Margaret Feilman OBE was Perth’s first female town planner. She also had a successful career as an architect and landscape designer and was an early advocate for identifying and protecting built heritage.
A founding member of the Western Australian Town Planning Institute in 1950, she was also – in 1959 – a founding member of the Western Australian branch of the National Trust of Australia.
In 1938 Margaret Feilman became the first female to undertake an architectural cadetship in the Public Works Department of Western Australia. She completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Western Australia in 1943 and was registered as an architect there in 1945.
She worked for both the Brisbane City Council and the Victorian Department of Works, in its new town planning section.
In 1950 she completed a postgraduate diploma in Town Planning at the University of Durham. She returned to Perth and opened her own practice, Margaret A Feilman, Architect and Town Planner.
She attributes the creation of the Town Planning Institute in WA to a lecture she gave soon after.
Her planning work for the Kwinana New Town (Western Australia) in 1952, housing 25,000 employees of the Anglo-Iranian/British Petroleum oil refinery, has been widely acclaimed.
It was her first major commission and the first application in WA of the “New Town” model, which included public facilities within walking distance of the houses. Sarah Brown, in an assessment of Kwinana, says Feilman’s understandings of the environment appear to have dominated the shaping of the suburb.
From the layout of the land to the native flora and fauna it supported, Feilman drew her insights into how the suburb would evolve. An environmentally deterministic planning ideology informed her role as a planner, but a broader understanding and vision influenced the way in which she set out to develop Kwinana.
From then on she had a strong influence on town planning in Perth and its surrounding area.
She became an inaugural Commissioner on the Australian Heritage Commission in 1976, played a role in setting up the Register of the National Estate and supported the introduction of Heritage Conservation Studies in Australian universities.
She was also involved in public comment about the various changes in heritage legislation.
In 1976 she established the Feilman Foundation, which has focussed on providing grants for charitable purposes in Australia’s interests in the environment, children/youth, cultural, education, general community benefit and medical scientific research.
She received an OBE in 1981 in recognition of her services to architecture and conservation, and an honorary doctorate in architecture from the University of WA in 1989.
Contributed by Sandy Forbes
Brown, Sarah, “Surveying Our Past and Building Our Future: An Environmental History of an Australian Suburb”, Limina, Volume 13, 2007, pp 23-33.
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.
Barry Melotte, ‘Landscape, Neighbourhood and Accessibility: The Contribution of Margaret Feilman to Planning and Development in Western Australia’, Planning History, Vol.19, No. 2/3, 1997.
Willis, Julie and Bronwyn Hanna, Women Architects in Australia 1900-1950, Canberra: Royal Australian Institute of Architects, 2001.