BArch (Hons)(Liverpool), Dip TP (Witwatersrand).
TPIA (1936); ISAA (1936); MIA; ARIBA, FRSA.;
Was the second son of the quantity surveyor and architect NT COWIN and the younger brother of JN COWIN. He was born in Pretoria and, the family having moved to Johannesburg, was educated at Parktown Boys' High School. Cowin studied architecture at University of Liverpool School of Architecture under Professor Reilly for five years from 1928 to 1933. During this period he travelled on the Continent, visiting France, Italy and Germany in 1931, Holland and Belgium in 1932 and Austria in 1933. He was a Soane Finalist in 1933 and graduated with a first class diploma in architecture.
On his return to South Africa he had significantly independent attitudes towards modern architectural design from those held by the what might be termed the MARTIENSSEN group at the School of Architecture, University of the Witwatersrand. Cowin joined the firm of COWIN, POWERS & ELLIS in October 1933 and specialised in private houses. Several of his drawings were exhibited in the annual exhibitions of the South African Academy [of Arts]'s architectural section. In 1930 two drawings by Douglass Cowin were exhibited, one of the Chelsea Power Station, London, the other of 'A house at Silver End, Sussex' (Essex). In 1932 two sketches by him were exhibited, of Florence and of Avignon. The year after his return his design (under the name of Cowin, Powers & Ellis) for a house won first prize in the Ideal Homes Competition (1934) organised by the Rand Daily Mail. It was a significant win for modern architecture in South Africa. He won, in collaboration with G MARWICK, the competition open to students and architects under twenty five years of age, for facades of certain temporary buildings to be built at the British Empire Exhibition in Johannesburg in 1936. Cowin seems to have been the designer of most of the houses by COWIN & ELLIS of which Casa Bedo (1936-1937), his own house, was influential. Other houses attributed to him but which appear under the firm's name are House Kottler (1935), House Levson (1936), House OB Brooks (1936), Casa Neathbed (1937) and House A Brooks (1937); in 1936 he himself lived at 41, Hotpoint House in Johannesburg. In collaboration with G ABBOTT he designed House Abbott for G Abbott in Morningside in about 1939.
Cowin gave a number of talks to the students at the School of Architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand both before and after the Second World War, many of which were published in the South African Architectural Record. Preferring to work on his own account he left Cowin & Ellis in 1950 to practise from New Nola Industrial Farms, White River 'prepared to undertake the preparation of architectural perspectives in water colour or other medium at 1/? per sq. inch, minimum charge 10 Guineas' (SAAR Mar 1950:64) having turned to farming with his second wife (who wrote 'Bushveld, bananas and bounty') and living on a farm called 'Kiepersol'. In 1954 his address was Tubungu Estates, Swaziland. He apparently went to live in England later and in 1977 his address was in British Columbia in Canada.
HERBERT's account of Cowin's views on architecture in the period before the Second World War remains the best coverage of his work at present. He is credited with being the first architect to point out to South Africans the advantages of building a house facing north. LW Thornton WHITE, photographing modern work in the Transvaal soon after his arrival in the country to take up the Chair of Professor of Architecture at the University of Cape Town took a number of photographs of Cowin's houses. Many of the buildings he singled out have become classics and fortunately the photographs (or many of them) survive in the Thornton White papers at the University.
On 3 October 1935 he married Elizabeth THOMPSON who was also an architect and by whom he had a son. In 1947 09 29 he married Violet Dean-Smith
ARIBA 1935; ISAA 1936. (ARIBA nom papers (1935) 5746; Arch Rev Oct 1944; ISAA mem list; SAAR Jul 1933:186; SAAR Oct 1934:250-2; SAAR Jun 1935: 148-55; SAAR Feb 1936:52; SAAR Nov 1938:435-6; Thornton White Papers UCT Libraries; AB&E Feb 1927:13; Afr Archt Feb 1914:314; Building Jun 1922:45; Cinema, theatre and general construction Nov 1931:32-3; LRIBA nom papers (1911); McTeague 1985; The Capitol Theatre 1931; TAD MHG 3327/58; Outspan 12.10.1956; SAWW 1916)
Publ: The Nigel Town Hall competition, SAAR Nov 1938:435-36
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.