EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
One of the great appeals of Edinburgh's city centre is its wealth of architectural heritage. From modern wonders such as the new Scottish Parliament building, to the original high-rise structures of the Old Town, the city's shape and style varies almost from street to street.
One of the most important figures in the city's architectural history is Robert Adam, born in Kirkcaldy on 3 July 1728, to a family of designers and architects - along with his father William and brothers John and James, the Adam family would collectively produce some of the most important buildings in the UK during the eighteenth century.
Adam is best known in Edinburgh for his New Town houses, creating a visual style replicated throughout the New Town as it grew and developed, but there are structures designed by Adam right across Edinburgh.
Here are some highlights for visitors to explore...
In 1788 the University of Edinburgh planned to replace some of its older, dilapidated school buildings with a new purpose-built structure, that would better reflect its status and ambition as a university. Robert Adam was commissioned to produce an impressive double quadrangle structure to be built on a site adjacent to what was then the new South Bridge in the Old Town, and he duly produced plans for the 'New College' building.
Construction came to a halt as funding dried up, and in 1792 Adam died. Work only recommenced in 1815, when Adam's plans were passed to William Playfair, who modified the grand scheme Adam had imagined to create just one single courtyard, and was virtually completed by the early 1830s. It was only in the 1880s that the grand dome above the eastern entrance was added.
Today the building - now known as Old College, after the 1840s development of a newer New College - houses the university's law school and associated administrative offices, as well as the Talbot Rice Gallery.
The buildings around this exclusive and high-status housing area were designed by Robert Adam and Robert Reid. Collectively they are considered some of the finest surviving Georgian architecture anywhere in Europe, and the range of buildings on the northern side of the square are the most visibly interesting.
Number six Charlotte Square is the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland, and is adjacent to the Georgian House museum, a period recreation of what these extraordinary buildings would have been like as residential properties.
North Bridge was the construction built to provide access between the Old and New Towns in the 1760s, and where the bridge joined to Princes Street Adam built a substantial building that acted as a grand example of the style that New Town would become recognised for.
Register House was built as a records office to house the national archive and records of Scotland, and Adam worked on the buildings jointly with his brother James. The building was paid for with £12,000 recovered from accounts of Highland estates owned by those who had been involved in the Jacobite uprising of 1745.
After five years of construction, building work came to a halt, and the structure was left unfinished for nearly a decade until Adam modified the plans to finally have it finished in 1788.
The building continues to function as a public records office today.
DAVID HUME MAUSOLEUM
As well as grand houses and civic buildings, Adam also designed a number of monuments and memorials in Edinburgh, including the grave of his own father, in Greyfriars Kirkyard in the Old Town.
Most notable is the circular mausoleum to the philosopher David Hume, who died in 1776. Adam had been a friend of Hume's, and was commissioned after Hume's death to produce the mausoleum to house his grave.
Hume's grave stands in the Old Calton burial ground - a non-denominational graveyard for a man who was noted as an atheist in the eighteenth century.
ROYAL COLLEGE OF PHYSICIANS
Built originally as a private residence for Baron Ord, this property on Queen Street in the New Town today houses the Royal College of Physicians, and is replete with stone decorations of a staff surrounded by a curled serpent, a motif widely recognised as an emblem of the medical profession.
Other Robert Adam buildings in the city have been lost or destroyed, including the Bridewell Prison which stood on the site of St Andrew's House on the side of Calton Hill today (part of the original prison walls do survive) but many other major works by Adam survive around the rest of the UK. After his death Adam was buried at Westminster Abbey in London.
But his vision was one which influenced Edinburgh majorly during its development in the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries, and he remains a significant figure in the city's history.
Explore more of Adam's architectural gems with my private Edinburgh walking tours!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
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