The National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street underwent a major renovation in 2016, creating new galleries inside the building, and a remodelled front street for visitors to enjoy. Part of this remodelling including re-siting the existing statue of William Chambers (who gives his name to the street) and introducing a new statue to join him.
This new statue, from the artist Alexander Stoddart, is of William Henry Playfair, one of the city's greatest nineteenth-century designers and architects. He stepped into the shoes of Robert Adam, who had designed much of the burgeoning New Town of Edinburgh, at the end of the eighteenth century, and in 1813 had taken over the design process for Edinburgh University's new quadrangle building.
This quadrangle - which became the New College, and later renamed into Old College - stands at the end of Chambers Street, with its main access from South Bridge. And it's fair to say that the building is still one of the city's architectural highlights.
Playfair had stuck to much of Robert Adam's initial vision, and the finished building became an immediate hit, not only with staff and students of the university, but with visitors to the city, too.
Having established himself as a safe pair of hands, architecturally speaking, Playfair would go on to design more of the city's most iconic public buildings.
Public works that bear Playfair's name include the iconic National Monument on top of Calton Hill (popularly known as 'Edinburgh's Shame' or 'Edinburgh's disgrace'), the National Gallery of Scotland and Royal Scottish Academy buildings on the Mound, the Royal Observatory on Calton Hill, and St Stephen's Church, near Stockbridge in the New Town.
It is not too much of an overstatement to say that Playfair helped shape the vision of Edinburgh the visitors (and locals) enjoy today. His trademark style often incorporated classical and neoclassical components, and the columns which adorn many of his buildings and monuments helped to give the city one of its nicknames, 'the Athens of the north'.
As such, it is only fitting that this grand designer of Edinburgh should now be commemorated with his own statue in the city's Old Town. With William Playfair standing adjacent to William Chambers, it is perhaps not entirely inappropriate to suggest visitors take the time to check out the two Willies on Chambers Street....!
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