Donald Leslie Johnson (2 January 1930 – 9 May 2022), architect, academic and architectural historian, was born in Bremerton, Washington State in the United States of America. He graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1957 and subsequently undertook a Master of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, studying under Louis I. Kahn, and graduating in 1961. Through the late 1950s and 1960s, Johnson worked in private practice in several firms across the United States. Also during those years, he taught design, architectural design, theory and architectural history at the University of Arizona, the University of Adelaide (1966-69) and Washington State University. In 1972 he accepted a position at the Flinders University of South Australia where he taught architectural history until he retired in 1988. Throughout his academic career he shared his enthusiasm for architecture and architectural history with his students, several of whom were his research assistants in the 1970s-1980s.
Johnson published extensively over five decades. From 1977 his research focused on Australian architecture. An early interest in Walter Burley Griffin led to The Architecture of Walter Burley Griffin (1977) and, in turn, to the important reference work Australian Architecture 1901–51: Sources of modernism (1980; e-book 2002). With Donald Langmead he co-authored The Adelaide City Plan: fiction and fact (1986). Independently, he expanded his interest in the history of the plan of Adelaide and its Park Lands and in 2013 published Anticipating municipal parks: London to Adelaide to garden city. He also wrote for a broader international audience on Frank Lloyd Wright, his last book being Frank Lloyd Wright: The early years: Progressivism: Aesthetics: Cities (2017), and on 20th century Modern Architecture.
In the 1970s, in the absence in South Australia of a repository for privately practising architects to deposit their records and drawings, Johnson began his own collection. It was catalogued and stored with the assistance of a small band of archivists and volunteers. In addition to using these materials in his own research, he curated several exhibitions. In 1990 he donated the collection, known as the Architecture Archive, to the School of the Built Environment at the South Australian Institute of Technology. His collection became the basis of what is now the Architecture Museum at the University of South Australia (UniSA). The Architecture Museum is located in a purpose-designed space in the Kaurna Building at UniSA’s City West campus and staff continue to preserve, promote and share the Museum’s extensive collection and to use it for architectural history research and teaching.
In 1995 UniSA appointed Johnson as an Adjunct Professor of Architectural History. He continued to pursue his passion for researching, writing and publishing, co-authoring a book released as recently as 2021. He generously established the UniSA Architecture Museum Travel Grant to encourage architecture and planning students to engage with the collections of the Architecture Museum and to support them with travel costs associated with their research projects. In 2005 Johnson was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects for his service to the profession through the founding of the Architecture Museum.
Johnson lived at Kangarilla with his wife Sonya Hasselberg-Johnson, who pre-deceased him in 2021, and where they raised their two sons, Karl and Adam. Don will be remembered fondly by those who knew him personally, and amongst his professional colleagues for his scholarly contributions to architectural history in Australia and internationally, and for what is perhaps his most tangible legacy – the Architecture Museum at UniSA.