Maggie Edmond – Unsung Hero

The Edmond & Corrigan legacy to Melbourne’s architecture scene remains legendary, with some of the city’s hallmark buildings displaying the couple’s strong signature, both in terms of boldness of colour and form.

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Photo by John Gollings

Architect Maggie Edmond, who worked closely with her late life and business partner, architect Peter Corrigan, knew architecture awaited her. Living in some of Melbourne’s most coveted architect-designed homes, including Roy Grounds’ Quamby apartments in Toorak and a house designed by Robin Boyd in Black Rock - both designed in the 1950s -resonated with her during her formative years. “I was one of the few female graduates (in architecture from the University of Melbourne), with many women not returning to the profession after having children,” says Edmond, who continues to operate the Edmond & Corrigan practice after her husband passed away in 2016. 

The Edmond & Corrigan legacy to Melbourne’s architecture scene remains legendary, with some of the city’s hallmark buildings displaying the couple’s strong signature, both in terms of boldness of colour and form: RMIT University’s Building 8 still slows down pedestrian traffic as well as those riding on the tram. The practice, established in 1975, was also responsible for repositioning the humble fire station, going well beyond including a simple red door. There’s also the Drama School at the Victorian College of the Arts at Southbank and many projects which are included in Conrad Hamann’s book Cities of Hope Remembered (published in 2012).

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Photo by John Gollings

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Photo by John Gollings

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Merli House

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Merli House

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Merli House

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Merli House

Edmond’s early work with Corrigan centred on the work for the Catholic Church. And while the first few months were spent working from the kitchen table at home, it became apparent that a separate office requiring staff was needed. Interest in their practice, particularly among architects, was also ignited when an exhibition of four Melbourne architects was held in 1979 at the Powell Street Art Gallery in South Yarra, showcasing the work of Gregory Burgess, Peter Crone, Normal Day and Edmond & Corrigan. “It’s actually five if you include Peter and myself,” says Edmond, who was delighted this exhibition started people talking about Melbourne’s architecture, including the arrival of Transition magazine shortly after. Soon, it wasn’t just the Catholic church providing commissions, but a number of state governments, including a large project for a new civic centre at Belconnen, a suburb in Canberra. Schools, TAFEs and, on the strength of these, Building 8 at RMIT University, circa early 1990s. 

While a number of architects working in the 1970s and ‘80s were producing some innovative work in the domestic arena, according to Edmond the commercial projects at this time were ‘often quite bland and ordinary’. “Peter had just returned from the United States in the mid-1970s and was really fired up with new ideas. He really ‘hit the ground running’,” she adds. Edmond & Corrigan removed this blandness in both the domestic, commercial and educational spheres, creating joyous buildings tempered with the local sensibility. They were, and Maggie still is, fortunate that clients, particularly in the residential arm of the practice, come by word-of-mouth. “We never had to fight to explain ourselves. But we always had each client at the forefront of our minds, looking at their past, the present and how they wanted to live in the future,” says Edmond. Fortunately, many of their iconic houses remain intact. There’s the Athan House in Monbulk on the fringe of Melbourne that was once countryside, that features a series of external boardwalks that link the rooms together. “We often bounced ideas off each other, but I took a greater role in project management as well as navigating the planning and building processes,” says Edmond, who still manages to steer around the minefields of new rules and regulations. “But at the end of the day, it’s always having the goal of designing a good building, something that will resonate well into the future,” says Edmond. Thankfully, many of these buildings continue to remain and delight those who weren’t around in the 1970s and ‘80s, with one of Edmond’s favourite buildings being an amphitheatre in Fairfield they designed in the mid-1980s, constructed in bluestone and concrete. “It will be very difficult to demolish!”

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Diagrams

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Fairfield Amphitheatre

Words by Stephen Crafti

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