Women's History Month 2012
Women with a Plan: architects, town planners and landscape architects
The aim of Australia’s Women’s History Month 2012 is to turn the extraordinary into the ordinary. By choosing the theme Women with a Plan we want to remove any surprise at the number of women among the urban planners, architects, and landscape architects who shaped our surroundings, and our history in the past century.
Some of these women helped lay the foundations of these professions in Australia. Others, from early 19th century First Lady Elizabeth Macquarie to fighting feminist Bessie Guthrie 150 years later, had a more singular impact on the planning and design of their surroundings.
We have selected just a few women from Australia’s planning and design history for an online gallery of Women with a Plan to be unveiled in Women’s History Month in March 2012. As there are many more whose role is worth recording, we will continue to add entries on others to our Who’s Who feature. We invite your ideas on new additions – and of course new contributors to the Australian Women’s History Forum are just as welcome!
This outline previews the ‘leading lights’ nominated for the Women with a Plan Gallery from Australia’s pioneering women architects, urban planners and landscape architects. It summarises their training, indicates highlights of their work and notes some of their successes in overcoming obstacles to gaining professional status and developing successful practices.
Each of these stories will feature in the Women with a Plan Gallery. By recognising their achievements we hope to make it less surprising that so many talented women shaped our surroundings in the past century.
When we look into the shadowy corners of our planning past in Australia, two women shine most brightly. Both qualified and practised as architects, both are now better recognised in connection with town planning, and neither was born in Australia. Marion Mahony Griffin was a draftsman for distinguished Chicago architect Frank Lloyd Wright when she began working with her husband on a submission in the design competition for Australia’s national capital in 1911. Then a draftsman in the Sydney architectural firm of JD Clamp, Florence Parsons Taylor was a talented designer of houses before her marriage to George Taylor. They formed the duo that so successfully fostered town planning in Australia as practitioners and publishers.
Though Marion Mahony Griffin and Florence Taylor are most familiar among pioneering women architects and urban planners, every Australian state had its own talented cohort of Women with a Plan.
In New South Wales in the 1920s Ellice Nosworthy and Eleanor Cullis Hill were the first women to set up their own architectural practices. In Victoria architects Cynthea Teague and Edythe Ellison Harvie worked in prominent Melbourne firms in the 1930s, at the same time Mary Turner Shaw worked in her own partnership. Edna Walling was then a well-established landscape designer in Victoria, thirty years before the profession was established in Australia. In South Australia in the 1940s Marjorie Simpson was an architect with the Commonwealth Department of Public Works. In late 1950s South Australian town planner Stroma Buttrose was the first woman in her profession in the State, while Mervyn Davis preceded her profession - landscape architects were not recognised in Australia for another decade.
Also nominated for a place in the Women with a Plan gallery for Women’s History Month 2012 are four Western Australians. Margaret Pitt Morison became the state’s first woman architect in 1924 and Margaret Feilman the first woman town planner in 1950. Another pioneering woman architect in 1930s Perth was Nancy Allen, while landscape architect Jean Verschuer’s contribution to her profession was recognised with an AM in 2001. Queensland architect Beatrice Hutton made history in 1916 as the first woman in Australia admitted to an Institute of Architects, while Elina Mottram in 1924 was the first in the state to set up her own practice. In Tasmania Margaret Findlay in 1944 was the first woman to register as an architect and Marjorie Matthews the first to open her own practice, in the late 1940s.
Our Women’s History Month theme for 2012 puts a special spotlight on Canberra, Australia’s only planned capital city as this is the centenary of the city’s design. In 1912 the design prepared by Walter Burley Griffin in partnership with Marion Mahony Griffin won the competition for Australia’s national capital. Other ‘leading lights’ of subsequent design work in the city include architect Heather Sutherland, architect and planner Rosette Edmunds and landscape architect Margaret Hendry.
The woman architects designed public buildings, commercial premises and houses; the planners sites in city and country and the landscape architects designed for a range of notable projects. Some had their own practices, like Margaret Feilman in Perth, Elina Mottram in Brisbane and Ellice Nosworthy and Elinor Cullis-Hill in Sydney. Others were in partnership with their husbands, like Marion Mahony Griffin, Heather Sutherland and Winsome Hall Andrew; some worked for other firms, like Sydney's Judith Macintosh, Melbourne’s Cynthea Teague and Edythe Ellison Harvie and Perth’s Nancy Allen.
In Brisbane in the 1920s Elina Mottram designed elegant flats at Kangaroo Point and private houses in Corinda and Ascot. She also designed public and commercial buildings, including Longreach’s Masonic Temple and the town’s Motor Garage. Her contemporary Beatrice Hutton’s work was mainly houses designed for clients in the Queensland coastal city of Rockhampton and in Sydney, where she was in partnership with Claude Chambers. The extraordinarily energetic Barbara van Broek was an architect, town planner and a founding landscape architect in Queensland.
In Sydney the design work of architect Ellice Nosworthy, in 1922 one of the first graduates of the new School of Architecture at the University of Sydney, included the Reid Wing of the Women’s College at the University of Sydney. Like Nosworthy working from her own home, Elinor Cullis-Hill designed kindergartens and some 30 houses in neighbouring Warrawee, Turramurra, Pymble and Wahroonga.
In Melbourne in the 1930s Cynthea Teague worked for several small practices, designing houses and then commercial and industrial buildings,becoming chief designer for Oakley and Parkes. She joined the Commonwealth Department of Works, where she was on the design team for Commonwealth offices around Australia. Her contemporary Ellison Harvie worked for Stephenson & Turner, eventually becoming a partner in this firm which specialised in hospital design. She designed the Jessie McPherson wing of the Queen Victoria Hospital and was also involved in the design of the Royal Melbourne Hospital. The third Victorian architect in the WHM 2012 Gallery, Mary Turner Shaw was in partnership in the 1930s with German architect Frederick Romberg. Their work includes the Newburn Flats in Queens Road and the Yarrahee Flats in South Yarra.
South Australian architect Marjorie Simpson qualified at Sydney Technical College and worked in the architectural office of Eric Nicholls until she was registered in 1949. She and her architect husband then worked for the Commonwealth Department of Works in Sydney, their commissions including design and documentation of the Woomera Rocket Range in 1951. They designed their own homes in Sydney and then in Adelaide, where Marjorie Simpson became Director of the Small Homes Service of South Australia in 1957. She later formed a practice with her husband, their work including the Royal Society for the Blind Institute at Gilles Plains, built in the 1970s.
Town planner Stroma Buttrose, another South Australian, supervised the Gawler Land Use Survey, an area about 100 by 40 kilometres, and the Willunga Land Use Survey, covering an area of the same extent. She helped in the production of the Development Plan for the Metropolitan Area of Adelaide, published in 1963. After graduating Master of Town Planning from the University of Adelaide in 1972 Stroma Buttrose became the first woman Commissioner of the Planning Appeal Board. She is the author of a number of publications, including City Planning in Australia in 1975.
Perth’s first woman town planner, Margaret Feilman, ran her own practice in Perth, her major project the Kwinana New Town in 1952. In 1938 she was the first female cadet in the state’s Public Works Department. Eligible for registration as an architect in 1945, in 1950 when she qualified as a town planner with a postgraduate diploma from the University of Durham, she became a founding member of the WA Town Planning Institute. Western Australia’s first woman architect was Margaret Pitt Morison, who registered in 1924 and practised as a design architect until 1948, when she took a teaching post at Perth Technical College. Nancy Allen worked in the domestic and commercial architectural practice of W G Bennett in Perth from 1935, becoming a partner in 1962.
Margaret Findlay, in 1944 the first woman to register as an architect in Tasmania, had completed her training at Hobart Technical College and worked for the state Department of Public Works until 1946 when she was appointed to the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Sydney, where she taught until her retirement in 1970. Marjorie Matthews opened a sole practice in Launceston in the late 1940s before migrating to the UK.
Marion Mahony Griffin, who graduated in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1894, became the first woman architect registered in Illinois. Florence Parsons Taylor qualified as a draftsman at Sydney Technical College in 1904 and three years later was so successfully designing houses for the architectural firm of JD Clamp she became the first woman nominated for membership of the NSW Institute of Architects – though the nomination was unsuccessful and she was not admitted until 1920.
In Australia professional bodies for architects were formed in the colonies in the 19th century. A federated Australian Institute of Architects was formed in 1930. Professional town planning came later, with a national body established in 1951, now the Planning Institute of Australia. The profession of landscape architecture is the most recent, with the formal establishment of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architecture in 1969.
Although professional architectural institutes were formed in Victoria in 1856, NSW in 1871, South Australia in 1886 and Queensland in 1888, it took a long time for the first women architects to be admitted. As Bronwyn Hanna shows, Beatrice Hutton became the first when the Queensland Institute of Architects admitted her as an associate member in 1916. Next was Florence Taylor, finally accepted by the NSW Institute of Architects in 1920, fifty years after its foundation and thirteen years after she had first been nominated and refused.The Victorian Institute had been in existence for 64 years that year, when Eileen Good became the third Australian woman member of the professional association. The Western Australian institute was formed 44 years before Zoie Fryer became the first woman member in 1938 and South Australia’s Institute had been in existence 53 years when Beverley Bolin was admitted in 1949.
Until 1950, Margaret Findlay and Marjorie Matthews were the only Tasmanian women members of the state chapter of the RAIA, formed in 1929. Not all qualified women architects opted to join their professional association though. The first Western Australian woman graduate, Margaret Pitt Morison, whose registration in 1924 launched a professional career of more than 64 years, seems never to have sought membership.
Margaret Feilman, Perth's first female town planner was a founding member of the Western Australian Town Planning Institute in 1950. After returning from the UK where she gained her professional qualifications, Mervyn Davis lived in Melbourne, from where she was a prime mover in establishing an Australian Institute of Landscape Architects.
Just why these remarkable figures have remained unremarked is not the focus of the gallery Women with a Plan. We bring together this historical group for Women’s History Month Australia in 2012 simply to celebrate their talents, skill and determination made their mark.
Today women are more prominent in architecture, urban and regional planning and landscape architecture. Leaders include the first woman president of the Australia Institute of Architects, Louise Cox who also subsequently headed the International Union of Architects, while in 2009 Canberra architect Melinda Dodson became the AIA’s youngest national president. Award-winners include Kerry Clare, joint 2010 recipient of the Australian Institute of Architects gold medal with her husband Lindsay for a body of work including GOMA, Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art.
In the planning profession, Sandy Vigar became the first female president of the Planning Institute of Australia (1996-97), followed by Barrie Melotte 1998-99 and Barbara Norman 2000-01.
The history of women's professional involvement in architecture, town planning and as landscape architects in Australia is a fascinating one. We hope you will join us with your own Women’s History Month event to commemorate the history of Australia's women architects an d town planners. Please enter your event’s details in our online calendar. Download our free poster to help publicise your events and Australian Women's History Month
Contributed by Lenore Coltheart
Willis, Julie, Bronwyn J. Hanna, and Royal Australian Institute of Architects. Women Architects in Australia 1900-1950 / Julie Willis & Bronwyn Hanna. Royal Australian Institute of Architects, 2a Mugga Way, Red Hill, A.C.T., 2001.
This is a very useful history with many individual profiles as well as a survey of the different paths taken by the considerable number of female architecture graduates in the 20th century. It is still available for sale from AIA at the above address
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Compiled by Libby Coates