Mary Turner Shaw

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Part 10 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Before finding multiple niches as a polymath, Melbourne-born Mary Turner Shaw (1906-1990) drifted through a tony boarding school and Oxford. By 1932 she found her focus, cobbling together a five-year program in architecture at the Working Men’s College (where she was allowed to attend evening classes), the Melbourne Architectural Atelier, and the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects. During travels she studied the work of Alvar Aalto and Willem Dudok, which suggests her interest in a certain vein of modernism–one that emphasized the human and regional more so than the mechanistic and international. Back in Australia, Shaw worked as a project manager for an architectural practice and then was employed by the Commonwealth government, the first woman to hold such a position. A skilled administrator, she supervised hospitals and other complex projects. Starting in the 1930s, she collaborated with Frederick Romberg on a number of apartment projects, including the Glenunga Flats of 1941 (above), which conjoin moderne portholes and rendered walls with chunky stone planes in a regionalist vein. By the 1950s she had experience as a policy maker, conducted research into architectural practice, and joined Sydney’s Public Works Department to direct the construction of Commonwealth Migrant Hostels. She shifted from architectural work to historical studies in the 1960s, focusing on ecological and architectural issues. Her many accomplishments were recognized in 1965, when she was named a fellow of both the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects and the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.

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