Theme Architecture and Design

Written by Harriet Edquist, RMIT University

The growth of Australian women's leadership in the fields of architecture and design was slow and hard fought. While a few notable women exercised leadership from the early 19th century, they did so as amateurs. The professionalisation of the architecture and design disciplines was a long process that took place in fits and starts over the course of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. Architects were the first to organise themselves into professional bodies and, by the beginning of the 20th century, there were institutes of architects in all capital cities. These were entirely male affairs, vigorously guarded, and the control of them remained in the hands of men for the better part of a century or more. In 1930, the national Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) was formed, now known as the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA). Industrial designers founded the Society for Designers for Industry around 1947; it became the Design Institute of Australia (DIA) in 1982, absorbing the Society of Interior Designers of Australia (SIDA) in 1998. The Australian Institute of Landscape Architecture (AILA) was not established until 1966. Professional education in tertiary institutions followed a similar trajectory. Hence almost no 19th-century women feature in this part of the story, only slowly emerging in the first decades of the 20th.

The Early Years 1788-1920

During the 19th century, the architectural profession was in the hands of architects and builders, trained in Britain or Europe or in articles in Australia, and, as far as we know, women did not practise within this system. However, there existed a parallel amateur system of genteel accomplishment through which much colonial building was carried out and here women could contribute. Elizabeth Macquarie (1778-1835), the wife of New South Wales Governor Lachlan Macquarie, influenced design decisions in Sydney in the 1820s, and Eliza Darling, wife of New South Wales governor Sir Ralph Darling, drew plans for a number of houses in the 1820s. Lady Jane Franklin, wife of Van Dieman's Land governor Sir John Franklin, commissioned the design of the country's first purpose-built museum, a small Greek Revival temple at Acanthe, Lenah Valley, Tasmania (1842-1843). Artist Georgiana McCrae, wife of Port Phillip settler Andrew McCrae, designed the family house, Mayfield, Kew, in 1842, while, in 1849, pioneer squatters Anne Drysdale and Caroline Newcomb commissioned their Gothic Revival homestead, Coryule, in the Western District of Victoria.

If these women were visible only to a few, the situation was different for women interested in garden design. In 1897, Charles Bogue Luffman, the enlightened director of Burnley Horticultural College in Melbourne, welcomed them into his institution as students, an event that had a profound effect on the subsequent development of landscape architecture (a term not in common use until the mid-20th century). Frances (Ina) Higgins (1860-1948) enrolled at Burnley in 1899 and established herself as the country's first professional woman landscape architect, while maintaining a prominent role as a political activist. She assisted with the planting schemes for two new model towns in the Murrumbidgee district at the invitation of the New South Wales Commission of Irrigation, designed notable private gardens and was a vocal advocate for women's participation in the profession.

The global exhibition culture that developed after the Great Exhibition in London of 1851 saw Melbourne and Sydney host local and inter-colonial exhibitions from the 1850s and through this network of trade and industry, new ideas on design were introduced to the public at large. Novelist Ada Cambridge describes how the reformist agenda of the Aesthetic style was mediated in the domestic interior by women who had attended the Melbourne exhibitions of 1880 and 1888. The Arts and Crafts Movement (c. 1880-1914) encouraged women to expand their effort by its advocacy of design reform and the holistic design of environments encompassing architecture, furniture, fittings and equipment. In this environment, women began to train and practise as designers and architects.

In 1907, Lady Northcote, wife of Sir Henry Northcote, the third governor general of Australia, initiated and presided over the Exhibition of Women's Work held in the Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne. Thousands of entries came in from all over the world and, while the exhibition was of uneven quality, it provided a forum for debate around the future of women's work and the role of design within it. Florence Taylor (1879-1969), who had qualified as an architect in Sydney in 1904, won first prize for a plan of a kitchen. She had recently married George Taylor and, abandoning the practice of architecture, embarked on a remarkable career as an architectural and building publisher. Together with George, Florence founded the Building Publishing Company and developed a successful stable of publications, including the long-lived Building (later Building, Lighting and Engineering) (1907-1972), Construction (1908-1974) and the Australasian Engineer (1915-1973). Taylor was a founding member (1913) of the Town Planning Association of New South Wales and its secretary for many years and, after George's death in 1928, she continued the publishing business alone with great success. While one or two other women qualified as architects prior to World War I, such as Ruth Alsop (1879-1976) in Victoria, Marion Mahony Griffin (1871-1961) was the only woman architect working in Australia to match Taylor in her zeal. Griffin, the second woman to graduate from architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology USA, arrived in Australia with her husband, Walter Burley Griffin, in 1914, having won the competition for the design of Canberra. They worked in collaboration during their 21 years in Australia (1914-1935) and are held to be co-designers of a considerable body of work, which, apart from Canberra, included five new towns, several suburban communities, three campus plans, houses, industrial buildings and some commercial buildings.

From 1900, new journals catering specifically to women's interest began to appear. The first issue of The New Idea: A Women's Home Journal for Australasia (August 1902) included articles on architecture and 'good housekeeping', home renovations, and up-to-date design influenced by Arts and Crafts aesthetics. Henrietta C. Walker edited a women's page for the Age newspaper in Melbourne for 17 years and, in 1913, co-authored with factory inspector Margaret Cuthbertson Woman's Work, a directory of professions and occupations open to women, including commercial art, for decades a path into interior and industrial design. Meanwhile, in the Journal of Horticulture of Australasia, which became Home & Garden Beautiful, Hattie Knight produced dozens of articles in the years before and during World War I on interior design, advocating hygiene, sunshine, good interior planning and good design in furniture and fittings. This journalism constituted an early push by women to voice ideas about how they might participate in this emergent field of design practice.

Modernism 1920-1972

Over 100 women took up architecture as a profession in the first half of the 20th century but few can be identified as holding positions of leadership, the profession remaining rigidly hierarchical and male. However, there were exceptions. Muriel Stott (1889-1985) completed her articles in Melbourne in 1916 and set up in private practice in 1917, one of the first women in Australia to do so. Queenslander Beatrice Hutton (1893-1990) began her architectural career in 1912 as an articled pupil in Rockhampton and, in 1916, became the first woman associate member of an institute of architects in Australia when she joined the Queensland Institute. Moving to Sydney, she achieved partnership status in 1930 in the practice Chambers & Hutton, albeit briefly, since she returned to Queensland to care for her ailing father in 1931, an example of the priority women were expected to give family responsibilities. Elina Mottram (1903-1996) established her practice in Brisbane in 1924, taught building construction at the Brisbane Central Technical College, moved her practice to Longreach from 1926 and was a draftswoman with the American Army Engineering Office at Rockhampton during World War II. Later, with Queensland Railways, she designed the Eagle Junction Railway Station. In 1922, Ellice Nosworthy (1899-1972) was among the first architecture graduates from the newly established Faculty of Architecture at the University of Sydney and amongst the first registered architects in the state (1923). She conducted a solo practice from her home in Lindfield for nearly 50 years and often employed other women architects. Like many professional women in the design field, she was seconded to the war effort, working for the Department of the Interior.

While Stott, Hutton, Mottram and Nosworthy are all significant for their pioneering work in establishing women in the architectural profession, and, in Nosworthy's case, mentoring others in her office, Ellison Harvie (1902-1984) stands out in terms of leadership in architecture. Harvie studied architecture at Swinburne Technical College in Hawthorn and the design-oriented Architectural Atelier at Melbourne University, where she won several prizes. In 1928, she became an associate of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects (RVIA) and was the first woman to sit on its council. She completed articles in the renowned firm, Stephenson and Meldrum (later Stephenson and Turner), where she remained for her entire career. She was job captain on the Jessie Macpherson Hospital (1928) and the Mercy Hospital (1934) and, in 1936, journalist Nora Cooper described her as 'without question an architect of brilliant achievement and great promise' (Cooper: 1936). Harvie quickly rose to prominence and, by 1946, was a partner in the firm, the same year she was appointed the first woman fellow of the RVIA; she was also the first Australian woman to become an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Harvie used her position judiciously for the betterment of the profession and for the place of women within it. So did Cynthia Teague (1906-2007), who fought for equal pay for women throughout her career in the Commonwealth Department of Works where she was the first woman promoted to executive level when appointed assistant director-general in 1964. She was awarded an MBE for her services to the Commonwealth.

After World War II, a number of women formed small, innovative partnerships with their husbands and were recognised as design leaders. Dione McIntyre (1931-) with Peter McIntyre was responsible for some of Melbourne's iconic modernist houses in the 1950s; Phyllis Murphy (1924-) and John Murphy, in partnership with Kevin Borland and Peter McIntyre, produced the winning design for the 1956 Olympic Swimming Pool in Melbourne, while Alison Norris (1921-) and Marcus Norris designed infrastructure for mining towns, including Telfer in the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia, in the 1960s and 1970s for which, after Marcus's illness in the 1960s, Alison was largely responsible.

Burnley College's policy on women students paid off. Women garden designers prospered in the first half of the 20th century and laid much of the groundwork for the establishment of landscape architecture as a profession. Their success may have been a consequence of the late professionalisation of the discipline for they made their way by circuitous means, under their own terms. Around World War I, several Burnley graduates followed Ina Higgins lead. Olive Mellor (1891-1978), became the first full-time woman student in 1914 and, in 1916, the first woman instructor. By the 1920s, she had built up a substantial client base, her forte being the suburban garden and, for its owners, she published articles in Australian Home Beautiful, produced hundreds of garden plans and later the extremely successful Complete Australian Gardener (c.1950) and The Garden Lovers Log (c. 1940). Emily Gibson (1887-1974) followed Mellor to Burnley in 1915 and, when she graduated in 1917, she joined the office of Walter and Marion Griffin and, like Mellor, returned to Burnley College as a lecturer in garden design from 1918 to 1922. In England, she furthered her career by obtaining a position in the London office of prestigious firm Milner, Son White as a pupil apprentice. She returned to Melbourne in 1924 and embarked on a career as a landscape journalist with the Argus and the Australasian and resumed teaching; after World War II, she worked with architects Stephenson and Turner on large industrial and commercial sites. Most important for the profession, however, was the effort she put into expanding the qualification base available to young designers. In the 1950s, she established a system whereby Burnley graduates were able to enter the post-graduate landscape design course at King's College, Durham, in the United Kingdom, a major achievement for an Australian profession that only established formal tertiary qualifications in the 1960s and 1970s.

Mervyn Davis (1916-1985) took the path to Durham after Burnley in 1956-1957 and won a three-month fellowship to study in the Netherlands, a first for an Australian. Her greatest impact, however, was in organisation of the profession. She was instrumental in the early foundation of AILA and was active in the Victorian branch and a member of its executive council. She helped establish a series of annual extension lectures on landscape design at the Melbourne Technical College (MTC, now RMIT University), which eventually led to the formation of the first tertiary course in the discipline for which she prepared the landscape design and history subject (1961). In 1980, was awarded an MBE for her contribution to the community and the profession. Grace Fraser (1921-2010) followed her studies at Burnley with two years in plant pathology with the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Canberra, travel and more education overseas. Emily Gibson introduced her to John Stevens, with whom Fraser practised from 1959 to 1964. Fraser was notable both for her modernist landscape designs with Stevens and for her work in the emerging conservation movement. It is only relatively recently that the impact of Gibson's work in landscape architecture has been rescued from the overarching shadow of Edna Walling, the country's most famous mid-century landscape designer. Edna Walling (1895-1973) graduated from Burnley in 1919, worked as a jobbing gardener and gradually built up a private practice around Melbourne designing gardens, a sophisticated development of the well-established Arts and Crafts garden. She achieved great prominence through her regular gardening columns in the Australian Home Beautiful from 1926, and her books gained a wide reputation: Gardens in Australia (1943); Cottage and Garden in Australia (1947); A Gardener's Log (1948); and The Australian Roadside (1952). She practised solo with a few trusted builders and had a considerable impact on the next generation of designers, achieving cult-like status. Beryl Mann, a graduate in architecture from the Gordon Institute of Technology in Geelong and in horticulture from Burnley (1939), was Walling's assistant for a short time. Along with Mervyn Davis, she was one of the founding members of AILA and was convenor of the AILA education subcommittee in 1968, in which capacity she wrote the policy for undergraduate education in 1972.

While these women were instrumental in establishing landscape architecture on a professional footing, another small but highly significant group of women used their private experience of garden-making as the basis for their careers as landscape designers and authors. This group includes Jocelyn Brown (1898-1971), Beatrice Bligh (1916-1973) who wrote Down to Earth (1968) and Cherish the Earth: The Story of Gardening in Australia (1973), and Jean Galbraith (1906-1999) who published Garden in a Valley (1939), Wildflowers of Victoria (1950 and 1967) and Field Guide to Wildflowers of South Eastern Australia (1977) and discovered two plants (which were named after her), Dampiera galbraithiana (1988) and Boronia galbraithiae (1992). Thistle Harris (1902-1990), who had majored in botany at the University of Sydney, contributed numerous important books including Wildflowers of Australia (1938) and Australian Plants for the Garden: A Handbook on the Cultivation of Australian Trees, Shrubs, Other Flowering Plants, and Ferns (1953).

The potential for a professional life as an interior designer had been adumbrated by Henrietta McGowan and Hattie Knight before World War I, but women's participation in interior design remained marginal during the 1920s and 1930s. Women interested in pursuing this career generally studied commercial art or applied art at a technical college, taught themselves or took private classes. Things began to change in the 1930s when interior decoration emerged as a specialist discipline. For example, within the Department of Architecture and Building at the MTC, a three-year certificate was formalised in 1939 and a four-year diploma in 1947. In Sydney, Phyllis Shillito (1895-1980), who had come to Australia with a background in art and design education in England, established a generalist diploma of design and crafts at the Darlinghurst branch of Sydney Technical College (East Sydney Technical College from 1935), which, in the 1940s and 1950s, evolved to incorporate interior, industrial and fashion design.

A few women stand out against this background. Irish-born Ruth Lane-Poole published articles on interiors in Australian Home Beautiful and, in 1926, was commissioned by the Federal Capital Commission as a 'furniture specialist' to prepare furniture plans for the prime minister's Lodge and the governor general's residence in Canberra, Yarralumla. A few years later, Cynthia Reed would be an advocate for the modernist interior and, as proprietor of Modern Furnishings from 1933 to 1934, helped promulgate modern interior design in Melbourne. Thea Proctor (1879-1966) contributed covers for Home, published articles on design and designed the lacquer room restaurant for Farmer's Sydney department store in 1932. In 1929, Proctor and her cousin, Hera Roberts (1892-1969), contributed avant-garde furniture and room design to the famous Burdekin House Exhibition, but the impact of this activity was minimal.

Sydney's most accomplished interior designers of the mid-century did not have formal training. Initially, Marion Hall Best (1905-1988) pursued her interest in design by studying both embroidery, and painting with Thea Proctor. Having decided to practise as an interior designer, she set about assembling the knowledge and skills to help her succeed, attending architecture classes at Sydney University to learn how to draft and completing a correspondence course in interior design from New York. During World War II, she worked at the de Havilland aircraft factory, where she probably gained valuable professional experience. She achieved her greatest acclaim as a designer of innovative modern interiors in the 1960s and 1970s and also promoted Australian designers in her shop in Rowe Street, Sydney. Similarly, Margaret Lord (1908-1976) came to the profession by a circuitous route while in her 30s. She wrote her first book, Interior Decoration: A Guide to Furnishing the Australian Home (1944), from her experience at Army Education producing a correspondence course for service personnel. She ran the women's session on ABC radio from 1944 to 1946 and was a lecturer in interior design for the University of Sydney Extension Board in 1948. In 1951, Lord became a foundation member of SIDA and worked hard to raise the standard of Australian design through her practice and her publications, including her autobiography, A Decorator's World: Living with Art and International Design (1969). Radical activist Bessie Guthrie (1905-1977) combined a commitment to improving the quality of interior design with a concern to raise the quality of women's lives. She joined de Havilland during the war and was appointed head draftswoman of the experimental gliders factory before working on aircraft design for the Commonwealth government. This experience led to the publication of Plans for Women in the Post-War World (1945), radio talks, and training films aimed at women who had been dismissed from industry to make way for returning servicemen.

War service also featured in the training of the only woman who attained the position of chief designer in a large industrial firm. Joyce Coffey (1918-2001) had studied art at the MTC before joining the design office of the Ordnance Production Directorate during World War II, drawing gun parts. From 1941 to 1980, she and her husband, Selwyn Coffey, were the design team for leading manufacturer Kempthorne Lighting, established by the Coffey brothers in 1931. Coffey combined her work with bringing up four children, organising her working day, and night, around their needs. A much better known partnership was established somewhat later, in 1966, between furniture designers Mary Featherston and Grant Featherston, who designed such innovative and iconic works as the Expo 67 Talking Chair, the Numero range for Uniroyal, and furnishing for the National Gallery of Victoria and for the Children's Museum of Victoria. Always interested in children's learning environments, Mary Featherston helped establish a network of community-based children's centres in the 1970s and, following Grant's death in 1995, has continued to develop this area of research.

Postmodernism and Beyond

Two reforms under the Whitlam and the Hawke/Keating governments (1972-1975 and 1983-1996) had a significant impact on women's entry into design education: the abolition of university fees, and the mergers of universities, technical colleges and colleges of advanced education to produce the large technical universities, including University of Technology (UTS), Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Queensland University of Technology (QUT), University of South Australia (UniSA) and Curtin University, that now form the Australian Technology Network (ATN). As these institutions historically were pioneers of design education in Australia, a whole new suite of design degrees became available; student demand grew, as did the numbers of teaching staff, many of whom were women. At a cultural level, these reforms coincided with postmodernism as an aesthetic and theoretical proposition and, in its many manifestations, was the greatest influence on Australian design practice and education since modernism in the 1920s and 1930s. Post-colonial, Indigenous and feminist studies empowered women to critique the existing built environment and the professions that designed, produced, equipped and supported it, and their voices could be heard in the increasing number of specialist design journals and exhibitions that appeared, as well as in the courses they taught. Beginning from a low base in the 1970s and 1980s, women's engagement with architecture and design as professional leaders has significantly increased in all fields during the 1990s, continuing into the 2000s, although nowhere has it reached parity with men.

When Maggie Edmond (1946-) established the practice of Edmond and Corrigan with Peter Corrigan in 1975, she became one half of Australia's most significant architectural practice charting the transition from modernism to postmodernism. Edmond and Corrigan were among a group of architects in the 1970s and 1980s on whose work Melbourne's reputation as a world design capital was based. In 2003, Peter Corrigan won the RAIA Gold Medal, its highest award instituted in 1960, but, notably, Edmond did not. When QUT graduate Kerry Clare (1957-) received the Institute's Gold Medal in 2010, she did so as partner in the practice she established in 1979 with husband Lindsay Clare in Brisbane, recognition of the value of the practice as a whole entity. In 2002, another Queenslander, Brit Andresen (1945-) was the first woman to receive the medal in recognition of her achievements as an academic and design architect in Australia and overseas.

In the 1990s and 2000s, a few women became principals in large commercial offices, such as Jane Williams director at BVN Architecture, or in their own practices, such as Camilla Block of Durbach Block Architects, Caroline Pidcock of Pidcock Architecture and Sustainability, and Vanessa Bird of Bird de la Coeur. Debbie-Lyn Ryan is partner with husband Robert McBride of McBride Charles Ryan, an internationally acclaimed Melbourne practice, which, in 2011, was a member of the winning consortium contracted to build the billion-dollar Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Parkville. Ryan is acutely aware of the unequal status of women in her profession and threads the colours of the women's movement, in particular purple, through their projects. In 1998, Zahava Elenberg, then in the final year of her undergraduate course at RMIT, established her practice Elenberg Fraser with Callum Fraser. She achieved immediate success and prominence with a number of high-rise apartment blocks and award-winning alpine architecture. In 2002, Elenberg established 'Move-in', which specialises in complete turnkey packages and furniture, fittings and equipment solutions for the property and investor markets, with operations Australia-wide and in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. For this enterprise, she was awarded the Telstra Young Business Woman of the Year in 2003.

Fewer women have achieved significant national or international acclaim in solo practices, although they have taken leading roles at state level. Su Dance (c. 1942-), Christine Vadasz (1946-) and Beverly Garlick (1944-) commenced their practices in the 1970s, combining their architectural role with various forms of activism in their communities-Fitzroy Victoria, Byron Bay New South Wales and Leichhardt New South Wales respectively. In 1984, Garlick won the RAIA New South Wales Merit Award for the Petersham TAFE, the first women to win this award in the non-residential category. Elizabeth Watson-Brown (1956-) in Brisbane and Kerstin Thompson (1965-) in Melbourne are directors of successful medium-sized practices with wider recognition. Indeed, Thompson is one of Australia's most prominent architects, successfully combining domestic commissions with government, institutional and commercial work, and her practice has won numerous awards from both the Victorian chapter and the national body.

Some women have combined architectural practice with work as mentors, facilitators and advocates and have achieved wide recognition in doing so. In Sydney, Eve Laron founded Constructive Women Inc. In 1983, an association of women architects, landscape architects, planners and women of the building industry that is still in operation. A little earlier, in 1979, Ann Cunningham and Ann Keddie formed the Association of Women in Architecture (AWA) in Melbourne to support women who felt marginalised by the Institute of Architects. In 1990, Cunningham spoke of her experiences to a successor group, E1027, which was active between 1990 and 1992. Dimity Reed (1942-), another foundation member of the AWA, has had prominent public role in the area of urban design; as a commissioner of the Housing Commission of Victoria 1978-1982; as councillor of the City of St Kilda 1992-1994 and as commissioner of the City of Moreland 1994-1996. In 1984, Reed was the first woman elected president of a state RAIA Chapter (Victoria) while, in 1994, she was appointed Professor of Urban Design at RMIT. She is on the Victorian Honour Roll of Women and, in 2006, was awarded an AM for her contributions to housing affordability and sustainability. In Sydney, Louise Cox (1939-) has attained leading roles in a number of major organisations: as a director of McConnel Smith & Johnson architects, which she joined in 1968; as the first woman president of the RAIA New South Wales Chapter in 1998; and as the first national president of the RAIA in 1994-1995. Having been on the council of the International Union of Architects for twelve years, Cox was elected president in 2008-2011, the first Australian to hold this position. She was awarded an AM in 1999. A measure of the inertia of architecture's professional organisations in Australia is the fact that, in 2011, Karen Davis became the first woman president of the RAIA Tasmania Chapter in its 108-year history.

The academy has proved less resistant to the idea of women achieving leadership roles. Judith Brine (1937-) was a pioneer. She was appointed dean of the Faculty of Architecture and Planning at the University of Adelaide in 1987 and, in 1999, became foundation professor of architecture at Canberra College of Advanced Education (now the University of Canberra) and then returned to Adelaide as professor. Brine was vice president of the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) between 1990 and 1992 and, in 1998, was awarded an AM for services to architecture, planning and heritage conservation. The Society of Architectural Historians Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ), founded in 1984, is the peak body for architectural historians in the region and has been an important and supportive forum for women, many of whom have served as presidents, vice-presidents, treasurers and secretaries, representing universities across the region. Today there are numerous women who lead architecture programs, schools and faculties as professors, associate deans and deans.

Margaret Hendry (1930-2001) had a career in landscape architecture studded with 'firsts'. She graduated from Burnley in 1948, having won the Mary Janet Lucas memorial prize, and continued her studies at Kings College, Durham, becoming an associate of the British Institute of Landscape Architects. She worked in the English new town development of Basildon as a landscape assistant under the renowned Dame Sylvia Crowe. On her return to Australia in 1961, she was the first woman appointed as a landscape architect for the National Capital Development Commission in Canberra (1963-1974). In the 1960s, she was one of the first councillors of the AILA (1963-1966) and, in 1975, was elected fellow of both AILA and the Landscape Institute (UK). She served on both the Women's Advisory Board (1975-1976) and the Women's Advisory Council (1976-1978) to the New South Wales government. Hendry received an OAM in 1992 in recognition of her advocacy for women in landscape architecture. In spite of the input of women into the establishment of a professional body for landscape architecture, men filled the position of president of AILA from 1967, when it was established, to 1983, when Catherin Bull was elected to the position. As practitioners, however, numerous women hold positions of leadership as partners in successful firms; they include Kate Cullity (Taylor, Cullity Lethlean), Kirsten Bauer and Kate Luckcraft (Aspect Studios), Cath Rush (Rush Wright) and Suzie Kumar (Site Office), while, in the public realm, Lorrae Wild is principal at VicRoads. Women have continued to lead in the education sector. Helen Armstrong was appointed inaugural professor of landscape architecture at Queensland University of Technology in 1997, the first woman to hold a professorship in the discipline. When Dame Elisabeth Murdoch established the first endowed chair in landscape architecture at the University of Melbourne, Catherin Bull was the first to occupy it in 1998. In 2002, Bull published New Conversations with an Old Landscape: Landscape Architecture in Contemporary Australia and, in 2004, was awarded a national AILA award in recognition of this work. In 2008, Bull was awarded an AM for her academic leadership in Australian landscape architecture. By 2012, most landscape architecture programs in universities around the country were headed up by women.

The Design Institute of Australia (DIA) Hall of Fame and the Interior Design/Interior Architecture Educators Association (IDEA) Gold Medal are two ways in which the achievements of interior designers can be publicly acknowledged by their peers. A number of interior designers are inductees of the DIA Hall of Fame, including Meryl Hare, Keera le Lievre, Madeline Lester and Sue Carr. Lester was a founding partner of Interni and is now managing director of Madeline Lester Design Management. She was the president of the International Federation of Interior Architects (IFI), which represents interior designers globally, the first time the position has been held by an Australian. Unlike the DIA, IDEA is an academic organisation, founded in 1996 as the peak body for interior design/interior architecture education and research, and women have occupied leading positions within the organisation as chairs and secretaries. Its inaugural gold medal was conferred in 2010 on Carr, who co-founded the ground-breaking architectural and interior firm, Inarc, in 1971 before opening Carr Design, which focuses on large commercial projects. In 2011, Janne Faulkner won the gold medal. Faulkner established her practice, Nexus Designs, in 1967 and commenced her mission to Australianise domestic and commercial interiors; she received an AM in 1982 for her service to the arts and design. Historically, interior design has struggled to assert an identity separate from architecture, not helped by the fact that architects have traditionally headed up interior design programs in Australian universities. Jill Franz at QUT is the only female professor to lead an interior design program, the other ATN programs being led by women associate professors.

Leadership in industrial design is rare for women. Designer Denise Larcombe was a finalist for the prestigious Prince Philip Prize in 1978 for her 'Galaxy' glassware for Crown Corning, winning an Australian Design Award in the same year. In 1985, Louise Olsen and Liane Rossler founded, with Stephen Ormandy, internationally renowned Dinosaur Designs specialising in resin jewellery and home-wares, while Susan Cohn's Cohncave bowl (1990) was the first piece by an Australian accepted into manufacture by Italian company Alessi. As industry has moved offshore, the traditional role of the industrial designer has changed and, more often than not, combines pre-industrial craft-based practices with computers and laser cutters, which may suit women designers in the future. Women have fared better in management roles in recent years. Daphne Flynn is branch director of Philips Design Singapore and Emily Lai is Ford Australia's design manager for Colours and Materials. In 2010, Cheryl Fraser was appointed managing director of Sprocket, one of Australia's most experienced kiosk design and manufacturing firms, and Celina Clarke co-founded ISM Objects in 1990 as a specialist in luminaire design. For most of the 20th century, professional leadership in industrial design represented by the DIA was more or less closed to women. While early members included Joyce Coffey, and Cohn and Featherston are members of the DIA Hall of Fame, it was not until the 1990s that women moved into the president's role: Jill Stansfield in 1995-1996, Madeline Lester in 1996-1999 and Joanne Cys from 2008 to 2010. Vesna Popovic is the only woman who is a professor of industrial design in Australia, heading up the discipline at QUT.

As historians and critics, women have made a significant contribution to the culture of Australian architecture and design. Art historian Joan Kerr (1938-2004) not only published Our Great Victoria Architect, Edmund Thomas Blacket (1817-1883) in 1983 but has also provided lively public commentary on the state of contemporary architecture, while Jennifer Taylor (1935-) has been recognised for her ground-breaking architectural studies, including Architecture: A Performing Art (1982) and Australian Architecture Since 1960 (1986), with the inaugural RAIA Marion Mahony Griffin Award (1998), the inaugural RAIA National Education Prize (2001) and the inaugural RAIA National President's Prize (2010). Julie Willis and Bronwyn Hanna's Women Architects in Australia: 1900-1950 (2001) was a publishing milestone, recording the early professional development of women architects in Australia, and Margaret Hendry began to record the leading women in landscape design. Many other women have authored and edited books and contributed important work to the national and international debate on architecture and design. In 1989, Desley Luscombe was a foundation editor of Fabrications, the journal of SAHANZ, and, in 1996, Anna Rubbo co-founded Architectural Theory Review, while industrial designer Belinda Stening founded Curve in 2001. Women have also taken on the editorship of prominent professional and commercial journals such as Architecture Australia, Architect, Transition, IDEA Journal, Architectural Review Australia, Artichoke and Monument. While women have struggled to attain professional parity with men, they have excelled as educators and advocates for their disciplines.

Published Resources


  • Bogle, Michael, Design in Australia 1880 - 1970, Craftsman House, Sydney, New South Wales, 1998. Details
  • Edquist, Harriet, Pioneers of Modernism: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Australia, Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 2008. Details
  • Goad, Phillip and Willis, Julie, The Encyclopaedia of Australian Architecture, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 2012. Details
  • Kerr, Joan, Heritage : the national women's art book, 500 works by 500 Australian women artists from colonial times to 1955, Craftsman House, Sydney, New South Wales, 1995. Details
  • Willis, Julie and Hanna, Bronwyn, Women Architects in Australia: 1900 - 1950, 1 edn, Royal Australian Institute of Architects, Red Hill, Australian Capital Territory, 2001. Details

Book Sections

  • Matthewson, Gill; Stead, Naomi; and Burns, Karen, 'Women and Leadership in the Australian Architecture Profession: Prelude to a Research Project', in Francis, Rosemary; Grimshaw, Patricia; and Standish, Ann (eds), Seizing the Initiative: Australian Women Leaders in Politics, Workplaces and Communities, The University of Melbourne: eScholarship Research Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, 2012, pp. 247-261. Details

Conference Papers

  • Edquist, Harriet, 'Sites of Modernity: Ada Cambridge's Architectural and Urban Imaginings in The Three Miss Kings (1883)', in Chapman, Michael (ed.), Proceedings of the 27th Annual SAHANZ Conference, Newcastle, New South Wales, 2010. Details

Edited Books

  • Aitken, Richard and Looker, Michael (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 2002. Details

Journal Articles

  • Cooper, Nora, 'Women in Architecture', Australian Home Beautiful, vol. 45, 1 August 1936, pp. 9 - 13. Details
  • Hanna, Bronwyn, 'Australia's Early Women Architects: Milestones and Achievements', Fabrications, vol. 12, no. 1, June 2002. Details
  • Nash, Sheila, 'The architecture of Alison Norris FRAIA', Transition, vol. 54-55, 1997, pp. 30-41. Details


  • Vale, Anne, 'Olive Mellor and the Australian Suburban Garden', Masters Thesis, The University of Melbourne: Faculty of Land and Food Resources, 2005. Details

Online Resources