Skip to main content

Playfair, William Henry, 1790-1857 (architect)



  • Existence: 1790 - 1857


The architect William Henry Playfair was born in Russell Square, London, July 1789. On the death of his father, Playfair was sent to reside with his uncle in Edinburgh. Professor John Playfair, mathematician and geologist and a leading figure in the Edinburgh Enlightenment, took control of his nephew's education. Following his father's profession, the young Playfair studied under William Starke of Glasgow. His first public appointment was the laying out of part of the New Town in Edinburgh in 1815.

Then, after a visit to France in 1816, he established himself professionally by winning the commission in 1817 to complete the unfinished University buildings (leaving the front as designed by Robert and James Adam). He also designed the city's Royal Terrace and Regent Terrace on the Calton Hill estate; the unfinished National Monument on Calton Hill; and, the Royal Scottish Academy and the National Gallery on the Mound. While Playfair's most important works in Edinburgh have been executed in the Greek revivalist or classical style - earning for Edinburgh the title of 'Athens of the North' - he was competent in other styles too. He designed New College for the ten newly established Free Church of Scotland, a jagged-lined rendering of the Gothic style. He also built country houses and mansions in the Italianate and Tudor styles.

Playfair died in Edinburgh after a long illness on 27 May 1857.

Found in 163 Collections and/or Records:

Cornice & Belt for Staircases of Upper Museum, 28th August 1818

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/78
Scope and Contents

Two sections, one showing cornice of the ceiling and the other is of belt around opening for the skylight & the detail is the soffit of the cornice of belt

Dates: 28th August 1818

Cornice (Full Size) for Practice of Physic, 27th April 1819

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/109
Scope and Contents

Plan of ceiling, Section and detail of cornice, and detail of iron column fitting.

On the reverse of the drawing: rough sketches

Dates: 27th April 1819

Doric Cornice (Full Size) for Lower Museum, 1st May 1819

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/112
Scope and Contents

Plan and detail of doric cornice and sketch showing general arrangement of skylight.

On the reverse of the drawing: Calculations on back

Dates: 1st May 1819

Drawing (Full Size) of Baluster for the Scroll Step in the Staircase Leading to Gallery of Upper Museum, 20th April 1819

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/102
Scope and Contents Detail elevation of cast iron staircase baluster Additional Specification: 'The whole of the baluster and brackets for the gallery staircase in the upper museum to be executed in the very best manner, according to the accompanying drawings, no. 102 and 103. The estimate is to include the making of the patterns which must be carved with the greatest care and to the satisfaction of the architect. The brackets to be executed as...
Dates: 20th April 1819