Muriel Lamb

Lost Property is currently researching Muriel Lamb – part one included below:

‘Women Architects of the Modern’ (part one):

In a well known image from the University College of Auckland’s 1st year Architecture class of 1945 stands not only members of ‘The Group’ architects to be, but also Nancy Martin, Marilyn Hart, Cheria Lee and Peggy Knight. These four women are of some interest. Their names have not beeen included in our architectural narrative, yet they, along with a few others from earlier years are almost unique.

Architecture throughout the first half of the 20th Century was almost exclusively a male domain, and women were few and far between even though the architecture degree had been established prior to the First World War. Johana Klien’s article ‘Women in Architecture’ in “Transgressions” journal cites Merle Greenwood as the first woman to graduate with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1933 twenty years later.

Some years earlier, the decidedly unique Esther James had trained as an architect (receiving her articles in 1923) while working for W.A Cummings. Over her career she was involved in designing a number of buildings, including St Kevin’s Arcade in Karangahape Rd and many houses, several of which she participated in the building of, including at least two of her own .! Another woman of note is Margaret Munro who worked for Cecil Wood between 1931 to 1945.

World War II brought about significant changes in the workforce, with women taking on many of the roles traditionally done by men. Changes in education (including the National Council for Adult Education: 1938, and the subsidy’s to the WEA from 1937 onwards) introduced by the first Labour Government, meant more women were entering university whereas in years prior the cost of ‘higher education’ had been prohibitive and only a small number of places were awarded to those that couldn’t pay. Scholarships were hard to come by and seemed to be more available to those with access to good tuition.

While the class photo (which always seems to be only three quarters of the class..) presents four young women front and centre, in reality a number of others were attending  that year – Jill Burbridge, Barbara McFarlane, Dorothy Gawith and Susanne Sharpe, though in different classes, were enrolled along with Lillian Laidlaw and Muriel Lamb.

Muriel Lamb… born Muriel Sanders (1910 –  100 this year.!) one of three daughters to George Sanders, an accountant for the prominent firm of Jackson and Russell.

In 1931 he bought 1000 acres in Paremoremo, on Aucklands North Shore. Muriel had married James Lamb of the timber merchant family, and took over the running of the Paremoremo land as a dairy farm until deciding to attend the Auckland University College’s School of Architecture course. Without children, Muriel (with Jim’s blessing) began as an older student, one of only three women on the course for which the studio instructor was Vernon Brown and the Construction tutor was Irwin Crookes. Muriel’s drive and dedication were tested in her final year when Brown gave her a fail mark yet passed others (men) that hadn’t done as well.. Confronting the studio instructor with the disparity she was given a passing grade but decided to finish her instruction in Europe.

While studying in London she met the New Zealand head of Shell Oil who thought Muriel would be perfect to design the layouts for the companies outlets at home. A research and fact finding trip through the States preceded her return to Auckland in 1947. Muriel then spent a period in the elder Lew Piper’s practice working on the Lucas and the Auckland Power Board buildings in Newmarket until gaining her first house commission. With this and her Shell work she was able to set up a small office in Lower Symond Street, a short walk from what would be Lillian and David Chrystall’s office in Airedale Street. Barbara Parker who had also been at the School of Architecture a year or two later, joined her for a time in the same office. The contract with Shell would be a ten year association with the company, designing many of their New Zealand outlets through the 1950’s.

The ‘Griffith’s house’ (1953 – now demolished) in Tarawera Terrace, St Heliers was designed in the era of size restrictions (left over from the Second World War). The house of 1450 sq/ft, a two storied flat roof weatherboard construction with large windows and terrace areas to maximise the view, stood next to Vernon Brown’s ‘Hamblin house overlooking Rangitoto. The back wall of the living area was a clear glass panelled wall allowing light to filter into the rear of the house and gave a feeling of connection between the interior and outdoor area (The surviving ‘Hamblin house’ next door had also been designed as a flat roof building but the clients decided upon a more traditional building with a gable roof.)

Muriel moved her offices to Parnell in the mid 1960’s after her long time associate Terry Boon designed the building (at 300 Parnell Rd). Now occupied by Barfoot and Thompson Real Estate, the building was at the time of construction an almost unique modern structure in a street of elderly shops and houses. Seeming very plain and boxlike in this day, it was to remain her offices until retirement.( Terry also designed a ranch style house for the Lamb’s Paremoremo site but this was never built , as the property was taken up Government for the prison and reserve.) Sadly, it seems Muriel got rid of most of the practices drawings and records a few years after she closed the office, and thus only scant information is available through the archives and library – and indeed, even her family have but a few photo’s of buildings other than the ones she designed for them. Her own house in Gladstone Rd, outwardly is a traditionl Georgian style building but was added onto in the early 1950’s to Muriels design. The rear addition has a flat roof and large glass areas, opening up to the backyard. It is a refined and eminently practical work and perhaps, with the Professional Buildings in Parnell,one of the only remaining visible pieces of her practice – unless there is an unaltered 1950’s Shell station hiding somewhere in the backblocks of New Zealand.!

If you have any information about this architect, please let me know via the contact page.