Buchanan first came to prominence in 1905 when he collaborated with Patrick Meik on designs for the Rangoon river training works in Burma; Meik was consulting engineer and Buchanan was chief engineer. The project reclaimed some 121 hectares of land behind a wall of rubble 3048m long and 70m wide.
At the start of the First World War in 1914, Buchanan was working in India, but was unable to contribute to the war effort until called to support British forces at Basra in Mesopotamia (part of modern day Iraq) with advice on improving shipping channels into the port. After many delays, he was finally able to design and supervise construction of a line of wharves complete with cranes, sheds, roads and railway lines. In 1917, Buchanan was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and was then knighted.
After the war, the Buchanan story turns sour. Working with Patrick’s brother Charles Meik in a firm renamed CS Meik and Buchanan in 1920, Buchanan was invited to Bombay to investigate a potential land reclamation project, the Backbay reclamation. The costs of the huge and ambitious scheme, and the time it would take to complete, soon escalated out of control, and a subsequent enquiry blamed Sir George (the project became known as Lloyd’s Folly, after Sir George Lloyd, then governor of India).
At the same time, Sir George was alleged to have “criticised and condemned the proposals of another engineer and had offered his services uninvited” – an action which saw him expelled from the British Institution of Civil Engineers. His later career was largely focused overseas, notably in Australia where he prepared an influential report on the country's ports in 1926.
His ignominious departure from UK engineering circles meant that 'Buchanan' had to be deleted from the company name in 1923 and the firm became CS Meik and Halcrow (William Halcrow had been a partner in the firm from the previous year).
Sir George’s nephew, Sir Colin Buchanan was later to become a renowned pioneer in the world of transport planning.