MCQA; FRIBA 1925
A pioneer architect in Johannesburg from about 1887, Donaldson was born in Bloemfontein and educated St Andrew's Grammar School and St Andrew's College, Bloemfontein. He was apparently articled to JR HILDER who was architect to the Diocese of Bloemfontein. Hilder died in 1879 so Donaldson's pupilage with Hilder could not have lasted long. According to a note in Building (March 1922), Donaldson spent the period from 1885 to 1887 in Kimberley where he received a thorough training in building construction before he came to Johannesburg in 1887, opening his own practice there. In Johannesburg he was appointed a consulting architect to the Real Estate Corporation of Sir William Gwynne Evans, a pioneer developer of Johannesburg; Donaldson co-designed with JV LINDHORST. Palace Buildings, a famous Johannesburg landmark, described by Nikolaus Pevsner (Arch Rev Jun 1953:362) as 'sweetly provincial', but by earlier critics living in Johannesburg as 'the Eiffel Tower of the Rand' (cf Benjamin 1979:6). It was demolished about 1957. Donaldson became a member of the Reform Committee and was imprisoned in 1896 for his activities but was released a few days later. From about 1903 until 1906 he was in partnership with SV MANN (cf. DONALDSON & MANN), two buildings of this period are known and were illustrated at the time. In 1922 Donaldson was elected President of the Association of Transvaal Architects and of the Society of Architects (SA Branch). He strove for the development of the profession in the Transvaal and for the arts in general. He was one of the principal organisers of the South African Academy [of Arts] annual exhibitions from 1919.
On May 13, 1937 Donaldson had been in Johannesburg for fifty years, a date recorded by his widow Lillian in the RIBA Biographical file in London, a Rand Pioneer. According to information in the same source, Donaldson designed the first concrete building here, for Messrs Lensfeldt & Co. There was no successor to his practice as for some time before his death he did not work. He died at his home, 35 Goldreich St, Johannesburg.
(AB&E Dec 1920:7; Arch Rev Jun 1953:362; Benjamin 1979; Building Mar 1918:18; FRIBA nom papers (1925) 2196, no detail; Pearse 1960; RIBA biog file, London; RIBA Jnl May 1938:720-21, obit; SAAE&S Jnl Oct 1905:9; SAAR Sep 1925: group portrait; SAAR Jan 1938:571 obit; SAWW 1931-2)
Publ: The charm of South African streets, The Outspan 3 Aug 1923; Valedictory address to Association of Transvaal Architects, Building Mar 1923:2-3.
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.