Built Heritage Consultants Melbourne
Dictionary of Unsung Architects   return to DUA index
KENNETH McDONALD  (1927-1996)

Biographical Overview

Born on 30 August 1927 in the NSW Riverina town of Balranald , Kenneth William McDonald was the son of grazier Angus Alexander McDonald (1889-1972) and his wife Barbara (1892-1963). Within a few years of Kenneth’s birth, the family had returned to Victoria (where Angus McDonald had lived prior to his marriage) and taken up a farming property at Mount Ararat.  Kenneth McDonald commenced the architecture course at the University of Melbourne and, as a fifth-year student in 1949, prepared a scheme for a flat-roofed house intended for his own use.  In what was a remarkable achievement for a young undergraduate, the design was published in the Australian Home Beautiful.  Even more remarkably, a second student project by McDonald, this time for a hotel in his home town of Balranald, appeared in the same magazine three months later.  It was also towards the end of 1949 that McDonald became engaged to Althea Nancy Burke (1929-2008); the couple wed on 24 June 1950.  

Kenneth McDonald’s Bachelor of Architecture degree was conferred in April 1951 and, later that same year, he became a registered architect in Victoria.  At the time of his registration, he was employed in the Department of Works & Housing at 225 Bourke Street.  During that period, he undertook his first private architecture commission: a new house for himself and his wife Althea, on an elevated site in the developing suburb of Balwyn North.  Under construction in late 1951, the house incorporated an innovation not seen before in Melbourne, but soon to become highly fashionable: the butterfly roof.  On completion, the striking house was profiled in a number of newspaper and magazine articles.  Notwithstanding the level of attention that it generated (or perhaps because of it), McDonald and his wife decided to sell the property and move elsewhere. When the forthcoming sale was reported in the Argus, in early 1952, it was promoted as "one of the world’s most advanced homes" and a "beautifully furnished new-style aluminium-roofed solar ray dwelling" that "contains everything modern science has to offer".  McDonald went on to design another house for himself in Bayswater, where he and his family remained living for many years.  These early houses, with their hard-edge modernist style, characterised McDonald's approach to residential architecture that, years later, saw Philip Goad describe him as "the most accomplished exponent of East Coast Bauhaus in Melbourne".

In early 1953, McDonald wrote an article in the Argus that argued for the provision of modern hotels in central Melbourne.  This article, illustrated with McDonald’s own grandly speculative scheme for a multi-storey hotel in Collins Street, appears to mark the emergence of his interest in journalism and publication.  Later that year, he became advertising director of the influential Melbourne-based architecture magazine Architecture & Arts, which had been founded in 1952 by Peter Burns.  By the end of 1953, McDonald had taken over as editor.  
In 1954, he published a slender booklet entitled The New Australian Home, in which he illustrated a number of progressive architect-designed residences that, in his view, marked the appearance of "a true indigenous residential Australian architecture".  Several houses of his own design (including his former residence in Balwyn North) were featured alongside those by such luminaries as Harry Seidler, Hugh Buhrich, Robin Boyd, Douglas Alexandra and Ray Berg McDonald went on to publish a second monograph on a similar theme, entitled Homes for Today (1957).

In parallel with his publishing activities, McDonald’s private architectural practice thrived.  His early interest in modern hotel architecture, which can be traced back to his student project of 1949, saw him prepare a bold scheme for a circular highrise hotel building on the south bank of the Yarra River (1956), and at least two interstate projects, for the Hotel International at Sydney (1956) and a holiday resort in Queensland (1960).  In the late 1950s, McDonald fostered a significant association with property developers Apex Pty Ltd, for whom he designed a series of project houses at Avondale Heights (1957) and Burwood East (1959), as well as a shopping centre, also at Avondale Heights , and a shopping arcade at Essendon (both 1958).  McDonald quickly rose become a leading exponent of modern shopping centre architecture in Melbourne, designing centres for other clients at Croydon, Clayton and Boronia.  McDonald's practice also encapsulated furniture design; in the early 1950s, he developed an association with Clement Meadmore that saw him design a stackable version of the iconic corded Meadmore Chair. 

McDonald continued to serve as editor of Architecture & Arts magazine until 1963, when he sold the magazine to others (it ceased publication four years later).  He remained active in private practice, and designed another hotel in central Melbourne as late as 1971.  Little is currently known of McDonald’s subsequent output from the 1970s onwards.  During that decade he is known to have remarried and moved from Bayswater (where he had lived, in a house of his own design, since 1953) to Richmond, where he took up residence in a renovated Victorian terrace in Charles Street.  He and his new wife, also a journalist, later moved to a new house, in a row of four, in Coppin Street.  McDonald died on 1 July 1996, aged 68 years.

Select List of Projects







Residence for self, 50 Tuxen Street, Balwyn North [demolished]
Residence for self, Bayswater
Scheme for a hotel, Collins Street, Melbourne [project only]
Residence, Mount Eliza
Residence, Frankston
Kindergarten, Euroa
Hotel International, Potts Point, Sydney, NSW
Scheme for Crystal Tower Hotel, South Melbourne [project only]
Shopping centre for Apex Realty, Pty Ltds, Military Road, Avondale Heights
Residence, Mount Waverley
Resident, Templestowe
Residence, Vermont
Residence, Cheltenham
Shopping centre, Clayton
Shopping centre, Boronia
Holiday resort, Currumbin, Queensland
Flats, Altona
Project housing for Apex Realty Pty Ltd, various locations
Project house for Goldseal Homes Pty Ltd, Burwood East
Flats, Essendon
Shopping centre, Blackburn Road, Mount Waverley
Residence, Altona
Flats, Ivanhoe
Residence, Balwyn North
Courtesy Inn Hotel, Exhibition Street, Melbourne

Kenneth W McDonald architect
Kenneth McDonald, architect, circa 1953

Funeral parlour by Bridge & Bogle
Student project for Four Winds Hotel at Balranald (1949)

Own house at Balwyn North by Kenneth McDonald
Kenneth McDonald's own house at Balwyn North (1951-52)

House at Bendigo by Kenneth McDonald
House at Bendigo by Kenneth McDonald (1956)

Scheme for highrise hotel at Melbourne (1956)
Unbuilt scheme for highrise hotel, South Melbourne (1956)

Shopping centre at Avondale Heights
Apex Realty Shopping Centre at Avondale Heights (1958)

Scheme for holiday resort in Queensland
Scheme for holiday resort at Currumbin, Qld (1960)