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William Henry Playfair

  • Name  : Playfair
  • Born  : 1790
  • Died  : 1857
  • Category  : Architects
  • Finest Moment : University of Edinburgh, (1818-34)

Born the son of an architect in 1790, William Playfair trained for the same profession in Edinburgh and in London. He also made a visit to France in 1816. On his return to Edinburgh the following year, he seems to have transformed himself into an assured architect, winning the commission for the completion of the University building. This had been started by Robert Adam, and was to have been his greatest work, but progress on the 'Old Quad' was halted in 1793, to be picked up by Playfair.

Playfair modified the original design. The entrance front is made from Craigleith sandstone (the huge quarry of which formed Edinburgh's first 'hole in the ground'. (Edinburgh, as any cultured Glaswegian could remind you, if so inclined, is famous for holes in the ground, a legacy perhaps of dim-witted planners and a seeming natural reluctance to spend good money.)

The interiors of the University finished by Playfair are all to his own designs. The following year he completed designs for Calton Hill estate in Edinburgh; thereafter he made his name as the designer of public buildings in Edinburgh. The National Monument (1824-9), Royal Scottish Academy (1822), and the National Gallery on the Mound (1850-7). Many of these are examples of Greek revival but Playfair could do Gothic, as in the New College (1846-50), and, in his early country houses, Italianate villas. He died in 1857.

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