Elected ARSA: 1 March 1893

Elected RSA: 2 November 1914 

The death of the distinguished architect Sir John Burnet took place on the 2nd July at Colinton, where he had made his home since retiring three or four years ago. He was eighty-one years of age, having been born in 1857, and is survived by Lady Burnet.


Educated in Glasgow his professional training was begun with his father, of the firm which became eventually John Burnet, Son & Campbell. Proceeding to Paris he worked in the studio of M. Pascal and subsequently gained entrance to the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where he was premiated for mathe- matics and construction. He completed his studies at the Royal Institute of British Architects and thereafter returned to Glasgow.


One of his first undertakings in Glasgow was the Royal Institute of the Fine Arts in Sauchiehall Street, which was won by competition. Other notable buildings there are the offices of the Clyde Trust, the Athenaeum, the Botanical Department and extension of the University, the Pathological Institute, the Barony Church.


In Edinburgh he designed the Professional and Civil Service Stores, George Street, the business premises of R. W. Forsyth in Princes Street, and in Scotland and England generally many public, ecclesiastical and domestic buildings. He was also architect for the Edinburgh International Exhibition of 1906.


Important commissions came to him from London and to London he devoted the latter part of his life, the firm, of which he was senior partner, being known as Sir John Burnet, Tait & Lorne. He had the honour in 1905 of being entrusted by the Government with the important additions to the British Museum, now known as the King Edward VII. Galleries.


Among his numerous London designs are the Institute of Chemistry in Russell Square, the Kodak building in Kingsway, Adelaide House and Vigo House, and the Second Church of Christ Scientist. He was the chief architect in Palestine and Gallipoli for the Imperial War Graves Commission.


The professional esteem with which Sir John was regarded in Britain may be expressed by the words used in connection with the conferring of the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1923, ‘‘ Few architects living can compare with him either in quantity or quality of output, and fewer still may be said to have had as pervasive an influence on the work of their own time.”


In France he had received both bronze and gold medals at the Salon and was a corresponding member of the Institute of France and of the Société central des Architectes Francais. He had the same relation with the American Institute of Architects.


Knighted in 1914, Sir John was a member of both the Royal Scottish Academy (1919, Associate 1893) and the Royal Academy (1925). He was an Honorary LL.D., of Glasgow and Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, of the Royal Society, Edinburgh, and of the Royal Society of Antiquaries.

Transcribed from the 1870 RSA Annual Report

Further Images

Sir John James Burnet RA RSA (1857-1938) Sketch for proposed decoration of staircase, British Museum Extension

Architectural ink and watercolour drawing, around 1913-15, 87 x 54.5 cm

RSA Diploma Collection (Deposited, 1915) 1994.165