Each era of Edinburgh's history gave the city a new architectural style - from the Georgian-era expansion of the New Town, to the classical influences of William Playfair, to the Victorian 'improvements' of the original Old Town - and the developments of the middle of the twentieth century were no exception.
Although a significant number of architects were involved in remodelling and developing the city centre, the work of Basil Spence continues to draw attention, and shows the modernist style which became so prevalent in the 1950s and '60s.
Born in India in 1907 to British parents, Spence was sent to Edinburgh for schooling, where he studied at the Edinburgh College of Art, becoming a lecturer whilst still a student there.
Spence's earliest work in Edinburgh is the former garage on Causewayside which was designed in a typical art deco style in 1933.
This structure is seamlessly integrated into the mix of commercial and residential properties of the street, and shows the early adoption of some of the principles of modernism - including the use of materials like steel, concrete and glass - the simplicity of shape, and a minimalist approach to decoration.
In the years that followed, Spence would work in a variety of styles, including Scots Baronial-inspired houses, and pavilions for the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow in 1938, before joining the British army on the outbreak of the Second World War.
Spence took part in the D-Day Landings of 1944, and on returning to civilian life after the war took up a series of academic and architectural posts - his most significant work of this period was the redesign of Coventry cathedral, which had been obliterated by German bombings. Spence rebuilt the cathedral by preserving the ruined section of the original structure and integrating it with his modern wing to create a space of memorial and remembrance alongside the operational church building. It would be the work which garnered Spence his knighthood in 1960.
Back in Edinburgh, Spence's architectural firm was responsible for creating the Morthonhall crematorium to the south of the city centre, a modernist concrete structure that was angled to maximise the light into its main chapel space.
The coloured glass windows (pictured at the top of the page) provide a visual reference to religious worship in a building that can also be adapted for secular services. In 2005 the Mortonhall crematorium was listed as one of the 100 best modern buildings in Scotland, and is today a grade-A listed structure.
The next major Edinburgh commission that Spence's firm was responsible for was the central library of the University of Edinburgh, on George Square in the Old Town.
Designed to resemble rows of bookshelves - a neat reference to the building's purpose and function - the library was, on its completion, the largest university library in the UK, with each of its eight floors providing an acre of shelf space.
This represented a continuation of Spence's relationship with the university, after the construction of the James Clerk Maxwell building at the King's Buildings science and engineering campus.
The buildings here are an intriguing mix of styles, from the 1920s sandstone structures of the zoology department to the contemporary tower blocks of the twenty-first century.
Spence was also responsible for developments along the Canongate section of Edinburgh's Royal Mile, to provide better quality contemporary housing for residents at a time when many of the old streets and former industrial areas had fallen into overcrowding and disrepair - "a wonderful opportunity to get vitality back into the Royal Mile," as Spence noted in his plans.
Into the 1970s his work became even more highly stylised, and the former Scottish Widows life assurance offices at the top of Dalkeith Road are probably some of the most intriguingly shaped structures in the city.
Built as a series of connected hexagons, the buildings combine concrete, glass and steel in a typical modernist style, and also had ponds (now largely drained) running beneath the elevated elements of the structures.
This building won a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) award in 1977 and was occupied by the Scottish Widows organisation until 2020. The building is currently at risk of demolition to allow a total redevelopment of the site.
Although Spence died in 1976, his firm continued his legacy and his vision of striking, modernist buildings - and fittingly, the last Edinburgh work that they were involved with was back on Causewayside, a stone's throw from the art deco garage that Spence had created as a young man.
The National Library of Scotland annex, on the site of the nineteenth century Middlemass biscuit factory, houses an extensive archive of historic maps. It was built in the early 1980s and bridges the style gap between modernism and Edinburgh's contemporary developments, which often blend sandstone (the original building material of the city) and glass.
Spence's architectural work wasn't limited to Scotland, or even the UK. He built the Beehive, part of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings in Wellington, and the British Embassy building in Rome, as well as designs for high-profile projects in New Delhi and Bahrain. But his legacy became a complicated one, as although he had been at the forefront of modernism in his earlier years, by the time of Spence's death public taste had turned against the brutalist concrete style that can be found in much of his architecture.
Some of the projects on which he worked - social housing in Glasgow, a leisure centre in London, Newcastle's central library - have since been demolished, and others have been modified or adapted for more contemporary use.
His surviving Edinburgh buildings represent a cross-section of style, and contribute to the city's diverse and intriguing spread of architecture. And, crucially, many of them remain in use nearly half a decade after his death.
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It could be my favourite structure in Edinburgh. Standing just over 200ft (61m) high, and known as the Gothic Rocket, the Scott Monument is often mistaken for a church - understandably, perhaps - and dominates the view of the eastern section of New Town along Princes Street.
The monument was commissioned following the death of Sir Walter Scott in 1832. At the time he was probably the most widely read British author of the era, with books like Rob Roy and Ivanhoe having become instant classics for readers across the UK, Europe and North America.
Scott is credited with inventing the historical novel, using a combination of fact and fiction - reality filtered through imagination - to tell stories about Scotland's people, history and landscape. Having published the works anonymously at first with his first novel Waverley in 1814, and then using the pseudonymous 'by the author of Waverley' for subsequent books, he only publicly acknowledged that he was the author in question sometime later (and, it is said, at the encouragement of his friend Catherine Sinclair).
A public consultation was held to receive applications for a monument in Scott's honour - the three best designs would win a cash prize of 50 guineas, and the winning entry would be built. Fifty four entries were received in the competition, and the winning design was one submitted under the name John Morvo. Morvo was a French architect who had built Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders.... except by 1832 he'd been dead the best part of a thousand years!
It was revealed that the competition entry had been drawn up by a man named George Meikle Kemp - he wasn't an architect, and didn't have any formal training in the field. He had previously been employed by the architect William Burn as a draughtsman, and had sought to be employed as an architect on a number of building projects in Glasgow and in the Scottish Borders, but no design job ever came to fruition because of his lack of training.
Kemp revised his winning entry, and in 1838 it was confirmed that his design for a monument celebrating Walter Scott would be built in Princes Street Gardens, in Edinburgh's New Town. Construction started in 1840, with the foundation stone for the monument laid on 15 August - what would have been Scott's 69th birthday.
The Scott Monument is built of Binnie sandstone which was quarried in West Lothian. The stone was chosen because the quarry which produced it had a plentiful supply (and a lot would be needed!) but also because it was an especially oily form of sandstone, which would attract dirt and dust to the surface of the monument.
To a modern eye the building seems dirty and discoloured - even though it had an extensive clean just over a decade ago - but it is likely that the colouring of the structure today is at least partly what Kemp wanted; instead of looking new and clean, the monument would look dirty and old, which fitted with its Gothic styling and with Scott's tendency to create historical works which were in some ways exaggerated or heightened versions of Scottish history.
By early 1844 the monument was nearing completion. And then on 6 March of that year Kemp vanished after walking home from a meeting with the head builder. His body would be found five days later in the Union Canal - the circumstances which led up to his death were never fully established, and it's possible he simply stumbled and fell into the water and drowned before anyone realised he'd had an accident.
George Meikle Kemp would never see his monument to Walter Scott completed. At the time he had only just over £200 to his name, and although there was a great outpouring of grief and his funeral was well attended, his family struggled financially in the years after his death. He was buried in St Cuthbert's churchyard.
Construction of the monument was completed in the autumn of 1844, when Kemp's son - Thomas, aged just 10 years old - oversaw the placing of the final stone. It was estimated that 23 masons died during the construction project, of illnesses related to the inhalation of stone dust and its effects on their lungs. Thomas Kemp himself would die in 1853.
As well as featuring a marble likeness of Walter Scott himself - produced by John Steell, and featuring the author along with his favourite dog, named Maida - the Scott Monument features 68 figurines based on characters from Scott's books. These include fictional characters as well as those based on historical figures, such as Mary, Queen of Scots, George Heriot, Robert the Bruce, and John Knox. Different artists were responsible for the individual carvings, including John Hutchison, Amelia Hill, William Brodie and John Rhind.
Visitors to the monument can still climb the 287 steps up to the four viewing platforms, including the highest 'crows' nest' outlook point at the top of the monument - the view across the Old Town and New Town (on a good, clear day) is rather incredible, and well worth the effort! A small museum to Scott can be found on the first level. Look out also for the graffiti carved into the sandstone from Victorian-era visitors on the staircases.
(Not everybody was a fan of the monument - Charles Dickens, after visiting Edinburgh in 1847, wrote: "I am sorry to report the Scott Monument a failure. It is like the spire of a Gothic church taken off and stuck in the ground..." However, Queen Victoria did like it, and was said to have asked George Gilbert Scott to use the monument as an inspiration when he produced the Albert Memorial in London.)
The Scott Monument also features in a number of films set in Edinburgh, as well as some that aren't - notably it's one of the locations in the 2012 film adaptation of David Mitchell's time-travelling, universe-hopping sci-fi novel Cloud Atlas, and was also used by the American magician and stuntman Harry Houdini for chase sequence in a 1920s film he made called Haldane of the Secret Service, although the sequence filmed on the monument didn't make it to the final movie. (Houdini would later develop a turbulent friendship with Edinburgh-born author Arthur Conan Doyle, over the differing opinions about spiritualism).
Today the Scott Monument is operated by Edinburgh city council, and even if you don't manage to climb to its summit, it forms a fitting feature for any exploration of the city.
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Many of the architects we talk about in Edinburgh came from an age of private development, when grand buildings were erected for wealthy families or high profile organisations who wanted something dramatic to make a statement. Figures like Robert Adam, who achieved sufficient status from his architectural work to warrant being buried in Westminster Abbey after his death...
But Edinburgh has always been a living city, and there were many architectural figures whose work was no less important for the fact that it served ordinary folk, providing houses to families who needed it - as David Cousin and John Lessels did, for example, in developing what became the standard form of tenement housing during the 'Improvements' to Edinburgh in the late nineteenth century.
Into the twentieth century there was no less need for great architectural visions in Edinburgh, and one figure whose name I only came across recently was Robert Morham, who was the City Architect for Edinburgh Council from 1872 until 1908. In this role Morham was responsible for many pieces of public infrastructure - police stations, public baths, fire stations - buildings that don't get celebrated as often as they should because of their ubiquity in the cityscape.
Here's my brief profile of some of Robert Morham's creations to be found in Edinburgh.
PRINCES STREET GARDENS
The gardens between the New Town and the Old Town had originally been private spaces, exclusively for the use of the residents of Princes Street (when it was still a residential street!).
In 1876 Edinburgh City Council bought the land back from them and proceeded to transform the gardens into a public space, and Robert Morham was responsible for the redesign and the remodelling of the space.
Into Princes Street Gardens he later built a cottage for the head gardener who would be repsonsible for maintaining the space. Although it's no longer used as a residence, the cottage is still there, set in its own private garden space, near the Mound.
Morham also laid out the grounds at Inverleith Park, to the north of the New Town.
FOUNTAINBRIDGE MEAT MARKET
Fountainbridge, to the west of the city centre, was once a hugely industrial area - its proximity to the Union Canal was integral for the import and export of goods and materials, and at one time the area boasted a rubber plant and (until even fairly recently) a major brewery.
Into the area in 1884 Morham built a new covered space for the city's major meat market to be held - the structure was demolished in 2007 to make way for the new office developments on the site, although a small section of its original arched frontage still survives.
One of the most significant pieces of infrastructure in Edinburgh today is the North Bridge, serving as a connection between Old and New Towns over the top of Waverley Station, and once the only crossing point between the two sides of the city.
In the 1890s the existing bridge (itself the second iteration of North Bridge) was replaced with a structure in which Robert Morham's role was key. He designed the concrete pillars and the decorative ironwork for the structure. A restoration of the bridge is currently underway and is due to be completed in 2024.
LAURISTON PLACE FIRE STATION
As the architect responsible for public works, Morham designed and built various fire stations across the city, including at Slateford, Causewayside, and on Lauriston Place. That building - until recently the city's Museum of Fire - was considered to be a state of art facility when it was opened in 1901, and cost in the region of £23,000 to build, a huge sum of money - suggesting how important such structures were for the city at that time. It remained a fire station until 1988.
(Edinburgh had also been home to the world's first municipal fire service, established by James Braidwood.)
This historic structure on the Royal Mile dates back to the 1590s at it earliest, but by the nineteenth century had fallen into significant disrepair from centuries of occupation. Morham renovated the building in the 1870s to create a more functional and modern space, opening up the internal aspects of the building - where the People's Story museum is today - and adding details to the outside of the building.
In particular he created the clock tower in the Scots Baronial style (based on gothic and medieval architecture) with its mini bartizans (small rounded towers) and the dormer windows in the roof to the eastern side of the building. The clock, by James Ritchie and Sons, was added in 1884.
ABBEYHILL POLICE STATION
Similarly to his work building fire stations, Morham was responsible for the expansion of the police stations in the city, including at West Port and Torphichen Street. The structure at Abbeyhill, almost adjacent to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, was more recently used as an Armenian cultural centre and restaurant, and has been vacant for a number of years.
The amount of detail in this building - look for the gargoyles, corner turret in the Scots Baronial style, and the carving throughout - shows how even buildings which were intended for practical use were given significant styling in the nineteenth century. A far cry from the blank, functional, municipal buildings of later years.
ST GILES' CATHEDRAL
Into the ninteenth century the main church in the Old Town had been subdivided into three separate church spaces, housing different church organisations.
Under the direction of William Chambers, lord provost of Edinburgh at that time, St Giles' was substantially renovated and Robert Morham oversaw the reuniting of the disparate internal spaces into one single church once again. It remains an active and well-used church to this day.
Other works by Robert Morham haven't survived the years when wrecking balls demolished much of the city in the name of modernisation and development. He was also responsible for the Waverley Market, the original shopping centre above Waverley Station, which was demolished in the 1970s, for example. But other buildings remains actively occupied, including the Morningside public library, the Glenogle baths, the Infirmary Street baths (now a tapestry studio), elements of the City Chambers building (originally by Adam), and structures on the corner of Waverley Bridge, which today house the offices of Lothian Buses and the Edinburgh Dungeon...
So although we rightly celebrate great figures like Robert Adam and William Playfair, we also mustn't overlook the less grand but no less important work by later architects like Robert Morham, in whose hands - and from whose vision - the city emerged and grew into the iconic visitor destination it remains today.
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