Basic Biographical Details

Name: Graham Dickson
Designation: Architect, Town Planner
Born: 1933
Bio Notes: Graham Dickson was born in 1933 in the northwest of England and grew up there, in Cheshire and Lancashire. His family had a strong work ethic and did not have the means to pay for him to go to university, so he was first encouraged to take up an apprenticeship with a Lancashire textiles manufacturer that promised scholarships for engineering degrees to its more successful apprentices, on the condition that they spent five subsequent years working for the firm. Embarked on this path, he took sixth-form studies in physics, mathematics and chemistry, but found this left him feeling ‘miserable as sin’. Pondering what other options might be open to him, his enjoyment of the process of drawing buildings led him to set his sights on a career in architecture. He won a travelling scholarship from a local newspaper that enabled him to spend a week in Sweden in 1949 or 1950 with 13 other aspiring young Lancashire architects. There, he recalls: ‘I encountered what I had heard about before of modern building, and I found that very interesting.’ He was particularly struck by the quality of the housing in what was already by then a remarkably socialist country, and a lifelong love of things Scandinavian began to take root.

Having re-orientated his studies towards the field of architecture, he secured a scholarship to the University of Liverpool, where he would meet ‘probably the group of people that I have had the greatest respect and affection for through life’. One of these was a Norwegian named Geisendorf, whose father had an architectural practice in Bergen. It was in this office that Dickson gained professional practice experience before, during and after the obligatory fourth-year practical part of his university course. He recalls his nine colleagues there being from multinational backgrounds: Swedish, French, Danish, German, Swiss and Polish. They worked on securing the commission for the restoration of Haakon’s Hall, part of the medieval palace complex in Bergen, which had been damaged in the Second World War. When Geisendorf senior died, his sons completed the project. In addition to the architectural restoration of the building, a competition was held for a commission to provide tapestry hangings for its walls. Dickson met the Norwegian weavers when viewing samples of their work, and one of them soon became his wife.

After graduating, Dickson did not undertake military service (‘I was not regarded fit enough to go into the army; Her Majesty didn’t want me ...’), but instead took a course in town planning at the same university; students of architecture were entitled to complete the course in a single year rather than the usual two. He remembers this as ‘very, very hard work, but much better than spending a year parading around somebody’s barracks’. On completion of this course, in 1956 or 1957, he obtained a position in the London County Council planning department.

In 1959/60, shortly after securing membership of the Town Planning Institute, he left the LCC to join the burgeoning practice of Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall (RMJM), in a branch office at 24 Park Square East, London. He initially worked under Peter Newnham on the Commonwealth Institute, and subsequently designed a small extension for Selwyn(?) College, Cambridge, overseen by Stirrat Johnson-Marshall; the latter was ‘a delightful experience ... and one of the few buildings which I have truly designed by myself – all the other work has been teamwork’. While working on it he was based first in a branch office at Paddington, then at Marylebone Road, and finally in St Albans.

Attracted by the development of new towns such as Cumbernauld and Livingston, Dickson and his wife decided to leave London for Scotland, where they moved in August 1963. The atmosphere in the Livingston New Town Development Corporation was not as Dickson had hoped, and he left after six months to seek work with RMJM in Edinburgh. At that time the firm was largely occupied with Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, on completion of which attention turned to Stirling University. The latter project endured over 10 years, and Dickson was involved throughout, from the development plan to the teaching buildings. The ‘fascinating’ briefing meetings were for him an introduction to ‘a process which I have enjoyed throughout my life, more than the actual designing of the buildings, and more than the construction of the buildings – it is the conception, the preparatory work of the briefing which is absolutely the foundation’, as the client and the designer ‘begin to think together’.

In the following decade RMJM had begun to take on work in Libya. Dickson was asked to take part in a planning project there, and went as far as getting vaccinations, but in the end the job went to another firm. Instead, he worked on the Royal Victoria Infirmary before being seconded to the Scottish Office General Works Division to focus on prisons. Of this period, he recalls: 'One of the curious and rather sad things for any architect of the prison service is that you practically never start a design and get it built and see it through to the end – you pick up somebody else's jobs and build them and you design something that they put aside, so there is very little continuity at all.' Despite this, he found the work 'very revealing and in some curious ways rewarding'.

In 1988 he was made redundant from RMJM, but was able to continue with the Scottish Office under independent contracts until a staff-cutting exercise there in 1992. He then carried out a few small independent jobs before a neighbour working for Sir Alexander Gibbs Engineering in Glasgow asked him to assist that firm with a development planning exercise for barracks to house troops who were returning from overseas. Principal among the projects he carried out in this domain was the refurbishment of Redford Barracks. On completion of this project in the late 1990s, Dickson was in his mid-60s. Deciding on a slight change of track for the last years of his career, he secured a post with the RIAS as competitions and public services manager. This work, which he thoroughly enjoyed, lasted two years before the RIAS decided on cost grounds to follow the RIBA model and only employ full-time administrators for their competitions programme, drafting in managers as and when required on a pro-rata basis. After training those who would fill these roles, Dickson retired.

(Full biography being compiled.)

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect, town planner:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 124, Park Square East, London, EnglandBusiness1960 * branch office of RMJM

* earliest date known from documented sources.

Employment and Training


The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect, town planner (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 7London County Council Town Planning Department (LCC Town Planning' Department)1956 or 19571959 or 1960  
Item 2 of 7Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall (RMJM)1959 or 19601961Architect 
Item 3 of 7____ GeisendorfMid 1950sMid 1950sAssistantpractical experience while studying
Item 4 of 7Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall & Partners (RMJM)1961Mid 1963Architect 
Item 5 of 7Livingston New Town Development Corporation Architects DepartmentAugust 1963Early 1964  
Item 6 of 7Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall & Partners (RMJM)Early 19641988Associate 
Item 7 of 7Scottish Office Architect's DepartmentEarly 1980s1992 on secondment from RMJM until 1988, then under independent contract until 1992

Buildings and Designs

This architect, town planner was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 151950sHaakon's Hall  BergenNorwayRestoration - while gaining practical experience in Geisendorf's office during studies
Item 2 of 151960Commonwealth Institute  LondonEnglandworking under Peter Newnham at RMJM
Item 3 of 151964Ninewells Hospital and Medical School  DundeeScotlandworking under Harold Alan Wightman at RMJM
Item 4 of 151965University of Stirling Development PlanStirling StirlingshireScotlandworking under John Richards at RMJM
Item 5 of 151966University of Stirling, Teaching Building (unidentified)Stirling StirlingshireScotland 
Item 6 of 15c. 196Sports pavilionCumnock East AyrshireScotlandinvolved with layout of playing fields - at RMJM
Item 7 of 15Early 1960sSelwyn College extensionCambridge CambridgeshireEngland 
Item 8 of 151970sRoyal Victoria Infirmary  Newcastle-upon-TyneEnglandworking under Vernon Harry Lee at RMJM
Item 9 of 15c. 1970University of Stirling, including library and landscapingStirling StirlingshireScotlandworked on the teaching buildings.
Item 10 of 15c. 1973Village planHilton, Easter Ross Ross and CromartyScotlandworking for RMJM
Item 11 of 15c. 1973Village planBalintore, Easter Ross Ross and CromartyScotlandworking for RMJM
Item 12 of 15Early 1980sBarlinnie PrisonRiddrie GlasgowScotlandAlterations/additions, including hospital - on secondment from RMJM to Scottish Office General Works Division
Item 13 of 15Early 1980sLongniddry PrisonLongniddry East LothianScotlandAlterations/additions - on secondment from RMJM to Scottish Office General Works Division
Item 14 of 15Early 1980sSaughton Prison  EdinburghScotlandAlterations/additions - on secondment from RMJM to Scottish Office General Works Division
Item 15 of 15Early 1990sRedford BarracksColinton EdinburghScotlandRefurbishment, and new infantry block (18 rooms) - job architect, working with Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners (engineers)


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect, town planner:
Item 1 of 2Glendinning, Miles1997Rebuilding Scotland: The Postwar Vision, 1945-75  Tuckwell Press Ltdp28 Ninewells Hospital
p29, 116, 119, 124, 127, 156, 164-5 University of Stirling
Item 2 of 2Willis, Peter1977New architecture in Scotland  p52-55 University of Stirling
p92-5 Ninewells Hospital

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect, town planner:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 2Courtesy of Euan ColamInterview of Euan Colam by Kirsten McKee Interviewed by Kirsten McKee, 3 December 2008
Item 2 of 2Courtesy of Graham DicksonInterview of Graham Dickson by Kirsten McKee Interviewed by Kirsten McKee, 20 November 2008