Born in Melbourne on 1 May 1932, Ronald George Monsbourgh came from a family of architects. His father, George Alfred Monsbourgh (1892-1982?) had studied at the Working Men's College (now RMIT) while serving his articles with Walter Butler; he established his own practice in 1916 and retired just over sixty years later, in 1978. George's elder brother,Alan Gordon Monsbourgh (1888-1938), was well-known as Chief Architect to the MMTB for two decades until his early death. Ron Monsbourgh commenced his own architectural studies at RMIT and subsequently obtained work in the private office of the school's Head of Architecture, Harry Winbush. Monsbourgh was still employed by Winbush when he became registered as an architect during 1958. By that time, he and his wife (the former Barbara Cummings, whom he married in 1955) were living in Beaumaris, in a smart modern house that he presumably designed himself.
By 1962, Monsbourgh had established his own practice under the name of Ronald G Monsbourgh & Associates, with offices at 45 Grey Street, East Melbourne. His early work was largely in the residential sphere, encapsulating both houses and blocks of flats, often located in the southern suburbs where he himself resided. During this period, he also fostered a fruitful association with businessman Herbert Toohey, for whom he designed factories in the industrial heartlands of Moorabbin, Oakleigh and Sunshine. In 1969, Monsbourgh garnered success in a competition held by the RAIA Small Homes Service, and his prize-winning house was built in Vermont South as part of the heralded display village known as the “Blue Flame Project”. His plan was subsequently introduced into the SHS range as standard design V438, and remained popular thereafter, being republished in the weekly SHS newspaper column several times well into the 1970s.
For all his achievements in residential design, Monsbourgh is perhaps best known across Australia for his work in cinema design, a field in which he specialised for more than three decades. This can be traced back as far as 1962, when he worked in association with architect G Murphy on the refurbishment of the Barclay Theatre in Sydney. One of his first such jobs in Melbourne, dating from 1965-66, was the remodelling of Walter Burley Griffin’s iconic Capitol Theatre in Swanston Street. Having lapsed into benigh neglect in the post-war era, the celebrated theatre was under threat of being destroyed for commercial infill. Ultimately, it was decided instead to retain the cinema in a truncated form, with a new shopping arcade inserted underneath. While the arcade was designed by C Ian Turner, Monsbourgh was responsible for re-configuring the theatre above. An extremely complex task that involved gutting the stalls and extending the dress circle to create new stalls at a higher level, it was achieved in an artful and seamless fashion, with utmost respect to Griffin’s original design and detailing.
Over the course of several decades, Monsbourgh undertook work for all three of Australia's post-war cinema chains (Village, Hoyts and Greater Union), encapsulating new purpose-built facilites and the refurbishment or upgrading of existing ones. His output in this sphere spanned the entire country (as well as New Zealand), and introduced such new developments as the first twin-screen cinemas in the early 1970s, and the first multiplex facilities in the mid-1980s.
In February 1970, Monsbourgh re-structured his practice as a public company, R G Monsbourgh & Associates Pty Ltd, with himself as sole director and his wife Barbara as secretary. Two years later, he appointed one of his employees, Peter Stynes (a BArch graduate from the University of Melbourne in 1959) as co-director. In 1977, Monsbourgh entered into partnership with Nicholas Sofarnos (a one-time employee of Kenneth McDonald), and the firm continued as Sofarnos Monsbourgh Pty Ltd until 1997. A spin-off company, Cinecon Consultants International Pty Ltd, was established in 1993, and remained in operation until 1998.
Ron and Barbara Monsbourgh, who had two sons, continued to reside in Melbourne's bayside area for many years, latterly in Brighton and finally in Black Rock. Diagnosed with cancer in 2005, Monsbourgh ded two years later, on 5 March 2007, at Prahran's Cabrini Hospital.
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