Old College, Edinburgh, University, Architect, Photo, Architecture, Date, Picture

Old College Edinburgh : Architecture

Scottish University Building by Adam, Playfair & Rowand Anderson

Old College

Edinburgh University, Nicolson Street / South Bridge, Edinburgh, Scotland

Court, 1789-, Robert Adam and later William Playfair

Dome, 1879, Rowand Anderson

Old College Edinburgh Old College Old College building
pictures © adrian welch, 2009

Old College Architect – Robert Adam

Old College, Edinburgh University: History
The dome of Old College has for many years been a key element of Edinburgh’s skyline and should remain so. Like London’s St Paul’s, views of it need a bit of protection. It creates a pacific counterpoint to the Hub’s surging spire.

old college dome
Edinburgh University Old College: dome image © Adrian Welch

The Old College entry arches too are a wonderful landmark, powerfully grand in scale and sombre of colour and detail. The entry is weakened by the needs of the car and the courtyard beyond is a shadow of what it could be if only Edinburgh University could remove its parking and improve the surface.

Edinburgh University Old College
Edinburgh University Old College in distance: photo © Adrian Welch

Robert Adam designed Old College but died in 1792 before the building was complete. The foundation stone was laid in 1789. Robert Adam designed a double quadrangle, but only the east front to South Bridge and the north-west corner were built. After Robert Adam’s death his brothers, James and William, supervised the remaining building work carried out in the 1790’s. Many years later – from 1817 to 1840 – William Playfair was responsible for the major remaining part. Robert Rowand Anderson designed the dome, built in 1877.

Robert Adam’s stone entry arches onto South Bridge, complete with monolithic Roman Doric columns, use the largest single pieces of sandstone ever cut from Craigleith Quarry, North Edinburgh.

Old College Entry Old College facade
pictures © adrian welch, 2009

The Napoleonic Wars slowed progress, funds ran out and building ceased, thus it was only in 1816 that William Playfair was appointed. Playfair made numerous alterations to Robert Adam’s design:- the removal of a proposed cross building which would have divided the existing quadrangle. Playfair was also responsible for the terrace with the flights of steps, the Natural History Museum, now the Talbot Rice Gallery and the Playfair Library Hall.

Robert Adam’s designs, displayed in 1789, included a dome. Playfair’s dome designs were similar to Adam’s but weren’t built until finance was in place in 1883 on the University’s 300th anniversary of its foundation. Robert Rowand Anderson, designer of the new Medical School Building in Teviot Place, and the McEwan Hall, was commissioned: the dome was completed in 1887. The sculptor John Hutchison was responsible for the bronze statue ‘Youth bearing a Torch of Knowledge’.

Old College
photo from The Cockburn Association

Playfair Library Hall
The majestic Playfair Library Hall, is at first floor level on the south side of the Old College Quad, and includes a coffered vaulted ceiling.

Talbot Rice Gallery
Formed in 1975 within Playfair’s building the Talbot Rice Gallery includes the White Gallery (exhibitions) and the Red Gallery (permanent collection).

Old College Tours every hour, on the hour (last tour 3pm), including the Playfair Library and the Raeburn Room.

Old College Architects
Robert Adam 1728 – 92
William Henry Playfair 1789 – 1857
Sir Robert Rowand Anderson 1834 – 1921




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Old College Edinburgh Building : page