Born in New South Wales on 17 June 1924, Marjorie Constance White was the daughter of architect Charles Arthur Mortimer White. Her older brother A.G.M. White (b.1914) followed in his father’s footsteps becoming an architect while Marjorie undertook studies initially with the intention of helping her father in his office. She enrolled in the architectural course at Sydney Technical College in 1941 at age 17 even though she had been told in a pre-admission interview ‘that it wouldn’t be possible for her to get through the course. It was too difficult for a woman’ (Obituary 2003). She did however succeed and whilst a student she worked in the architectural office of Eric Nicholls. Marjorie White became a registered architect in NSW in 1949 and in the same year married fellow architect Peter Simpson (1924-1992) changing her surname to Simpson.
Following her registration Marjorie worked for the Commonwealth Department of Works in Sydney from 1950. Together, Marjorie and Peter designed their own home in Dee Why, NSW. They then travelled to Adelaide in 1951 to work on the design and documentation of the Woomera Rocket Range for the Commonwealth Department of Works. During this period they designed their own home in Adelaide which they sold in 1954 to travel overseas, intending to settle in Sydney on their return (Willis and Hanna 2001: 84). Whilst overseas they spent 4 to 5 months travelling around Europe and England and were then employed by Sir Thomas Bennett & Son's office in London from 1955 to 1956. Returning to Australia in 1956 they gained employment working for the S.A. Brewing Company and decided to stay in Adelaide. Marjorie Simpson subsequently took up the role of Director of the Small Homes Service of South Australia in 1957 while Peter Simpson went into partnership with Kenneth W. Shepherd to form the practice of Shepherd and Simpson. During this time the couple had two children, Michael and Michelle.
In 1969, when Ken Shepherd retired from the partnership of Shepherd and Simpson, Marjorie Simpson became a partner with her husband in the architectural practice, now called Simpson and Simpson. They undertook a variety of work, from domestic to banks and retail with their largest commission being the Royal Society for the Blind Institute at Gilles Plains. Marjorie Simpson described her work as ‘being at the forefront of practicality in domestic work in South Australia’ (Willis and Hanna 2001: 85). The partnership had helped to introduce brick veneer construction and concrete slab floors to South Australia and provided a modern aesthetic to domestic construction. Marjorie Simpson retired from practice in 1989 although she continued to undertake small projects (Obituary 2003). She died on 27 January 2003 in Adelaide.
Marjorie Simpson was the first female to be made a Life Fellow of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) in South Australia. She referred to the Life Fellowship of the RAIA awarded to her in 1993: ‘It is an award for your contributions to architecture. Now for me, who through life has had certain snubs and been made to feel that I was in an undeserved situation, I found that very rewarding, very rewarding indeed’ (Obituary 2003). Marjorie was also a member and convenor of the Housing Committee of the National Council of Women and it was in this role that she addressed the National Conference in Sydney on the importance of the architect’s role in housing. She also lectured on matters such as zoning, ceiling heights, drafting standards and uniform regulations to the Association of Local Government Building Surveyors (Chappel 1993: 4). Marjorie was a regular guest on the ABC radio’s Women’s Session and appeared on the first television programme for women (Chappel 1993: 4). Marjorie Simpson had a ‘“passionate interest” in the design of homes for the sake of the women who had to live and work in them. She [said] that in those days, when few married women retained their jobs and the “two-car household” was rare, many housewives spent their days in “uncomfortable prisons”. She believe[d] … that domestic architecture is vitally important, especially for women’ (Page 1986: 220).
While she worked for Eric Nicholls during the 1940s she ‘was involved in a variety of projects, including a small factory for Coty’s Cosmetics, a Manly coffee shop, a baby health clinic and numerous houses’ (Willis and Hanna 2001: 84). In 1950 while working with the Commonwealth Department of Works in Sydney Marjorie worked on projects which included migrant holding facilities at Kapooka, near Wagga Wagga, NSW and near Singleton, NSW which incorporated not only accommodation but also childcare and maternity facilities (Willis and Hanna 2001: 84).
In 1951, the Simpsons joined the Commonwealth Department of Works to work on the Woomera project, completing the documentation of the Instrumentation building and ancillary buildings. They worked on Woomera projects for four years, concurrently designing their own home in suburban Adelaide (1951-4). Following their overseas trip they returned to Adelaide to work as architects for the S.A. Brewing Company for which they designed alterations for hotels and domestic work.
It was in her role with the Small Homes Service of South Australia that Marjorie Simpson shone and fellow architect, John Chappel, believes that it was her ‘dedication and ingenuity that kept these services alive’ (Chappel 1993: 4). The Small Homes Service was sponsored by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, the Master Builders Association and the Timber Development Corporation. Its intention was to provide better-designed housing for those who would not normally engage the services of an architect. During her time as Director of the Small Homes Service most of her activities involved administration, client liaison and public relations. The Small Homes Service was promoted by Marjorie through displays, design competitions, newspaper articles, radio talks, information booklets for libraries and schools, and by acting in an advisory role for home builders. In 1959 she helped establish the first product display centre for building materials in the city (‘New centre will guide home builder’ 1959).
As a writer Marjorie Simpson published articles in newspapers and magazines, she also wrote the Home Builders Handbook which provided information to home builders on subjects ranging from design to finance and was widely distributed throughout South Australia. The Small Homes Service Brochure showed prospective home owners innovative house designs, all of which had been architect designed. Once a design had been chosen, then, for a nominal sum, the client would receive copies of the plans and specification to give to the builder to build. Marjorie Simpson maintained the contemporary nature of the designs was an essential characteristic of the Small Homes Service designs.
From 1969 onwards the practice of Simpson and Simpson undertook a range of work including bank branches, office buildings, domestic buildings and institutional buildings. Their largest job was the Royal Society for the Blind Institute at Gilles Plains.
Collins, Julie, 'Simpson, Marjorie Constance’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: [http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=51]