The work of women architects, town planners and landscape architects will form the focus of 2012’s Women’s History Month, which is celebrated in Australia in March each year.

The theme ‘Women with a Plan: Architects and town planners’ will highlight the contributions by women to the history of Australian architecture.

Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin: Photographed at Castlecrag, Sydney, in 1930. Picture: National Library of Australia (Wiki Commons)

The historians say they have chosen to highlight the careers of Australian women designers in the domestic, government and commercial spheres, and to track their progress through their professions.

The organisers note:

“There have been outstanding individual contributions to the history of Australian architecture by such early female architects as Sydney’s Florence Parsons Taylor, the country’s first professional woman architect. Other early architects include Melbourne’s Ruth Alsop, Muriel Stott and Eileen Good, Cynthea Teague and Ellison Harvie.

“In the first half of the twentieth century more than 100 women took up the profession. Beatrice Hutton, the first woman to become an associate member of an Institute of Architects in Australia. Elina Emily Mottram, Queensland's longest practicing female architect, established her own business in Brisbane in 1924.”

“In the early years, the attitude towards women architects made their endeavours difficult. It was believed that women could not easily cope with the rigours of practice.

“Many early women architects and planners worked in public service positions. For example, Cynthia Teague moved from private practice to the Commonwealth Department of Works, where she eventually became Assistant Director-General. Some, like Florence Parsons Taylor, moved to writing about building and planning. Others moved to academic roles. Some, such as Melbourne’s Doris Lewis, had a career in domestic architecture (the field which many male architects considered to be most suited for women) but was later known for her commercial interiors. A few became partners in large and successful commercial practices.

Marion Mahony Griffin

Early in the twentieth century Marion Mahony Griffin came to Australia with her husband Walter Burley Griffin to work on the plans for the new national capital.

It is now recognised that her architectural drawings are very likely what won them the commission for Canberra’s design; recent research now designates her as an architect in her own right, rather than merely her husband’s assistant.

Other women were attracted to town planning too, such as Perth’s Margaret Feilman, who moved from architecture and who was acclaimed for her work on WA’s Kwinana New Town. In 1973 Stroma Buttrose became the first woman to be appointed as a Commissioner of the South Australian Planning Appeal Board.

The number of women architects and town planners has grown and their position is now consolidated within the profession.

Women architects in Australia have won major awards; Kerry Clare, for example, was the joint 2010 recipient of the Australian Institute of Architects gold medal with her husband Lindsay for work that includes the Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art.

The first woman president of the Australia Institute of Architects, Louise Cox, later went on to head the world’s peak architecture body, the International Union of Architects. In 2009, a Canberra architect, Melinda Dodson, became the youngest national president of the Institute.