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ROBERTSON, James David

Born: 1877 07 29
Died: 1945 02 07

Architect


'If we would have a living South African architecture, vigorous, beautiful, true, we must keep before us the same ideals which animated the Italian Masters: truth in construction, beauty in disposition, and reverence for tradition' (Afr Archt Oct 1911:103). These ideas were expressed in a lecture delivered by Robertson to architects in Pretoria, many from the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT, at the Normal College in Pretoria in 1911. A serious attempt was being made at the time by architects to establish a national style. At the time he spoke, Robertson was employed in Herbert BAKER's office in Johannesburg. Robertson was born in London. Nothing is currently certain about his training. He appears to have worked in the Architectural Department of the London County Council, where he met WH GIBSON, before coming to Johannesburg. It seems that Robertson and Gibson were both recommended to Baker by Owen Fleming (cf FLH FLEMING), architect in the LCC. Robertson was recruited to Baker's office specifically to work on the Union Buildings design team in about 1909/1910, according to the Baker Letter Books. Robertson's nomination papers for Licentiate membership of the RIBA were witnessed and signed by WH Gibson in Johannesburg in 1911. In the same year he won the competition for the Bulawayo Post Office, Customs and Municipal block of buildings (1911-1914), the competition appears to have been carried out in collaboration with WH Gibson and GE PEARSE with whom he also won the competitions for Boksburg Town Hall and a hotel in Brakpan. All three men were working in Baker's office at the time.

By late 1912 Robertson had left South Africa to supervise the Bulawayo buildings; he set up practice in Bulawayo, remaining there for the rest of his career. He lived latterly at 7 Selbourne Avenue, Kumalo in Bulawayo and died in the General Hospital, Kumalo, Bulawayo. Bulawayo skyline (Jack and Bolze 1982) describes a number of buildings by Robertson in Bulawayo where he was at one time in partnership with F SCOTT.

LRIBA 1911. (Afr Archt Feb 1912:175 ill; BLB 1909; LRIBA nom papers (1911) 1557, no detail; SAWW 1931/2; TAD MHG 1496/46)

Publ: South African Homes, publ in four parts in The State, Oct 1911: 369-75; Nov 1911; Dec 1911:589?; Jan 1912:20-26; Italian Renaissance Architecture and its lessons for South Africa, Afr Archt Oct 1911:103-8

All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.