Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Arthur Denis Winston (1908–1980)

by Robert Freestone

This article was published:

Arthur Denis Winston (1908-1980), architect and town planner, was born on 27 July 1908 at Liverpool, England, only surviving son of Edward Michael Winston, dentist, and his wife Maria Linda, née Holt. Denis attended Montessori and private schools then, displaying an aptitude for art and drawing, entered the school of architecture, University of Liverpool (B.Arch., 1931) and graduated with first-class honours. Walking daily to university through the congested Jewish quarter he became interested in city planning and, awarded a scholarship, began a postgraduate diploma in civic design (1936). In 1932 he took up a Commonwealth Fund fellowship to study city and landscape planning at Harvard University (A.M., 1933), United States of America. He travelled extensively and gained experience with short placements in architectural offices, twice with Corbett, Harrison & MacMurray, New York. On his return to Liverpool he completed his diploma with a thesis on park systems, which was much influenced by his American visit.

In October 1934 Winston had accepted a lectureship in architecture at Armstrong (later King's) College, Newcastle upon Tyne, a college of the University of Durham. Two years later he returned to Liverpool as a senior lecturer, and was involved in planning work for the Merseyside Civic Society. In 1937 he co-produced a prize-winning design for the proposed satellite town of Kincorth near Aberdeen, Scotland. He became senior architect with the Northern Ireland Ministry of Home Affairs in 1942 and was a member of its planning commission. In 1945 he was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects' distinction in town planning. That year he moved to Southampton as borough architect and chief planning officer.

New planning laws passed in New South Wales in 1945 created a demand for trained town planners. The faculty of architecture at the University of Sydney decided to introduce a two-year postgraduate diploma course to begin in 1949. Winston was appointed to the foundation chair in town and country planning—the first in Australia. Sailing into Sydney Harbour on New Year's Eve, 1948, he plunged immediately into numerous meetings bringing together public servants, academics, architects and planners as he prepared for his first group of students. He wrote to his mother: 'I get the impression I have come here at the right time and have a good chance of becoming influential'. On 28 December 1956 at the registrar-general's office, Sydney, he married Joan May Elliott, née Kelly, an almoner and divorcee with a son. There were no children of the marriage.

The University of Sydney had a monopoly on the education of town planners in the city until the late 1960s. Under Winston's direction it introduced a master's degree in town and country planning in 1956 and conferred its first doctorate in the field in 1965. Winston established the Planning Research Centre in 1964 to promote contacts between 'town and gown'. His life revolved around the university: he lived, with his wife, at St Andrew's College for many years, served on numerous university committees and was dean of the faculty in 1964-65.

Providing strategic planning advice to the Department of Local Government was part of his professorial duties until 1959. Winston soon established himself as an influential consultant to government authorities and private clients. He was a site consultant (1954-70) to the Australian National University, Canberra, planner of the new towns of Adaminaby and Jindabyne for the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, and a member of several government committees, including the technical advisory panel for construction of the Sydney Opera House (1958-66) and the National Capital Planning Committee (1964-70). In 1955-56 he had visited Egypt for the United Nations Technical Assistance Administration.

Over the years Winston's interests had expanded from the design of structures into the improvement of the broader physical environment. He represented a direct link to heroes of British urban planning such as Sir Patrick Abercrombie and Sir Raymond Unwin. His major preoccupations were good civic design and decentralization. He corresponded frequently with the American urban sociologist Lewis Mumford. Winston was a compelling and eloquent speaker; most of his published papers resulted from a heavy schedule of public lectures and conference addresses. His book, Sydney's Great Experiment (1957), was a comprehensive account of the 1948 County of Cumberland Planning Scheme.

In 1951 Winston had led the move to amalgamate several State-based organizations into the (Royal) Australian Planning Institute. As president (1951-53) he assumed a vital, unifying leadership role for the emerging profession. Concentrating on the 'big picture', he was content to leave implementation to others. He was awarded the Sidney Luker memorial medal by the Sydney division of the institute in 1956 and the (Sir James) Barrett medal of the Town and Country Planning Authority of Victoria in 1970. Following his retirement in 1973, he kept professionally active and in 1977 was appointed honorary visiting professor in the school of housing, building and planning, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang.

Short and bespectacled, with dark curly hair, Winston was sprightly, energetic, thoughtful and urbane. He was a keen traveller, and had wide interests ranging from ancient history to tennis. Highly respected yet modest, he not only built up the national and international reputation of the department of town and country planning, but also did much to raise awareness of planning issues in the community. According to Sir John Overall he was 'undoubtedly the most important influence in planning in Australia in the post-war period'. In 1978 he was appointed C.B.E. Survived by his wife, he died suddenly on 19 May 1980 at Penang, while on his third visit to Malaysia, and was cremated. His work was commemorated in various prizes and memorial lectures; the architecture library at the University of Sydney was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Freestone, Denis Winston, an Annotated Bibliography, 1949-1976 (Syd, 1983)
  • P. Ashton (compiler), Planning Sydney (Syd, 1992)
  • Australian Planner, 18, no 3, 1980, p 90, 20, no 2, 1982, p 93
  • Royal Australian Institute of Architects (New South Wales), Bulletin, July 1980, p 2
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 June 1980
  • Winston papers (University Sydney Archives)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Robert Freestone, 'Winston, Arthur Denis (1908–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 13 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


27 July, 1908
Liverpool, Merseyside, England


19 May, 1980 (aged 71)
Penang, Malaysia

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