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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lawson, George Gavin (1882–1953)

by Hamish Angas

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

George Gavin Lawson (1882-1953), architect, was born on 27 May 1882 at Leith, Edinburgh, third of five children of William Lawson, corn merchant, and his wife Jessie Muller, née Wilson. Educated in Edinburgh, George was apprenticed for five years to the architects Hamilton, Patterson & Rhind. He emigrated to South Africa and practised at Johannesburg, where he designed the Wanderers' Club. While employed in the Police Works Department, Pretoria, he won a competition to design the city's town hall and post office. He later worked in Salisbury, Rhodesia (Harare, Zimbabwe), before emigrating to Australia. At St Silas's Anglican Church, Albert Park, Melbourne, on 18 November 1910 he married Edith McDowall Davies, a 28-year-old bookbinder. After submitting (1911) an unsuccessful entry for the Federal Capital Design Competition for Canberra, Lawson moved to Queensland. On 19 August 1914 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force; he served in Egypt with the 2nd Divisional Ammunition Column and on the Western Front with the 4th Field Artillery Brigade. He was sent to Australia on leave in September 1918 and discharged in Melbourne on 24 January 1919.

Appointed senior draughtsman in the South Australian architect-in-chief's office in November 1920, Lawson designed the dental school (1922) at the University of Adelaide, the (Sir John) Bice building (1923) at the (Royal) Adelaide Hospital and the Hartley building (1924) at the Teachers' Training College on Kintore Avenue. In 1925 he entered into partnership with Charles W. Rutt and designed the offices of the Burnside City Council. He began his own practice in 1926 and represented (from 1927) a Melbourne architectural firm in Adelaide, under the name of Barlow, Hawkins & Lawson, later Barlow & Lawson. In 1928 they designed the Edments building in Rundle Street, and planned the Lister building on North Terrace in commercial gothic style.

That year Lawson also drew the plans for Adelaide's first parking-station (now demolished), on the corner of Pulteney Street and North Terrace. Another of the firm's projects in 1928 was the Springfield estate, in association with Springfield Ltd, the State government and the Mitcham City Council; it was a garden suburb intended for the nouveaux riches. Lawson designed Raymond Begg's home in Brookside Road (modelling it on a house in Pasadena, California), and Joseph Crompton's house in Springfield Avenue. As a result of his work in this suburb, he received other commissions for homes in the south-eastern foothills, some of which were built in his favourite Dutch colonial style. In 1929 he introduced discarded clinker bricks for external and internal facings of domestic residences. Lawson was probably the first architect in South Australia to specify the use of mud bricks—for Walter Birks's holiday house at Macclesfield.

Jack D. Cheesman joined Lawson in 1932 and became a partner in the following year. Maurice Doley entered the partnership during World War II and, with the addition of Newell Platten, R. A. Brabham and A. L. Brownell, the firm was named (1953) Lawson Cheesman Doley & Partners. Survived by his wife, Lawson died on 9 June 1953 at his Sefton Park home and was cremated. The South Australian chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects named a fellowship after him.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Page, Sculptors in Space (Adel, 1986)
  • Quarterly Bulletin (South Australian Institute of Architects), Apr-June 1953, pp 13, 15.

Citation details

Hamish Angas, 'Lawson, George Gavin (1882–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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