Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Smith, Louis Laybourne (1880–1965)

by J. C. Irwin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Louis Laybourne Smith (1880-1965), architect, was born on 1 April 1880 at Unley, Adelaide, son of Joseph Laybourne Smith, chemist, and his wife Annie Rosalie, née Thomas. His primary and secondary schooling was at Whinham and Way colleges, and he then went to Western Australia. In 1898 he began studying mechanical engineering at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries (associate diploma 1902), but he preferred architecture and entered the office of Edward Davies, architect, in 1901. On 9 April 1903 he married Davies's daughter, Frances Maude. He obtained the degree of bachelor of science from the University of Adelaide in 1911 (surrendered for bachelor of engineering in 1914). From 1904 Laybourne Smith was an associate of the South Australian Institute of Architects. He lectured at the School of Mines from 1903 and became registrar in 1905; next year he established there, and headed, a department of architecture with a three-year course leading to an associate diploma. Although he retired as registrar in 1914, he still ran the department part time until 1951.

In 1914 he had joined Woods, Bagot Jory & Laybourne Smith, one of Adelaide's most influential architectural firms; this became Woods, Bagot, Laybourne Smith & Irwin in 1930. Always on the move, in his thirties he was often to be seen in khaki overalls on his motor-bike, rushing between home, classes and practice. His buildings include the Australian Mutual Provident building which later became the city branch of the Commercial Bank of Australia, the original student union buildings at the University of Adelaide, the Bonython Jubilee Building of the South Australia Institute of Technology, the first major structure of the Waite Agricultural Research Institute, John Martin's store and Australian Paper Mills' buildings at Boyer, Tasmania.

Laybourne Smith was a council-member of the South Australian Institute of Architects in 1909-59 and its president in 1921-23 and 1935-37. He was president of the federal council of the Australian Institute of Architects (1937-39). This body awarded him a life fellowship in 1944 and its highest award, the gold medal, in 1961; at the presentation ceremony he appealed for a better public appreciation of contemporary architecture. He was also on the South Australian Board of Architectural Education and was a referee for the Adelaide City Council in building disputes. He had contributed materially to the South Australian Building Act, 1923. A leader in the move for the registration of architects in South Australia, he framed the Architects Act (1939). He sat on the State's Registration Board of Architects. In 1948 he was appointed C.M.G.

In the office, where he consistently overworked, Laybourne Smith was a dynamic figure with a penetrating voice. By contrast his designs were sketched in tiny, neat detail; basically he remained an engineer. In 1960, a few weeks after his eightieth birthday, he set off with his wife for a tour of Europe. Two years later his old department at the School of Mines was named after him. On 13 September 1965 he died while working in his office. He was survived by his wife, three daughters and a son Gordon, also an architect. A bronze bust of Laybourne Smith, by the sculptor John Dowie, is held by the South Australian chapter of the R.A.I.A. and a head by Rayner Hoff is with his old firm.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 2 (Adel, 1909)
  • G. Walkley, Louis Laybourne Smith: A Memoir (Adel, 1977)
  • South Australian School of Mines and Industries, Annual Report (held by University of South Australia)
  • Royal Australian Institute of Architects, and South Australian Institute of Architects, Council Minutes (held by Secretary, South Australian chapter, Royal Australian Institute of Architects)
  • Woods, Bagot, Laybourne Smith & Irwin, records (held by Woods, Bagot Architects Pty Ltd, Adelaide)
  • PRG 367 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

J. C. Irwin, 'Smith, Louis Laybourne (1880–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-louis-laybourne-8479/text14913, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 2 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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