Cullis-Hill, Eleanor

2008
CC BY-SA 2.0
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Cullis-Hill, Eleanor

Eleanor Cullis-Hill was an early female architect in Sydney. She qualified in the 1930s and for decades contributed much excellent residential and community design work to the Ku-ring-gai district.

Born Eleanor Beresford Grant in Warrawee in 1913, she was one of five children. Her father was the businessman Joseph Beresford Grant, who had helped establish the real estate firm Raine & Horne. She attended boarding school at Frensham in the Southern Highlands, where she was inspired to become an architect by posters designed by her art teacher, Heliodore Hawthorne. Attending the architecture course at the University of Sydney during the 1930s, she obtained work experience with Sydney firms Robertson & Marks and Fowell & McConnel. She also studied with the man who would become her husband, Grandison Cullis-Hill. They married in 1938 and in 1939 she designed their marital home in Warrawee. [1]

After their four children were born and World War II was over, Eleanor began working professionally as an architect. She did some contract work for the New South Wales Housing Commission before setting up as a sole, freelance practitioner at her home in Warrawee. Here, she developed an extensive domestic design practice. She had decided that working from home was her best option at a time when she felt women were not really welcome in architectural offices in Sydney. [2] After accepting several commissions from friends, a chain of word-of-mouth recommendations ensured that she was kept in full-time work from 1946 until her retirement in 1981. Two of her daughters, Josephine Martin and Caroline Roberts, were inspired to follow her into the profession. Both graduated in architecture and pursued long careers while also caring for their families.

Eleanor Cullis-Hill designed at least 30 houses and 50 sets of domestic alterations and additions, mostly in her local district. The houses included her own home at 29 Bangalla Street, Warrawee and others in Turramurra, Pymble and Wahroonga.

She also designed several kindergartens – one in Hadley Road, Turramurra, and the Wahroonga Kindergarten in Millewa Road. The client parent group certainly received good value in the elegant modernist design; the building was short-listed for the Sulman Award in 1956. [3] At the Gib Gate school in the Southern Highlands, she designed the library, play room, sick bay, dormitories and other facilities. At her own place of worship, St James's church at Turramurra, she designed the kindergarten, chapel and games room. [4] Her architectural output was thus responsive to the feminine sphere she inhabited, with an emphasis on the home and local community in Sydney's upper north shore.

Eleanor and her husband collected a superb and eclectic array of mid-twentieth century Australian art. It included post-impressionist experiments by Grace Cossington Smith, her neighbour and fellow Anglican parishioner, and modernist abstractions by Roland Wakelin, alongside pastoral landscapes by Elioth Gruner. [5] She was also open-minded in her design solutions. She produced buildings that were gracious and functional, designed to meet the requirements of a particular situation and not merely driven by a signature style. She considered the quality she offered to her clients to be 'detailed attention.' As she recalled, 'I did 40 hours a week when necessary and I didn't mind devoting more time to it, to get things just right.'

Cullis-Hill's approach to her work suggests she saw herself as a craftsperson and a concerned citizen, as well as a mother and a businesswoman. She is unusual amongst Sydney's early female architects for having commissioned photographer Douglass Baglin to document her buildings. These photographs were shown in a survey exhibition for an architectural convention in Sydney in 1956. Eleanor Cullis-Hill died in 2001. Today, a selection of her drawings and Baglin's photos of her buildings can be viewed in the manuscripts section of the National Library of Australia.

References

Eleanor Cullis-Hill interviewed by Bronwyn Hanna, Warrawee, 27 August 1994

Bronwyn Hanna, 'Constructive Women Monographs – Eleanor Cullis-Hill', Constructive Times, no 56, summer 1999, pp 8–12

Bronwyn Hanna, 'Absence and Presence: a historiography of early women architects in New South Wales', PhD thesis, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 1999

Paul Alan Johnson and Susan Lorne-Johnson (eds), Architects of the Middle Third: Interviews with NSW architects who commenced practice in the 1930s and 1940s, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 1995

Julie Willis and Bronwyn Hanna, Women Architects in Australia, 1900–1950, Royal Australian Institute of Architects, Canberra, 2001

Notes

[1] Architecture in Australia, October/December, 1956, p 45; Julie Willis and Bronwyn Hanna, Women Architects in Australia, 1900–1950, Royal Australian Institute of Architects, Canberra, 2001

[2] Paul Alan Johnson and Susan Lorne-Johnson (eds), Architects of the Middle Third: Interviews with NSW architects who commenced practice in the 1930s and 1940s, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 1995

[3] Bronwyn Hanna, 'Constructive Women Monographs – Eleanor Cullis-Hill', Constructive Times, no 56, summer 1999, pp 8–12

[4] Eleanor Cullis-Hill interviewed by Bronwyn Hanna, Warrawee, 27 August 1994

[5] Eleanor Cullis-Hill interviewed by Bronwyn Hanna, Warrawee, 27 August 1994

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