William Henry Playfair

Eastern Elevation of the Royal Institution, Edinburgh (now the Royal Scottish Academy Building) (1832)

About this artwork

This drawing of 1832, illustrates Playfair’s new vision for the extension of the Royal Institution building (now the Royal Scottish Academy). Playfair had designed the original building in 1822. This was small and had little decoration, a reflection of the lack of funding allocated for the original building project. By the 1830s, it was clear that the structure required enlargement. This drawing shows that Playfair proposed to extend the building by some sixty feet and to embellish the exterior with new carvings. His decorative scheme included the addition a frieze of acanthus wreaths and ornamentation of the pediments above the porticos. This new, more classical and opulent building was completed in 1835.

William Henry Playfair

William Henry Playfair

William Henry Playfair was one of the leading architects in nineteenth-century Scotland. His buildings were models of classicism, and the majority were constructed in the Greek Revival style. More than any other architect, he was responsible for Edinburgh earning its reputation as ‘The Athens of the North’. Playfair’s architecture relied on monumentality and heavy modelling of forms to emphasise light and shade. He produced numerous detailed drawings for each project, and was renowned for scrutinising the work of builders for quality and accuracy. Most of his finest buildings are in or around Edinburgh, including the Royal Institution (1822; now the Royal Scottish Academy), Royal College of Surgeons (1830–32), Donaldson's Hospital (1842), and the National Gallery of Scotland (1850–57).