Architect Personal DetailsArchitectural works in South Australia
Firms or Professional PartnershipsBibliographic Sources

Architect Personal Details



First name

Robert Harold








Robert Harold Dickson was born on 8 April 1926 in Adelaide, South Australia to Henry and May Dickson. He was educated at Christ Church School, Adelaide. Between 1944 and 1945 Dickson trained as air crew Pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force. Dickson married Lilian and had three children, Nigel, Rohan and Sara.

Following World War Two Dickson attended the South Australian School of Mines and Industries where he studied architecture from 1946 to 1951. In 1949, while still a student he built his own house at Wandilla Drive, Rostrevor which was featured in the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Exhibition of Australian Architecture, 1956 and has been described in the RAIA SA Significant 20th Century Architecture list as 'a response to site, materials and a limited budget'. He graduated in 1953 with an Associate Diploma in Architecture. During and immediately following his studies (1948-55) Dickson was articled to Claridge, Hassell and McConnell where he was deeply influenced by Modernist architect Jack McConnell (Page 1986: 204). In 1955 he travelled to Italy where he worked for Mangiarotti and Morasutti architects in Milan, this experience was an important influence on his future work (Hurst 2003) and his love of things Italian. He then travelled to London and worked for Fry, Drew, Drake and Lasdun architects.

On returning to Adelaide in 1957 Dickson began his own practice and in 1958 joined with Newell James Platten to form Dickson and Platten, a partnership which continued until 1973 when Platten left to join the SA Housing Trust. Their office at North Adelaide was to remain Dickson’s office until his retirement. In 1973 the practice was renamed Robert Dickson and Associates to reflect the association of other architects in the office. In 1990 the practice became Robert Dickson Architects.

Following his graduation in 1953 Dickson became an Associate of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) SA Chapter and was made a Fellow in 1970. From 1978 to 1980 he was elected President of the RAIA SA Chapter and in 1981 was made a Life Fellow. In 1996 Dickson became a Privileged Life Fellow. After receiving numerous awards for his architectural works, the RAIA SA Chapter awarded him the President's Medal in 2000. Robert Dickson passed away on 8 April 2014, aged 88.

When Dickson returned from Europe in 1957 he wrote feature articles on architecture for the Advertiser and later a regular column in the News, whilst he started his own practice (Hurst 2003: 4). He also tutored at the University of Adelaide Faculty of Architecture and Planning and since then has been a Research Scholar in the Faculty.

In 1956 the RAIA staged an exhibition in conjunction with the Sixth Australian Architectural Convention. Robert Dickson and Brian Claridge instigated the event. The Exhibition, held in Botanic Park in the Adelaide Parklands was designed to show architecture by means of models and actual buildings and hence stimulate interest in the latest developments in architecture. Dickson was also active in other areas of public life, being a Forestry Board Member and Adviser for the Woods and Forests Department from 1978 to 1984. His concern with the built environment was also reflected through his role as President of the Civic Trust of South Australia from 1978 to 1980.

The Arkaba restaurant at Glen Osmond Road, Fullarton (1963) and subsequent hotel was Dickson and Platten’s first large scale commercial project and was described by John Chappel as using ‘Humble brickwork, timber, ‘off the form’ concrete and strawboard ... honestly used to contribute to the overall design’ (Chappel in Page 1986: 237). It won the RAIA SA Chapter Award of Merit. The restaurant and hotel complex is known for its ‘intimate planning and straight forward use of natural materials’ (RAIA SA Significant 20th Century Architecture). The practice designed several recreational buildings including several notable Golf Club Houses at Mt Lofty, Blackwood and Regency Park (1978). Another recreational building complex was the Youth Camp for the National Fitness Council at Mylor in 1969 and the Recreation Centre at Whyalla in 1974.

Educational building complexes were a significant component of the practice’s work. The Kathleen Lumley College, a residential college for university students, won the 1969 RAIA SA Chapter Award of Merit. One of the most significant buildings however is the Adelaide University Union complex which was built in stages from 1967 to 1975. It received an Award of Merit from the RAIA in 1974 and a Civic Trust Award in 1975. Union House is a large five level red brick and concrete building with exposed brickwork and timber detailing. It has several entrances, balconies and terraces connecting it to the multiple levels of the University site. The building embraces a diversity of functions with space for a bookshop, shops, refectories, a cinema, theatre, gallery and offices.

The practice’s own offices at Mackinnon Parade, North Adelaide, (1966), featured the locally available red brick. Other office buildings by the practice included the Associated Securities offices, Hindmarsh Square, Adelaide which received a SA Chapter RAIA 1972 citation and the Salisbury Civic Centre which received the SA Chapter RAIA 1976 Award of Merit. It was said of the latter that ‘The building reflects more open access to local government, while expressing and facilitating community identity and involvement’ (RAIA SA Significant 20th Century Architecture). The Hope Valley Water Filtration Plant, (1976) received the SA Chapter RAIA 1980 Award of Merit as it ‘established domestic into utilitarian and office buildings’ (RAIA SA Significant 20th Century Architecture).

Although the work of Robert Dickson can be seen as a particular style of South Australian Regional architecture, ‘Dickson reiterates a first principles origin for each of his buildings, abhorring what he sees as any arbitrary decisions based on the ‘look’ of the building’ (Hurst 2003: 5). Hurst describes him as ‘one of the most significant practitioners of modern architecture in Adelaide’ (Hurst 2003: 2). His architecture displays a sensitive relationship to site, intuitive use of materials, and care about design and craftsmanship. Dickson had a strong collaborative working relationship with his clients and with all who worked on a building including associated professionals and builders.

Julie Collins

Citation details
Collins, Julie, 'Dickson, Robert Harold’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: []




Architectural works in South Australia

Name Suburb Year Designed
Dickson House Rostrevor 1950
Linked town houses North Adelaide 1964
Arkaba projects over ten years including restaurant and hotel Fullarton 1957
Regency Park Golf Club Clubhouse Regency Park 1978
Mylor Youth Camp Mylor 1969
Whyalla Recreation Centre Whyalla
Adelaide University Union Redevelopment Adelaide 1967
Architect's Office North Adelaide 1970
Associated Securities Limited offices Adelaide
Salisbury Civic Centre Salisbury
Munno Para Civic Centre Munno Para
East Torrens Civic Centre East Torrens
Meadows Civic Centre Meadows
Proposed town centre buildings for Monarto Monarto 1975
Water Treatment Plant at Morgan Morgan 1981
Hackney Neighbourhood Renewal Hackney 1971
Old Gum Tree Conservation Shelter Holdfast Bay 1984
West Lakes cluster houses West Lakes 1972
West Lakes Primary School West Lakes 1972
Art Gallery of South Australia extensions Adelaide 1990

Firms or Professional Partnerships

Name Dates Worked
Claridge, Hassell and McConnell 1948-1955 
Mangiarotti and Morasutti 1955-1956 
Fry, Drew, Drake and Lasdun 1956 
Robert Dickson 1957 
Dickson and Platten 1958-1973 
Robert Dickson and Associates 1973-1990 
Robert Dickson Architects 1990- 

Bibliographic Sources


(1954) ‘South Australian Chapter’, Year Book of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects 1954.
(1980) South Australian Biographies 1980, Blue Book of South Australia and Biographies Australia, South Australia: 34.
Apperly, R., Irving, R. and Reynolds, P. (1989) A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture, Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
Hurst, R. (2012) 'Dickson & Platten' in Goad, P. and Willis, J. (eds) The encyclopaedia of Australian architecture, Cambridge University Press: 206.
Hurst, Rachel (2003) ‘An unselfconscious architecture: the work of Robert Dickson’, in Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians of Australia and New Zealand conference, Brisbane.
Page, M. (1986) Sculptors in Space: South Australian Architects 1836-1986, RAIA (SA), Adelaide.
(1981) Architecture SA 1970-1980, RAIA (SA Chapter), Adelaide.
Taylor, Jennifer (1986) Australian Architecture since 1960, Law Book Company, Sydney.
University of Adelaide (1974) The University of Adelaide Centenary 1874-1974, University of Adelaide, Adelaide.
Walkley, G (1976) The Louis Laybourne Smith School of Architecture and Building, South Australian Institute of Technology, Adelaide: 118.

‘Architect’s Own House at Rostrevor, SA’, RIBA Journal, July/September 1953: 69.
‘Arkaba Lodge and Red Wine Grill’, Architecture in Australia, May 1966: 111-4.
‘Arkaba Motel’, Architecture in Australia, March 1963: 140-141.
‘Award goes to veteran Adelaide architect’, Adelaidean, 17 July 2000: 7.
‘House’, Architecture in Australia, February 1971: 58-61.
‘Pair of houses’, Architecture in Australia, December 1967: 970-971.
‘RAIA Presidents Medal: Award of Merit, LFRAIA’, Architecture Australia, September/ October 2000: 21.
‘RAIA SA Chapter Award of Merit, 1975’, RAIA South Australian Chapter Bulletin, October 1975: 1.
‘Salisbury City Council’, Architecture Australia, April/May 1977: 33-45.
‘Salisbury Public Library’, Wood World (Timber Development Association of SA), July 1984.
‘Ten Best buildings of 1964’, Architecture and the Arts, December 1964: 15.
‘Union Bookshop’, Architecture in Australia, October 1972: 564-568.
‘Union House, University of Adelaide’, Architecture Australia, vol.65, no.1, 1976: 62-63.
Dickson, Robert (1999) ‘Art and Architecture in Practice: A life’s work’, Architect SA, Winter 1999: 10-17.
Parken, David (2000) ‘RAIA Awards 2000: President’s Medal: The James Irwin RAIA President’s Medal: Mr Robert Dickson LFRAIA’, Architect South Australia, vol. 13, no.3: 6.

Vagnarelli, Ruth (2003) ‘Leading Men’, Adelaide Matters, Issue 42, November.
Petrys, Lisa (2000) ‘Robert’s architecture is all in the mind’, Southern Times, 2 August.
Ward, P. (2004) ‘State of the Union is good enough for judges’, The Adelaide Review, July, no.250: 21-22.

Blaess, Darren (2002) ‘The Morialta House 1950: a natural approach an unselfconscious architecture’, Honours thesis, University of South Australia.

Royal Australian Institute of Architects (1983) RAIA South Australia Significant 20th Century Architecture, card index, held at Architecture Museum, Louis Laybourne Smith School of Architecture and Design, University of South Australia (LLSAM).
Dickson, Robert (2008) Pers. comm. with author, 16 August 2008.

WW2 Nominal Roll, online at
RAIA 20th Century Notable South Australian Buildings Register online at
Australian Heritage Places Inventory, Union Building Group, online at

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