William Playfair Edinburgh Architect, Scottish Building Photos, Brtish Design Project Info

William Playfair Edinburgh : Architecture

British Architect : Edinburgh Buildings, Scotland, UK

Dates: 1789-1857

William Henry Playfair was born in London; died Edinburgh

Old College Edinburgh by William Henry Playfair
Old College Edinburgh building image by Adrian Welch

William Playfair

William Playfair Architect

Playfair was a leading figure in Edinburgh’s Enlightenment and designed many of the buildings that are crucial to Edinburgh’s most famous views such as across the Mound to the Castle and of Calton Hill.

RSA Princes Street
RSA, Edinburgh: photo Adrian Welch

The architect was born in London, but after his father’s death, he was sent to live in Edinburgh with his uncle, Professor John Playfair, mathematician, geologist and leading figure Edinburgh’s Enlightenment. William studied under William Starke of Glasgow. His first public appointment in 1815 involved the laying out of part of Edinburgh’s New Town.

National Gallery Edinburgh New Town
Scottish National Gallery: image by Adrian Welch

William Henry Playfair was commissioned to complete the unfinished Edinburgh University buildings on South Bridge in 1817, leaving the front as designed by Robert and James Adam. He also designed Royal Terrace and Regent Terrace in the Calton Hill estate; the National Monument on Calton Hill; and, the Royal Scottish Academy and the National Gallery on the Mound.

Calton Hill Edinburgh New Town
National Monument: photo Adrian Welch

Playfair’s most important works in Edinburgh were executed in the Greek Revival form of Classical architecture popular amongst some architects in the early 19th century helping earn Edinburgh the title ‘Athens of the North’.
He was competent in other styles too such as the Gothic Style New College, housing the University’s Faculty of Divinity and the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly Hall, the latter being the temporary home of the Scottish Parliament from 1999. He also built country houses in the Tudor and Italianate styles.
William designed the Royal College of Surgeons in Nicolson Street opposite the Festival Theatre:

Playfair Hall
Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh: image © Benson + Forsyth

Playfair died in Edinburgh after a long illness in 1857. A proportion of his drawings are preserved at Edinburgh University Library. His Advocates Library is regarded as the best UK Law Library.

Playfair’s New Town house/office was at 17 Great Stuart Street.

William Henry Playfair – Edinburgh Works

Calton Hill Development (New Town extension): Royal Terrace
Donaldson’s Hospital (Donaldson’s School for the Deaf), Haymarket Terrace, West Coates, 1842-54 – link
National Monument, Calton Hill, 1824-9
New College – University Faculty of Divinity +
Church of Scotland General Assembly Hall (Free Church College), 1846-50
New Town Phase 2 Phase 3 Development: Blenheim Place, Brunswick Street, Brunton Place, Carlton Terrace, Elm Row, Hillside Crescent, Leopold Place, Montgomery Street, Regent Terrace, Royal Terrace, Windsor Street
Old College, Edinburgh University – Old Quad, Interior 1817-26
New Town RSA formerly The Royal Institution, 1822-26, enlarged & altered 1832-5
Scottish National Gallery (National Gallery of Scotland), 1850-7
Surgeons’ Hall, Nicolson Street, Southside, 1830-32

Scottish Religious Building
St Stpehens’ Church: photo © Adrian Welch 2005

Other William Playfair Buildings / Monuments in Edinburgh

Advocates Library, off Royal Mile, Old Town 1829-30
Belmont House, Edinburgh, 1828
City Observatory, Calton Hill, 1818
Circus Place & Circus Gardens, New Town, 1821-3
Duddingston Manse, 1823-4
Inverleith Row, No.8, 1824
Inverleith Place, No.20, 1825
Monument to James Denhom at Heriot’s Hospital, 1824
Monument to Professor John Playfair, Calton Hill, 1825-6
Monument to Dugald Stewart, Calton Hill, 1831 – link
Monument to Lord Jeffrey, Dean Cemetery, New Town, 1851
Monument to Sophia Rutherford, Dean Cemetery, New Town, 1852
Monument to William Playfair, Dean Cemetery, New Town, 1857
Royal Circus, New Town, 1820
St Stephen’s Church, New Town, 1827-28

Benson + Forsyth Architects have produced a proposal for the site adjacent to Playfair’s Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh.

Photos of Playfair buildings by Adrian Welch

Scottish Capital Building Designs

Contemporary Scottish Capital Property Designs – recent architectural selection below:

Royal Museum of Scotland

Edinburgh Castle

Buildings / photos for the William Playfair Architecture page welcome