects building in Nedlands – originally designed in 1965 by post-war architect Julius Elischer and featuring deep window cuts influenced by Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp Chapel – and residences at Chester Street in South Fremantle and Margaret Street in Cottesloe.
His perhaps lesser-known contributions include a stainless steel ribbon sculpture, a wool washing plant and water treatment plant at Rockingham, and the conversion of Geraldton railway station to commercial uses.
A rare creature whose impact on my life is immeasurable.
Among his many gongs, Seeber has twice received WA architecture’s highest accolade, the George Temple Poole Award, most recently in 2012 for the design of the Hilton Community Center, as well as the 2015 Margaret Pitt Morison Award for Heritage for the Wanslea Cancer Wellness Center to the Heritage Council Award , which the project had already received in the same year.
Seeber’s partner and interior designer Talia Teoh said he was larger than life.
“[Bernard had]seemingly limitless amounts of energy, determination, quick wit, humor, generosity, patience, understanding, intelligence, brilliant creativity and a never-ending inquiring mind,” she said.
“All of his most fabulous qualities live on in our wonderful children who were so fortunate to have the most amazing father and friend.
“At last the man who could never sit still has rest.”
Fremantle architect Simon Pendal also spoke to PerthNow about his 25-year-old friend, describing Seeber as “bursting with energy and optimism”.
“Bernard Seeber was a man of genuine brilliance who possessed incredible mental agility and clarity,” said Dr. pendulum
“Important, rigorous and principled, he worked systematically, always in search of an ordered logic, a love of assembly, justifying the execution of carefully selected parts.
“He wanted his buildings to communicate with people, to tell a story about what they were, how they were made and with the least amount of material, without fuss or waste. They are as direct, optimistic and generous as their author.
“Where Bernard as a person, the architect and his buildings ended and began is impossible to say because he worked within a holistic and all-encompassing worldview.
“Forever generous with his time, Bernard took every opportunity to speak to architecture students or fellow architects and convey the careful justification of his work, his buildings and his sense of civic engagement.
He was a larger than life architect and a luminary of the architectural community here in Perth.
“My last conversation with him was about his conviction that the central responsibility of an architect is the social common good of all people, without discrimination.
“As a man, Bernard was bursting with energy and his optimism was contagious. His wit and humor are widely remembered, as is his ability to be provocative, sometimes almost outrageous.
“A select group of our profession looked to him as a mentor as they worked closely with him from their office on the High Street in Fremantle.
“Bernard was a role model for countless others on how to behave intellectually, professionally and personally. The respect of his peers shall be one of his numerous and enduring legacies.”
The WA chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects said Seeber would leave a lasting impact on architecture in WA.
“His contribution to the profession lies not only in his built form, but also in his dedication and generosity to colleagues,” said Sandy Anghie, President of the WA AIA.
“I know this news will cause great sadness across the industry. Our thoughts are with the Seeber family, friends and work.”
In a dedication to Seeber on social media, the City of Fremantle said the celebrated architect would be remembered most for the enduring contribution his buildings made to the public sphere.
Fremantle Councilor Andrew Sullivan said Seeber was a unique intellect with an unwavering commitment to social and civic duty.
“Bernard has been a teacher and mentor to many local architects. He was incredibly civic and had a unique ability to be provocative while being kind, confident in his thinking but poetic by nature,” said Cr Sullivan.
“He represented a modern pragmatism in architecture, but was just as adept at preserving historic structures. His rigorous questioning of materiality delivered responsible sustainable buildings that will outlive us all.”
Musician and former university lecturer Errol Tout remembers Seeber for his generous contribution to architecture education at Curtin University.
“He was a larger than life architect and a luminary of the architectural community here in Perth,” he said.
Fremantle resident Lydia Wells remarked on “the great privilege of living in a Seeber-designed residence.
“The best house I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing,” she said. “He was a true visionary.”
Architect Georgina Willis, who has worked with Seeber at his eponymous office for the past 13 years, said she will remember the 73-year-old fondly as a friend and mentor in all aspects of her life.
“(He was) supportive, encouraging and patient; Providing an environment that has created opportunities for learning and growth,” she said,
“A rare creature whose impact on my life is immeasurable.”
Contemporary Jonathan Strauss, who shared 30 years of his career with Seeber, recalls his unwavering dedication to the task at hand.
“Bernard offered positive support, encouragement and advice, always with the best intentions to improve and move my life forward,” he said.
“I hope I was able to do the same to him.
“The greatest loss is the chance to grow old together and become even more bitterly quirky.”
Seeber once said in a Q&A panel, “Buildings can have an immediate impact and everyone jumps up and down, but then they drive by and forget about it. Buildings and rooms grow into our psyche. You may not notice they are there, but after a while you ask where is that coming from?”
There is little doubt that Seeber’s contributions to Perth’s architectural history will remain deep in our psyches, were we otherwise unaware of the man behind it all.
The life of the visionary will be celebrated on September 2nd at Fremantle Cemetery, which he designed and for which he won his first George Temple-Poole Award in 1997.