Margaret Keitha Findlay was the first registered female architect in Tasmania and the first woman in Tasmania to qualify as an associate of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects,becoming a member of the Institute’s state council. In 1944 she became the first female architect employed by the state’s Public Works Department.
In 1945 Margaret Findlay was appointed Instructor in Architectural Draftsmanship at the University of Sydney, the only female academic at the school, working there until her retirement in 1970. As the department grew she became responsible for an entire group of instructors.
The Mercury (Hobart) 8 March 1945
Born in Scottsdale in 1916, Margaret Fiindlay moved with her family to New Norfolk in the 1930s. On leaving school she was articled to Hobart architect in AT Johnston and studied at Hobart Technical College and, by correspondence, with Sydney Technical College.
A year after the completion of her articles, Margaret Findlay joined Australian Newsprint Mills (ANM) in New Norfolk as an architectural draughtswoman. Fifteen months later when ANM’s architect left the company she took over full architectural responsibilities. She personally designed more than 60 residences for ANM staff in New Norfolk.
In an interview with The Mercury in 1945, Margaret Findlay stated “never was there such an opportunity for girls to take up architecture.” She worked for the revision of the architectural diploma course of the technical college and represented the Tasmanian Institute of Architecture at an interstate conference on architectural education, where the Victorian delegate was another prominent woman architect, Ellison Harvie.
Margaret Findlay’s architectural philosophy stressed the need for function, for example efficient workflows, over form.
Apart from artistic appearance, without and within, and whether the subject is a hospital, a school, a factory, a residence, the architect has had to consider the purpose of the building, the exact duties of the future occupant, and how these things will be carried out in the best way, in a minimum of time, and with least labour. Also he will have had to calculate strengths of columns, beams, and so forth to apportion the space to maximum advantage, and arrange the equipment in the best way.
For this reason she also held the view more women who were actually to live in the houses and work in the kitchens should be responsible for designing them.
The architect stands between the artist and the engineer, and must combine some qualities of both, together with capacity to handle men, materials, and business affairs. Hence the right type of student must be both artistic and practical, and does not life demand just these things of women?
Throughout her career Margaret Findlay stressed the importance of domestic architecture to women’s health and happiness, talked of the need for proper town planning and advocated for improvements to the architectural diploma course for all students in Tasmania. In an interview with The Mercury in 1944, Margaret Findlay had stressed the need for proper town planning, influenced by her experience designing the ANM worker village. While teaching in Architecture at the University of Sydney she enrolled in the University’s Diploma in Town and Country Planning, graduating in 1951.
In 2011 Margaret Keitha Findlay was posthumously added to the Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women for her contribution to architecture, as the first woman architect to be registered in Tasmania and the first female associate of the Institute.
Contributed by Libby Coates
Goad, Philip and Julie Willis (eds)The encyclopedia of Australian architecture Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 2012
Australian Women’s Weekly 2 June 1945
The Mercury (Hobart) 1944; 8 March 1945 p.9