Architect Personal DetailsArchitectural works in South Australia
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Architect Personal Details



First name

George Gavin








George Gavin Lawson was responsible for bringing the South African Dutch Colonial style to South Australia in the 1920s and for establishing a partnership with Jack Cheesman that went on to become a thriving architecture practice in South Australia.

Born in Leith, Edinburgh in Scotland on 27 May 1882 George Gavin Lawson was the third child of William Lucas Lawson, corn merchant and Jessie Muller (nee Wilson) (Angas 2000). Educated at George Watson’s College, Edinburgh, Scotland Lawson was then articled to Hamilton-Paterson and Rhind Architects in Edinburgh. After travelling to London, Paris and the Continent, he migrated to South Africa in 1905 where he worked as an architect in Johannesburg. This was followed by time practising at the Public Works Department, Pretoria and then in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe).

Lawson worked in Brisbane and Townsville, Queensland, before enlisting in the Townsville Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in August 1914. Between 1915 and 1918 he served in Egypt and on the Western Front during which time he was wounded. Following his discharge from the AIF on 24 January 1919 he worked in Melbourne, marrying Edith McDowell Davies (1892-1959), a 28 year old bookbinder, on 10 November 1920 at St Silas Church, Albert Park, Victoria.

Lawson arrived in South Australia in 1921 aged 39 and was appointed Assistant Chief Draughtsman in the Architect-in-Chief’s Department of the South Australian Government. While in the public service he influenced some of the younger generation of architects including Norman C. Fisher and Jack D. Cheesman, who have been described as ‘two of his brilliant young juniors’ (Obituary, The late George Gavin Lawson 1953: 15). In 1925 he joined Charles Walter Rutt to form the partnership of Rutt and Lawson. However this association was short-lived and during 1926 he practised for some time solely as G. Gavin Lawson. In 1927 he joined Marcus Barlow and Hawkins of Melbourne, to form an Adelaide office of the practice called Barlow, Hawkins and Lawson. By 1929 the partnership had dissolved with Hawkins commencing a practice in Perth, Western Australia, but Barlow and Lawson continued in South Australia until 1930 when Lawson again became a sole practitioner.

In 1932 Lawson invited Jack Cheesman, who had just returned from studying architecture in New York, to join him in association which led to the formation of their partnership in 1933 as Gavin Lawson and Cheesman Architects. Their successful collaboration continued for over a decade and expanded in 1945 when they took on another partner, Maurice Doley to become Lawson, Cheesman and Doley. Lawson was described by Jack Cheesman as ‘a lovable rugged type of Highland Scot with many friends; he was brusque at times, but always (as a low handicap golfer) a friendly and genial partner. To him, a round of golf was the best way to judge a person’s character’ (Cheesman 1986). As recreation Lawson also enjoyed tennis, rugby, hockey and football (Who’s Who 1936: 281).

During the World War Two, with Cheesman on secondment designing munitions factories, Lawson carried on the practice and also represented the practices of Dean W. Berry, and Barrett, Glover and Pointer while their members were on active service. Lawson retired in 1952 due to his World War One injury and died on 9 June 1953. The firm continued, becoming Lawson, Cheesman, Doley and Partners in 1954; Cheesman, Doley, Brabham and Neighbour in 1960; and in 1971, Cheesman, Doley, Neighbour and Raffen Pty. Ltd.

In 1905 Lawson was made an Associate of the South African Institute of Architects and was nominated by the Transvaal Institute of Architects for registration under the 1927 Registration Act of South Africa. In South Australia Lawson was elected as a Fellow of the RAIA in 1924. In 1939 when Registration of Architects was introduced in Lawson became a Registered Architect.

Following the death of Edith Lawson on 28 November 1959, the SA Institute of Architects was endowed to create the ‘George Gavin Lawson Research Fellowship’ which was the result of Lawson’s desire to have Australian architectural students realise the importance of overseas travel with funding being made available for research in Australia and overseas. Lawson’s concern for overseas architects had become evident when he and Cheesman sponsored the architect and artist Ernst Milston, from Prague, Czechoslovakia, to escape the Nazis in April 1940.

During his career Lawson entered many architectural competitions including the 1911 competition for the Australian Federal Capital at Canberra to which he submitted a joint entry with David J. Parr of the Public Works Department in South Africa. Whilst working in the Architect-in-Chief’s Department he designed prominent Adelaide buildings including the Dental Hospital, Frome Road in 1922 and the Bice Building, Royal Adelaide Hospital, North Terrace in 1923. The Teachers’ Training College, Kintore Avenue, designed in 1924 in the Dutch Colonial Style featured a large shady verandah, prospect towers, wide eaves and scalloped exposed rafters topped with a terracotta tiled roof (Marsden et al 1990: 265). It was described as ‘an effective striking structure, all well massed and of good proportion’ (A New Teachers' Training College 1925: 23). The World War One Light Horse Memorial (1925), which stands in the east park lands, was another of Lawson’s designs.

Lawson worked on two projects in association with J.A. Kethel from Melbourne and Adelaide architect Charles W. Rutt, practising as J.A. Kethel, Rutt and Lawson. Together they completed the Alliance Building on Grenfell Street, Adelaide in 1925 and later, in 1927, the Bank of New Zealand building in Grenfell Street, Adelaide (Apperly et al 1989: 193). In 1926, while his partner Rutt was overseas, he worked on the Burnside Council Chambers and Town Hall in a style typical of the South African provincial municipal architecture. Young's Shoe Store on Rundle Street (now Mall), Adelaide was designed by the partnership in 1925. It stands out as an example of Dutch Expressionism with glazed dark brown brickwork and a rounded façade with a gabled roof line.

Lawson worked on Edment’s Building on Rundle Street, Adelaide with architect F.K. Milne in 1925 and he later located his office premises in that building. Lawson practised in association with Barlow and Hawkins architects of Melbourne from 1927 to 1929, during which time they worked on the commercial gothic style Lister House on North Terrace, Adelaide (1928) in association with F.K. Milne. The following year Barlow and Lawson designed the City Parking Station on Pulteney Street, Adelaide (1929) which was an all steel structure, finished in synthetic stone in early art deco style. It had an imposing entrance leading to the car ramps and included shops along the Pulteney Street frontage with distinctive moulded rectangular panels at each end surrounding a torchlight.

In 1929 Lawson designed some of the first houses in the exclusive Springfield subdivision in the Adelaide foothills. He was also involved in the sub-division by advising on site orientation and gardens of the houses (Structure Designers 1929). His clients included A.A. Pinchbeck, J. McDonough and Dr Raymond Begg. Other significant residences designed by Lawson included one for A.F. Scammell at The Common, Beaumont in 1929. The partnership of G. Gavin Lawson and Cheesman designed the 1935 residence for Dr A.L. Tostevin at Medindie, and in 1936, a block of flats in Malcolm Street, Millswood, in the modern style with a flat roof and curvilinear design (Page 1986).

Some of the commercial buildings worked on by G. Gavin Lawson and Cheesman included laboratories for F.H. Faulding at Thebarton in 1931; a theatre, shops and dwellings on Anzac Highway, Ashford in 1932; an office block at Pt Adelaide for Adelaide Steamship Company in 1934; an office building in Bentham Street, Adelaide, for Co-operative Insurance Company of Australia also in 1934; and the H.H. Tandy confectionary factory on Angas Street, Adelaide. In 1933 the practice designed the concrete Ridley Memorial Entrance at Wayville Showgrounds for the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society. Also during the 1940s, when Doley joined the firm, they designed Greater Union cinemas in Perth, Sydney and Townsville.

Lawson’s preferred architectural style was the Dutch Colonial, examples of which are the Teachers’ Training College and the McRoberts residence, Portrush Road, Glenunga, the Scammell residence, Beaumont, and the Leaver residence, Hazelwood Park. But he was proficient in other styles as evident in the Italian influenced McDonough residence and the English inspired Begg residence both in Springfield. He was an advocate of the use of local materials such as brick, stone and mud brick as well as being vocal about the importance of design appropriate for the Australian climate, incorporating wide eaves, garden layouts and the use of a Dutch inspired ‘stoep’ or porch at the entrance, often with a Dutch gable.

Julie Collins

Citation details
Collins, Julie, 'Lawson, George Gavin’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: []




Architectural works in South Australia

Name Suburb Year Designed
Dental Hospital Adelaide 1922
Bice Building, Royal Adelaide Hospital Adelaide 1923
Teachers Training College Adelaide 1924
Light Horse Memorial Adelaide 1925
Alliance Building Adelaide 1925
Alliance Building Adelaide 1927
Burnside Council Chambers and Town Hall Burnside 1926
Young's Shoe store Adelaide 1925
Edment's Building Adelaide 1925
Lister House Adelaide 1928
City Parking Station Adelaide 1928
Pinchbeck residence Springfield 1929
McDonough Residence Springfield 1929
Begg Residence Springfield 1929
Scammell Residence Beaumont 1929
Tostevin Residence Medindie 1935
Flats Millswood 1936
F.H. Faulding Laboratories Thebarton 1931
Adelaide Steamship Company offices Port Adelaide 1934
Co-operative Insurance Company offices Adelaide 1934
H.H. Tandy Confectionary Factory Adelaide
Ridley Memorial Entrance to Wayville Showgrounds Wayville 1933
Lawrence residence Largs Bay
Leitch residence Springfield 1929
Croser residence Warooka 1932
McRoberts residence Glenunga 1928
McGregor residence Medindie 1935
Thomas H. Webb and Son offices Adelaide 1935

Firms or Professional Partnerships

Name Dates Worked
Hamilton-Paterson and Rhind Architects, Edinburgh  
Johannesburg 1905- 
Public Works Department, Pretoria 1905- 
Salisbury, Rhodesia 1905- 
Architect-in-Chief's Department 1921-1925 
Rutt and Lawson 1925-1925 
G.Gavin Lawson 1926-1926 
Barlow, Hawkins and Lawson 1927-1929 
Barlow and Lawson 1929-1930 
G. Gavin Lawson 1930-1932 
Gavin Lawson and Cheesman Architects 1933-1945 
Lawson, Cheesman and Doley 1945-1952 
J.A. Kethal, Rutt and Lawson 1925-1927 

Bibliographic Sources


(1936) ‘Who’s Who’ South Australian Centenary 1936, Amalgamated Publishing Co., Adelaide: 281.
Angas, Hamish, (2000) ‘Lawson, George Gavin (1882-1953)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol.15: 65-66.
Apperly, R., Irving, R. and Reynolds: (1989), A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture, Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
Burden, Michael, (1983) Lost Adelaide, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Collins, J. (2012) 'Lawson, George Gavin' in Goad, P. and Willis, J. (eds) The encyclopaedia of Australian architecture, Cambridge University Press: 401-402.
Marsden, S., Stark, P. and Sumerling, P. (1990) Heritage of the City of Adelaide: An illustrated guide, Corporation of the City of Adelaide, Adelaide.
Page, Michael, (1986) Sculptors in Space, RAIA SA Chapter, Adelaide.

'A new Teachers' Training College', The Builder, 22 April 1925: 23.
‘A perfect example of Dutch Architecture’, South Australian Homes and Gardens, 1 June 1938.
‘An Unusual Entrance’, Australian Home Beautiful, December 1934: 38
‘Obituary, The late George Gavin Lawson’, SAIA Bulletin, April-June 1953: 13-15.
‘Who’s Who, G. Gavin Lawson’, Decoration and Glass, June 1940.
Brine, Judith (1990) ‘Hassell’s Birthday’, Architect SA, no2, pp.34-36.
Brine, Judith, ‘What do they mean by the Ideal Home? – Public perception of modernism in Australia’, Fabrications, 6, June 1995, pp.82-100.
Strempel, A.C. (1935) The Small House in South Australia’, Australian Home Beautiful, 1 August 1935, pp.32

‘Adelaide to Lead Australia - Architects Design Modern City Parking Station’, News, 13 May 1926: 5.
‘Architect Praises Planning of Springfield’, Mail, 13 April 1929.
'Building which has no doors', The Register-News Pictorial, 29 August 1929: 26.
‘City Parking Station’, News, 22 October 1928: 4.
‘Death of Mr G.G. Lawson’, Advertiser, 11 June 1953: 5.
'Family Notices - Marriages', The Argus, 4 December 1920: 11b.
‘Structure Designers 6 - Mr G.G. Lawson’, News, 27 March 1929.
‘Why not an Australian Architecture?’, Advertiser, 31 August 1940.

Wilkinson Sando and Wyles Ltd, (1928) Springfield: A Beautiful Setting for beautiful homes protected by building restrictions, photocopy held at Architecture Museum, School of Art, Architecture and Design, University of South Australia (AM).

‘Membership Roll, January 1st, 1949’, Year Book of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects 1949: 109.
Sands & McDougall South Australian Directory 1940.

Division of Finance and Infrastructure, University of Adelaide (2004) Heritage Listed Buildings Inventory, unpublished report.

Birth Index, Victoria, 1892, Edith McDowell Davies 1892, No.27350.
Marriage Index, Victoria, 1920, No. 11744, note: Bride indexed as Davis.
Census Records, 1901 Scotland, Reg No. 685/2 RD St Andrew ED 102 Household 70 line 3 Roll CSSCT 1901_376.
Cheesman Doley Neighbour & Raffen Pty Ltd, 1924-1970, Comprising historical note on predecessor firms, numerical lists & binders of plans printed from microfilm together with some original plans, BRG 279, State Library of South Australia.
Cheesman, Jack, ‘Notes on the History of South Australian Architects, 1986’, Cheesman collection, S209/2/20/1-3, AM.
Cheesman, Jack, correspondence related to Mrs Edith McDowell Lawson’s estate and bequest in her husband’s name to Council of the SA Institute of Architects, includes precis of G. Gavin Lawson’s architecture career 1882-1953, S209/5/12 AM.
Cheesman collection, drawings, correspondence, photographs, clippings book, S327 AM.
Lawson, George Gavin, Service Records, Series B 2455/1 - Service Number 536, AIF barcode 7378618, National Archives of Australia.

Angas, Hamish, ‘Lawson, George Gavin (1882-1953)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, online edition at

Royal Australian Institute of Architects (1983) RAIA South Australia Significant 20th Century Architecture, card index, LLSAM.
Willis, Julie (1998) South Australian Architects Biography Project CD Rom, LLSAM.
Sue Woods to Julie Collins, pers. comm., 9 September 2009.

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