Malcolm Moir (1903-1971) was one of Canberra’s leading architects of the middle period of the twentieth century and was responsible for introducing modern residential designs into Canberra in the 1930s. Along with Kenneth Oliphant, Moir was one of Canberra’s earliest privately practising architects. Moir’s work from the early 1930s to the 1950s was modernist and he designed a number of houses in the inter-war functionalist style during this period.
Moir was one of the first students to graduate from the new Architecture School at Sydney University under Professor Leslie Wilkinson in 1924. After graduating, Moir worked in the New South Wales Public Service, in the Architect’s Branch of the Public Works Department. In 1927 he moved to Canberra, where he worked in the Architect’s Department of the Federal Capital Commission. While there, Moir played an important role in the design and supervision of the Institute of Anatomy (1929), under its architect W Hayward Morris.
The Great Depression brought building projects in Canberra to a halt. The Federal Capital Commission was abolished and Moir became manager of the Capitol Theatre in Manuka. However, he established a private practice in 1931 and from 1932 gained commissions for some building projects. In 1935 designed the Civic Theatre, six shops at Manuka Shopping Centre at The Lawns, two hotels and his own house at 43 Melbourne Avenue, Forrest. This house (pictured above) was probably Canberra’s first truly modern design and was radically different from the general architectural styles of the day. It is one of the most significant houses in Canberra. Remarkably, Moir obtained his knowledge of modernism from books: at that point he had not travelled overseas and experienced modernist architecture first hand.
In November 1935 Moir’s first wife died and he began working with the architect Heather Sutherland, who had also studied under Professor Wilkinson at Sydney University and graduated in 1926. Moir and Sutherland were married in November 1936 and by 1937 were designing functionalist houses for senior Canberra public servants—typically two storey dwellings with bold massing and flat roofs. In 1938 and 1939, Moir and Sutherland designed a group of five functionalist houses in Evans Crescent, Griffith, which The Canberra Times reported enthusiastically on in 1940. The firm of Moir and Sutherland continued until her death in 1953. The firm subsequently evolved into Moir, Ward & Slater (with Neville Ward and Ian Slater), then Moir & Slater during the 1960s.
Moir was a member of the ACT Advisory Council for several years, the President of the Canberra Chamber of Commerce and helped begin the ACT Chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA). He survived three wives, two of whom were also architects. Moir died on 22 September 1971.