Woman Murphy, Phyllis

Alternative Names
  • Slater, Phyllis

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Phyllis Slater was born in Melbourne in 1924. She met John Murphy when both were studying architecture at the University of Melbourne. They began their collaborative architecture practice John and Phyllis Murphy P/L in 1949 and married a year later. During the 1950s, the firm was sought after for small projects, such as family homes and additions to schools, and was known for its low-key but elegant interpretations of modernist design. The young architects' big break came in the lead up to the 1956 Melbourne Olympic games, when they joined with rising young architects Kevin Borland and Peter McIntyre and engineer Bill Irwin to enter the 1952 competition for the design of the new Olympic swimming pool. Their design won, and, once built, the structure became one of the city's icons of modern architecture.

Phyllis was integrally involved in the design of the Olympic pool, but after the competition process was over, she focused on running the business while John Murphy continued to work hands-on on pool. She was among the few practising female architects of the era, and probably the only one since Marion Mahony Griffin to be involved in such a significant public project in Australia. While the swimming pool was to remain the design for which the couple were most famous, their practice continued to produce the modest scale domestic interpretations of modernist design for which they had become known, along with some larger industrial projects.

From the late 1950s, both Murphys became involved with the Victorian National Trust and were increasingly drawn to restoration and heritage work (during a time when destruction of older buildings was more common). Their works in the field included La Trobe's Cottage, the Emu Bottom homestead and the extensive restoration of the Collingwood Town Hall in Melbourne in 1975. The latter won a Royal Australian Institute of Architect's (RAIA) award for outstanding renovation. The couple retired as architects in 1982, but Phyllis continued to work on conserving historic interiors, with a special interest in wallpaper. A fascination with the people who lived in the houses being restored, she says, became a desire to know more about 'how people lived and what their houses were like' (Culture Victoria), which in turn sparked a passion for Victorian wallpaper. As a collector, curator and writer on the topic, she has become the leading Australian expert in the field.

Although very much part of a husband and wife team, Phyllis Murphy's influence extended beyond her partnership with John Murphy, who died in 2004. In 2009 she was awarded a life fellowship by the RAIA, which recognised her achievements as 'one of a small number of women architects with significant involvement in the profession in the post World War II period' (RAIA citation). She has been a leader both as an architect and as an authority on heritage concerns and wallpaper.

Published Resources

Online Resources

See also

Digital Resources

Phyllis Murphy, Wallpapers in Victorian Era
Audio Visual
c. 2010
Arts Victoria