Two trailblazing women designers honoured in Taylor place names – Design Canberra Festival

Anne Willsford (Gene’s Daughter) with Shannon Battisson, Canberra Chapter President, Australian Institute of Architects
Anne Willsford (Gene’s Daughter) with Shannon Battisson, Canberra Chapter President, Australian Institute of Architects

Two trailblazing women designers honoured in Taylor place names

Architect, Gene Willsford and landscape architect, Margaret Hendry had a lot in common. They both worked at the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) in the mid twentieth century in professions that were traditionally dominated by men. They were friends and colleagues, and they are both now honoured in Taylor place names.

Taylor is one of Canberra’s newest suburbs with some areas still under construction. It’s Canberra’s most northern suburb and when complete, it will be one of the largest suburbs in Gungahlin. Streets and places in Taylor recognise the contribution of architects, town planners and urban designers to Australian society.

In 2018, residents of Taylor, Casey and Moncrieff chose Margaret Hendry School as the name of their new school in Taylor. In 2020, a playground on Mottram Street Taylor was officially named Gene Willsford Park.

In 1963, Margaret Hendry was the first woman landscape architect to be appointed to the NCDC. At the time, she was one of only five female landscape architects in Australia. She made significant contributions to the design of the Cotter Dam Recreational Reserve, Gungahlin Cemetery and Belconnen Town Centre as well as many housing areas and shopping centres.

Born in 1930, Hendry studied and taught horticulture and garden design in Melbourne before travelling to England to study landscape architecture in 1955. In 1974 she was appointed Senior Lecturer in Landscape Design at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (now the University of Canberra). In this role, she passed her knowledge and experience onto a new generation of Australian landscape architects, many of whom lived and worked in Canberra.

Gene Willsford contributed to the early development of Canberra housing during a period of major expansion. Her work directly influenced the art and science of coherent architecture in the nation’s capital.

Following her graduation from the School of Architecture at the University of Sydney in 1945, Willsford worked in London for several years. From 1960, she worked at the NCDC’s Homes Advisory Service. In this role she advised many families who had purchased their government houses in south Canberra on ways to extend their homes.

Later she worked on public housing developments in Woden and Belconnen and several Commonwealth architecture projects including the Kingston Bus Depot and the Charnwood Fire Station.

In 2015 Willsford’s services to Canberra architecture were recognised by the ACT Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects who inaugurated ‘The Gene Willsford Award for Residential Architecture (Alterations and Additions)’ in her honour.

Gene Willsford mentored younger female architects and supported emerging craft and artisan communities in Canberra including Craft ACT, the ACT Woodturners Guild and Watson Arts Centre. Margaret Hendry was a powerful advocate for women and children’s rights and a leader in professional organisations for women and landscape architects. Both Gene Willsford and Margaret Hendry brought a human-centred design approach to our planned city in a modernist era of masculine design.

With thanks to the ACT Place Names team and Anne Willsford who graciously spoke with the Suburban Land Agency in researching this article.

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DESIGN Canberra acknowledges the Ngunnawal people as the traditional custodians of the ACT and surrounding areas. We honour and respect their ongoing cultural and spiritual connections to this country and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region. We aim to respect cultural heritage, customs and beliefs of all Indigenous people.