In 1973 a young British architect graduated from the University of Newcastle, UK with a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture and a fierce passion for the built environment. The young Brian Johnson would spend the next few years learning his craft and developing his own distinctive style of architecture, beginning his career as an architect with a large practice in London.
Brian’s next move was a large leap which saw him set up home in Dubai and working for a small architectural firm there. Just a few short months after he started, the principal announced that he was leaving Dubai resulting in Brian asking his old London firm to join him in the establishment of a new practice in the city.
Brian continued to work in Dubai until 1989 when, as a result of a chance meeting with a family friend Michael Godwin a year earlier, he joined a long-established UK practice.
“A few years earlier we had bought a derelict property in Worcestershire, and we had engaged the services of Godwin and Cowper, a local firm of architects with a long history going back to 1847, to assist with the development of my designs and supervise the construction on site,” said Brian.
“One day Michael Godwin told me that his partner John Cowper was retiring and out of the blue he asked me if I would like to take his place as a partner in the firm to which I immediately said yes. We chose the name Godwin Austen Johnson because my father’s old architectural practice had been called E Austen Johnson and I wanted to keep his practice name alive at the same time; , it sounded better than Godwin and Johnson and it also had the effect of implying there were more of us than there were!”
As it happened, the UK was at that time suffering from a major recession and so it was opportune that a previous client organisation from Dubai with which he had been responsible for the design of the Emirates Golf Club a few years before, asked Brian to enter an international architectural competition for the design of the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.
His design won the competition, and he immediately established an office in Dubai to which he commuted every month for over 10 years, staying for ever-longer periods, until he relocated with his wife in 2001.
With decades in the region under his belt, the British architect has seen, and been a large part of, the evolution of architecture and design in Dubai first-hand with a number of prominent projects to his name.
Brian had originally designed the Dubai College in 1978 with his old practice and, they later invited him to take over the work again, as Godwin Austen Johnson, and this, combined with work on the One&Only Royal Mirage, The JA Hotel & Resort Jebel Ali and the Bab al Shams Desert Resort & Spa, led to the majority of the work in recent years being in the hospitality and education industries.
Now in his 70s, Brian’s 50-year career may have slowed a little, but his knowledge, experience and passion is still very much sought after from his team and from his long list of clients. And while he spends a lot less time designing and more time managing, his vision and insight remain as sharp as ever.