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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:

Elevation of Western Front of the Building at the South Western Angle, 12th September 1817

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/13
Scope and Contents texts on the back of this plan Edinburgh 24th January 1818 This is number tweleve of the seventy two and referred to in the contract for certain work at the college signed by us of this date and of the 14th instant (signature) Kincaid Mackenzie (Lord Provost), Peter Lorimer, John Inglis (builders) elevation is simplified (compared with other kind of drawings) no details of windows or doors showing the roof of natural history...
Dates: 12th September 1817

Elevation of Windows in the Eastern Front of the Museum Showing Lash Frame, 15th June 1818

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/66
Scope and Contents two elevations of Venetian windows + one section of the frame of window cill two elevations showing the appearance of venetian windows, one is with all the other portions (lash frame, columns, pilaster). The other one is just the window. This drawing does not indicate the scale of these two elevations but with quotes and guiders. the section shows the wooden base of this window which is in full size. On the...
Dates: 15th June 1818

Elevations & Sections (Full Size) of the ornament belt for the building at the south western angle, 25th February 1818

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/46
Scope and Contents

Elevation and sections of ornament details

the drawing is focused on 2 typologies of ornamental roundels whose ornmental outline is shown in the central elevation and rendered through light and shadow. On the sides there are 2 sections relative to the different typologies.

On the reverse of the drawing: Black ink pen + watercolour layers (pink and shades of grey for shadow)

Dates: 25th February 1818

Finishings for Chemistry Class, 3rd September 1819

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/139
Scope and Contents

Shelf moldings, jamb and mantle boardings, finishings for front of circular cabinets in the upper musuem, finishings for cabinets off the upper museum, (?) molding for chimney piece, section on AB (chimney piece), elevation of chimney piece for retiring room, plan of fireplace. 

Dates: 3rd September 1819

??? Frames of a Venetian Window in the Upper Museum, 16th February 1818

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/40
Scope and Contents Floorplan + Section of venetian window showing the window linings. Section and floorplan full size details illustrating the outline of window's frame. the drawing is focused on window's details with the different types of wood highlighted in different colours. Attention to the intersection between wall and window. On the reverse of the drawing: Black ink pen + watercolor layers (pink, yellow, orange,...
Dates: 16th February 1818

Front Elevation of Capital of Ionic Columns for the Colonnade of the Building at the South West Angle, 18th June 1818

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/61
Scope and Contents

Front Elevation

the drawing illustrates details of the moulding of the Ionic columns to be placed at the South West Angles of the Building. The red ink lines highlight the diameters and geometry at the different points of the spiral

On the reverse of the drawing: Black ink pen + red Ink Pen + watercolor (grey)

Dates: 18th June 1818