Four Generations of Continuous Practice
Alexander Brown Wilson (1857-1938)
Alex Wilson was precocious as both an architect and artist. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he was the fifth son of George Wilson, a merchant, and his wife Margaret, née Watson. In 1864 young Wilson immigrated with his family to Brisbane where he attended the Normal School, though his secondary education remains a mystery. His artistic talent soon attracted attention. In 1873, in an Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures at Brisbane’s School of Arts, the Telegraph newspaper of 17 November noted ‘a series of carefully executed watercolour drawings, principally waterscapes by Master A.B. Wilson, who has evidently a love for the picturesque and beautiful, which with proper cultivation, bids fair to make him an accomplished artist’. Later in Brisbane’s First Intercolonial Exhibition of 1876, his St Alban’s, pen and ink, and Head of Diomedes, sepia, won certificates in the schools section.
Ronald Martin Wilson (1886–1967)
Ron Wilson was born in Brisbane and, like his father, attended the Normal School. Later a pupil of the Brisbane Grammar School, he passed the Sydney Junior Public Examination in 1902 with a silver medal in Physiology. In 1903 Ron entered his father’s office, becoming his chief architectural assistant five years later. While working in the office he obtained a Certificate in Art and Design at the Brisbane Central Technical College and exhibited drawings and modelling in the National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland’s annual exhibitions in Brisbane.
In 1911 when the newly established University of Queensland offered its first courses in engineering, Ron Wilson enrolled immediately. He graduated in 1915 with first class honours in Civil Engineering, winning the Walter and Eliza Hall Travelling Scholarship. This took him to the United States of America for two years to study architectural engineering, in particular structural steel and reinforced concrete construction. His lengthy report was later serialised in 1922–23 in the Building journal. Travelling to Britain in 1917, Ron joined the Ministry of Munitions and later the Ministry of Food, overseeing the planning and construction of factories and cold stores. Before returning to Queensland in 1919, he studied at London’s Architectural Association and completed a town-planning course at the University of London.
After nearly a decade’s absence, Ron Wilson rejoined the family firm. In 1920 he entered partnership with his father in the restyled firm of Alex B. & R. Martin Wilson, Architects and Architectural Engineers, reflecting his engineering expertise.
Blair Mansfield Wilson (1930–2014)
Like his father, was born in Brisbane and educated at the Brisbane Grammar School. In 1949 he began the recently established six-year degree course in Architecture at the University of Queensland. The final three years were offered part-time with students of the Brisbane Central Technical College diploma course. Blair’s well-known contemporaries in the combined course included Paquita Day, Robin Gibson, Jack Gilmore, Cecil Hardgraves, Ron Purssey, Ury Stukoff and Steve Trotter. In his final student years Blair worked in his father’s office and, for wider experience, with Aubrey Job of the firm Fulton, Job & Collin. His thesis on ‘The requirements for a student union building’ was written in collaboration with engineering student Gavin McDonald. It proposed an architectural and engineering design produced cooperatively, anticipating Blair’s interests in educational and collaborative projects. The thesis later provided the basis of the brief for Steve Trotter’s building at the University of Queensland in 1959. At his graduation, Blair won the Queensland Institute of Architects’ Memorial Medal.
After registering as an architect and joining the RAIA, Blair travelled overseas. In London he worked for Clifford, Tee & Gale, who specialized in industrial buildings, and attended design ateliers at the Architectural Association. Like his grandfather, he was elected an Associate of the RIBA. Blair also travelled in Europe, visiting the work of renowned contemporary architects of the time, cathedrals and civic spaces that he had studied as a student. On return to Brisbane in 1956 he entered partnership with his father as R. Martin Wilson & Son. Major buildings undertaken by the firm at this time included the Greek Orthodox Church at South Brisbane, the Stanthorpe Civic Centre, extensions to the University of Queensland’s School of Veterinary Science, the Committee of Director of Fruit Marketing(COD) Building at Brisbane Markets and the Albany Creek Crematorium. Following Ron Wilson’s death in 1967, Blair continued the firm as Blair M. Wilson and in 1976 it was incorporated as Blair M. Wilson & Associates (Pty Ltd).
Elizabeth Ann (Beth) Wilson (1934–2019 )
In 1971 the Wilson firm took a new direction when Blair’s wife, Beth, joined as a landscape architect. Thereafter landscape commissions have been an important aspect of the firm’s work.
Beth was born in Brisbane, daughter of the timber merchant Jules Moxon and his wife, Sybil, née Lucas, sister of the architect F. Bruce Lucas. Beth attended The Glennie School, Toowoomba before studying Science at the University of Queensland from 1952, majoring in Botany. Upon graduation in 1955, she worked as a plant pathologist at the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock. The following year she joined a party of five others, including her future husband Blair, to tour Europe. She interrupted her return journey to Australia in 1957 to work briefly in Canada, before resuming her former employment. She married Blair in January 1958 and, with the imminent arrival of their first child, resigned in May 1959. Thereafter Beth became a housewife, golf player and sometime artist, and mother of four children. In 2018, Beth released “Brisbane Houses with Gardens” a book that draws on her extraordinary knowledge of horticulture, bringing together a fascinating and revealing history of the city through the evolution of its homes and gardens.
Hamilton Blair Wilson (1961– )
Blair and Beth’s second son, Hamilton joined the firm in 1986 following his graduation. Hamilton was born in Brisbane and educated at the Brisbane Grammar Schools. In addition, he studied art with Mervyn Moriarty’s innovative Flying Art School. In 1980 Hamilton enrolled in the part-time course in Architecture at the QIT while employed with the architects Lund Hutton Ryan Morton. He was also a member of the alternative arts and theatre group, the Fluba Troupe, and participated in the group’s exhibitions and performances, culminating in a tour to the Adelaide Fringe Festival. For the final two years of his architectural education, Hamilton transferred to the full-time course at the University of Queensland.
Hamilton Wilson graduated from University in 1985 with first class honours, and won the A.E. Brooks Prize, which took him to London where he worked from 1987 to 1989 as design architect with a multi-disciplinary practice, DEGW. Co-founded in 1973 by architect Frank Duffy, the firm pioneered understanding of the impacts of changing technology and working practices on spatial design. It was a fortuitous choice of employment and influenced later directions in the Wilson practice. Projects with which Hamilton was associated at DEGW included design briefs for developments in the London Docklands and Kings Cross, and extensions to the Prudential Assurance Company’s head office at Holborn.
Hamilton returned to his family firm in 1989, and was appointed Managing Director of Wilson Architects in 1995. In 2001 he was elected a Fellow of the RAIA.