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Nancy Lorne Allen (1908–1993)

by John J. Taylor

This article was published online in 2022

Nancy Lorne Allen (1908–1993), architect, was born on 5 December 1908 at Glen Innes, New South Wales, second of three children of New South Wales-born parents George Norman Allen, grazier, and his wife Ethel Maud, née Young. After the family moved to Western Australia in 1917, Nancy attended Nedlands Primary and Perth Modern schools. Following the early 1920s example of Margaret Pitt Morison in joining the male-dominated architectural profession, she became an articled pupil of the Perth architects Herbert Eales and Eustace Cohen in June 1927 for three years. In December 1932, having passed the necessary examinations, she gained registration with the Architects Board of Western Australia. She was the second Western Australian woman to qualify as an architect after Morison and by 1950 remained one of only six to have done so.

By 1928 William Bennett had become a partner in the firm Eales, Cohen & Bennett. Although Allen had enjoyed Eales’s and Cohen’s tutelage, her architectural interests aligned more closely with Bennett’s. He established his own practice in Perth in June 1935 which she joined in 1936. Benefitting from her drafting and supervision, the practice became known for its hallmark ‘moderne’ buildings and included the Plaza Theatre and Arcade, Perth (1937), Raffles Hotel, Applecross (1937), Lord Forrest Olympic Pool, Kalgoorlie (1938), and Beverley Town Hall and Picture Gardens (1938). This style of architecture emphasised modest colours and horizontal lines. She was also involved in several substantial private houses in this style. From 1937 to 1938, the practice completed the Dyer residence in South Perth and ‘Finchley’ in Peppermint Grove.

After Bennett enlisted in July 1942 for military service, Allen served (1942–45) with the Allied Works Council, where she worked alongside other women architects including Morison and Zoie Bennett-Fryer in the architectural section of the State Works and Services Branch. In late 1944 she spoke at the Labour Women’s Conference in Perth. Representing the Western Australian branch of the Modern Architects Research Society, she advocated the advantages of grouped dwellings as an aid to solving various social problems, and the necessity of improved services to raising living standards. She demonstrated her grasp of a range of planning issues, from the details of kitchen planning in housing design to broader town-planning matters.

Allen returned to full-time practice with Bennett after the war and became an associate along with her brother Douglas in 1946. She travelled to Kalgoorlie in February 1947 to work on a scheme for a children’s holiday home at Esperance, which included using buildings purchased from the Royal Australian Air Force base at Boulder. After amalgamating with another practice in August 1949, the firm operated as William G. Bennett & Associates until 1962, when she and Douglas became partners in W.G. Bennett, Allen & Allen. Thereafter, she spent more time administering the office.

In the 1950s the practice shifted towards a focus on commercial and institutional work, including projects for municipal councils and infant welfare clinics, as well as residential commissions. Allen served as project architect for the Ascot and Belmont racecourse grandstands and designed the Manjimup Infant Health Centre (1946), as well as the Girl Guide buildings Paxwold House (1957) and Boomajaril (1973) at Lesmurdie.

One of Allen’s clients recalled that she presented a ‘wonderful’ sight on building lots, ‘climbing around on scaffold, ordering people around’ (Matthews 2009, 16). Outside her professional life, she enjoyed horse-racing, gardening, and cooking. After Douglas’s death in 1976 and Bennett’s the following year, she ran the practice until her retirement in 1981, having become one of Perth's most prominent and successful female architects. In 1970 she was appointed a fellow of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. She spent most of her life residing in the family home in Portland Street, Nedlands. On 18 October 1993 she died at Hollywood Senior Citizens Village Nursing Home and was cremated.

Research edited by Matthew Cunneen

Select Bibliography

  • ‘Allen, Nancy Lorne FRAIA.’ In The Way 79 Who Is Who: Synoptic Biographies of Western Australians, edited by Margaret A. Sacks, 6. Nedlands, WA: Crawley Publishers, 1980
  • Marter, Joan M. The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art, Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011
  • Matthews, Leonie. ‘Allen, Nancy.’ In The Encyclopedia of Australian Architecture, edited by Philip Goad and Julie Willis, 13. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012
  • Matthews, Leonie. ‘My Brilliant Career.’ The Architect: Women in Architecture (March 2009): 15–17
  • Willis, Julie, and Hanna Bronwyn. Women Architects in Australia 1900–1950. Red Hill, ACT: Royal Australian Institute of Architects, 2001

Citation details

John J. Taylor, 'Allen, Nancy Lorne (1908–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2022, accessed online 28 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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