Western Australia’s first woman architect, Margaret Pitt Morison’s career spanned more than 64 years as practitioner, educator and historian. She registered as an architect in October 1924 and worked and stiudied in Melbourne for the next four years.
In the 1930s she worked on the Perth buildings the Myola Club in Claremont, the Adelphi Hotel, the Karrakatta Club and the Emu Brewery; in the early 1940s in partnership with Heinz Jacobsohn she designed Perth residences including the Marginata Flats and a substantial house for herself and her father in the suburb of Dalkeith.
Education and training
A chance meeting around 1920 with the son of architect Edwin Summerhayes changed the course of her life. She said ‘it wasn’t conceived that a girl would want to take up architecture’ in those days and there was no formal course in architecture in Western Australia until 1946.
In April 1920 Margaret Morison began her articled training with Summerhayes, completimg her training with the firm of Eales and Cohen. She registered as an architect in October 1924 and, after moving to Melbourne in 1925, worked for a number of practices including A & K Henderson, and studied at the University of Melbourne Architectural Atelier.
Margaret Morison returned to Perth in 1929, telling the West Australian in May of that year that things had improved for women seeking a career in architecture:
She has not so many things to work against, and the old prejudices are gradually disappearing . . [in Melbourne] it is being recognised that there is a place for a woman in a drawing office, and that she can do a man’s work.
For the next two years she was employed by Perth architect FGB Hawkins, her work including detailing and documenting the design of the Atlas Assurance Company Office, one of the first reinforced concrete framed buildings in Perth. During the Depression she was retrenched and worked as a housekeeper for her brother.
She then joined the Poster Studios, a small commercial art business established by other out-of-work architects Harold Krantz, John Oldham and Colin Ednie-Brown. Despite hard times the business was successful, employing up to 20 architects and artists.
In 1934 Margaret Morison began to work with Krantz on the design of the Myola Club in Claremont. Over the next few years she worked predominantly for Oldham Boas and Ednie-Brown on the Adelphi Hotel, the Karrakatta Club and details on the Emu Brewery. In 1933 she won a Royal WA Institute of Architects’ competition for a medium-cost house design. In spite of this relative success, in the mid-1930s Margaret Pitt Morison was advising young women against pursuing a career in architecture.
About 1938 Margaret Morison set up a practice with Heimann (Heinz) Jacobsohn, one of many Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany who came to Australia in the late 1930s. They worked together until 1942, producing modern designs with simple forms and materials for furniture, for speculative builders and private clients, including the Marginata Flats. Among the substantial homes they designed in Perth was one for Margaret Morison and her art curator father George Pitt Morison in Dalkeith.
From 1942 she worked on war-related projects in the Commonwealth Department of Works and the Allied Works Council. In the post-war period she worked in both Perth and Melbourne (with Vivian Taylor) and eventually began lecturing in the new Department of Architecture at the Perth Technical College.
In 1953 Margaret Morison stood as the Labor candidate for Nedlands in the state election, losing to Charles Court, later the state’s Premier. She also began researching Perth’s architectural history, becoming research officer in the state’s architectural history at the University of Western Australia. In 1979, just before her 80th birthday, she produced Western Towns and Buildings, co-edited with John White, still the only comprehensive study of 19th and 20th century Western Australian architecture.
Margaret Morison died in 1985, aged 85.
Margaret Pitt Morison was the daughter of artist and curator George Pitt Morison. Unable to pursue her interest in medicine as there was no medical school in Perth, she began working as a secretary at the University of Western Australia until Reginald Summerhayes suggested she consider architecture and she became articled to Edwin Summerhayes.
Contributed by Sandy Forbes
Hanna, Bronwyn, ”Australia’s Early Women Architects: Milestones and Achievements”, Fabrications, Vol 12, No 1, June 2002.
Matthews, Leonie, “My Brilliant Career”, The Architect, Australian Institute of Architects, WA Chapter, March, 2009 (online newsletter), pp.15-17.
”The Study of Architecture: Miss Pitt-Morison’s Experience,” West Australian, 17 May 1929, p.6.
Willis, Julie and Bronwyn Hanna, Women Architects in Australia 1900-1950, Canberra, Royal Australian Institute of Architects, 2001
West Australian 24 October 1924