Ellison Harvie contributed to hospital projects in almost every Australian state, including Melbourne’s Mercy Hospital in East Melbourne (1934—36) and the original four multi-storey buildings of the Royal Melbourne Hospital (1936-41).
In 1938 Ellison Harvie was the first woman to graduate with a Diploma of Architectural Design. In 1946 she became the first woman Fellow of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects.
Education and training
Having undertaken architectural training at Swinburne Technical College, Ellison Harvie was invited by her lecturer Arthur Stephenson to serve her articles in the partnership he had recently established. She joined the firm in 1921, and during her training she travelled to Europe to experience a broader architectural tradition and learn about the latest trends and techniques in architecture and planning.
In 1925 Ellison Harvie returned to work at Stephenson & Meldrum and completed her articles. For the next four years she studied at the University of Melbourne’s Architectural Atelier. In the interwar years the Atelier drew articled students from architectural practices and technical colleges throughout Victoria to prepare for the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects (RVIA) qualifying exams. The Atelier also drew students from interstate: it was here that Margaret Morison came from Perth, studying there like Ellison Harvie from 1925. At the Atelier Ellison Harvie won both the University of Melbourne’s Atelier award and the President’s Prize for best student work in 1927.
In 1938 Ellison Harvie was the first woman to graduate with a Diploma of Architectural Design.
Photo from John Shaw Sir Arthur Stephenson, Australian Architect CS&T Pty Ltd, 1987
On her registration with the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects in 1926, Ellison Harvie was appointed architect in charge of a major project, the Jessie MacPherson wing of the Queen Victoria Hospital in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. This was a ‘meteoric rise for an architect who had begun her training in 1920’, yet she was a calm and reserved person, a quiet achiever. The firm of Stephenson and Meldrum gained an international reputation in hospital architecture combining a simple modern aesthetic with innovative functional relationships and introducing new technologies.
The practice was restructured and renamed Stephenson & Turner in 1937 and a Sydney office was established. As a result of these changes and her demonstrated abilities, Ellison Harvie was made an associate of the new partnership and given responsibility for running the Melbourne headquarters. She worked on every Stephenson & Turner hospital project in Melbourne and Sydney throughout the 1930s and war years. The demands of World War II meant she effectively ran both the practice and the project, extending her interests in office management, qualifying as an accountant and developing a form of building contract that could adjust to economic instability.
In 1946 she was made a partner of the firm, the only Australian women to achieve this status in a large architectural firm before 1950 – Beatrice Hutton had been a partner in a smaller Sydney firm in 1930-33.
Ellison Harvie sat on RVIA committees from 1929 and, in 1942, was the first woman to be elected to an Australian Architectural Institute council. In 1946 she became the first Australian woman Fellow in Architecture when she was elected a Fellow to the RVIA. She was also a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and, later, a life fellow of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.
Ellison Harvie had a strong International Modernism philosophy of design as demonstrated by Melbourne’s Lyceum Clubrooms, one of her few private commissions. She undertook many study tours to Europe and USA seeking out the best new developments especially in her own fields of hospital and aged care design. She developed a high public profile as a successful female architect who was not engaged in domestic architecture (the more usual province for women architects). She was often interviewed and quoted on her views, for instance her conviction that architecture was a cooperative enterprise. She made a strong contribution to architectural education, serving on the RVIA’s Board of Architectural Education (1946-56) and on the board of the University of Melbourne’s faculty of architecture (1945-73).
Later life and other interests
Ellison Harvie was a member of a number of organisations including the Lyceum Club, the Melbourne Soroptomist Club, the Royal Society of Arts, London, and the Victorian Artists Society. She enjoyed landscape painting, chess and golf and had a working knowledge of several languages.
Ellison Harvie died in Melbourne on 27 September 1984.
Early life & education
Ellison Harvie was born on 18 May 1902. She became fascinated as a child with the idea of architecture and was supported by her father in this unusual ambition. She began her architectural training in 1920 at Swinburne Technical College after trying unsuccessfully to gain employment as an articled assistant in an architectural practice in Melbourne.
Contributed by Libby Coates
Edquist, Harriet, ‘Harvie, Edythe Ellison (1902–1984)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography
Goad, Philip, Rowan Wilken & Julie Willis Australian modern : the architecture of Stephenson & Turner Melbourne University Publishing, 2004