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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:

Plan & Elevation of Venetian window in Southern and Western Front, 28th February 1818

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/43
Scope and Contents

plan of the windows + elevation of the windows showing decoration details on the facade

plan showing the arrangement of windows and columns elevation showing details of cornice, architrave, columns, ……

On the reverse of the drawing: Black ink pen watercolour ( pink, grey- indicate the wall on the back of the columns)

Dates: 28th February 1818

Plan & Section of Roofing of Museum, 4th July 1817

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/20
Scope and Contents

Plan & Section of Roofing of Museum

floorplans in scale 60 feet in 10 in.s Section details in scale 30 feet in 10 in.s

showing the wooden framework of the ceiling showing the triangle wooden framework and iron joint

On the reverse of the drawing: Black ink pen watercolour layers (pink, yellow, grey, dark grey, brown )

Dates: 4th July 1817

Plan and Section Explaining Cradling for the Dome and Ceiling of Upper Museum., 16th July 1818

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/70
Scope and Contents plan of dome section of dome and ceiling the plan shows the skylight and outline of the dome. the section shows more details of construction and wooden framework. It clearly shows the dome's construction and also we can see how the wooden frame is connected with cornice and other parts. All these two drawings are indicated by quotes which may help to calculate their scales. On the reverse of the drawing:...
Dates: 16th July 1818

Plan and Section of Roofing of the Building at the South Western Angle, 7th September 1817

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/8
Scope and Contents Plan of Roofing of the Building at the South Western Angle showing detials of roof framework three section details of different roof structure (wood framework and iron details) texts on the back of this plan Edinburgh 24th January 1818 This is number seven 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) 1 paper...
Dates: 7th September 1817

Plan and Section of Skylight for the Natural History Class Room, 12th April 1819

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/99
Scope and Contents Plan of the skylight showing wrought iron details with corresponding section showing copper ventilator detail. Playfair writes, “N.B The cills, the bars in the ring at the top of the skylight to be of wrought iron. The cill is to be firmly bolted to the timbers of the roof. The ventilator to be of copper secured in a firm manner to the skylight. The under side of the ventilator to be pierced with holes tending to the centre,...
Dates: 12th April 1819

Plan and Sections of Archways to Support the Flooring of Museum, 4th July 1818

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/68
Scope and Contents plan of the east museum longiludinal section of museum on line CD transverse section of museum on line AB no reference of line AB and line CD in the plan, we see the arrangement of columns, main walls, rubble walls, arches. there are two sections of two directions and in these sections, we can see the open space which allow the air coming in. this drawing does not indicate scales but all the plan and sections have...
Dates: 4th July 1818

Plan, Elevation and Section of Doors in the Upper Museum and Lower Gallery, 26th February 1818

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/42
Scope and Contents Floorplan, Section and Elevation of the doors and surrounding framing in upper museum the elevation and section drawings highlith the decorative, geometric pattern that should decorate the doors. In the floorplan and section the focus is on the intersection between the wooden frame of the door with the wall and plasterwork. In the section in partiular is highlited the continuity between the door's frame and the floor of the...
Dates: 26th February 1818

Plan, Elevation, Section of the Flooring of the Building at the South Western Angle, 6th May 1818

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/54
Scope and Contents 1.section showing the iron work of (??) girder for National History classroom 2. plan of top of guide for national history museum 3. plan of bottom of girder for national history museum 4. elevation showing the iron work of (??)girder over Lower Laboratory 5. section showing the manner of supporting the floor of Chemistry class with cart iron columns (two pictures) 6. plan showing cap of column screwed to joint 7. plan showing bale of column resting on front pier 8. section showing iron...
Dates: 6th May 1818

Plan, Elevation, Section of the Iron Columns in the Class Room for Practice of Physic, 4th May 1818

Identifier: Coll-13/1/1/52
Scope and Contents Plan of capital of the column with section of the shaft elevation of capital of the column elevation of two columns of small size section of the upper part of column on line AB section of the lower part of column on line AB molding CD and shaft indicated the iron columns in two different scales.The five which are in full size show details (outline, shaft) of these iron column while the two which are in small scale show the...
Dates: 4th May 1818