Architecture Around the World

Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, Scotland


Robert Adam

Adam's drawings for Charlotte Square:


Building plots were offered for sale:

March 1792, shortly after Adams's death



Present owners:

No. 7 - Georgian House Museum (built in 1796)

No. 5 (No. 28?) - Headquarters of the National Trust for Scotland (No. 5
built in 1796)

TEXT beneath illustrations

Click on illustrations for larger size -- and additional information

Each house (total of 9) is delineated by a pavilion


Georgian House Museum - Adamesque style

See Portland Place in London, also by Robert Adam

See other buildings in England

A visual comparison of Crosby Hall in Buffalo and Charlotte Square indicates the the Buffalo building was modeled after Charlotte Square

Cities in 18th-century Britain

Apart from London,there were few cities in 18th-century Britain of which the population exceeded 10,000, and flourishing market towns might have no more than 3,000 inhabitants. Yet the period saw a significant growth in the urban population. Many of the new town-dwellers were poor immigrants from the countryside, who found what lodgings they could in the disease-infested, crime-ridden rookeries that were a feature of all large centers of population in 18th-century Europe. But many others, particularly the newly prosperous classes, lived in a comfort unknown since Roman times.

To meet their demands, terraces of handsome houses were set beside paved streets, which were graced by public buildings - churches, inns, law courts, market halls, assembly rooms and theaters - of incomparable splendor and elegance. Bath, Dublin and the New Town of Edinburgh were admired by visitors from all over Europe.

The rich regarded themselves as country-dwellers. Their great houses or "seats" were to be found at the heart of their rural estates rather than in cities, and they regularly spent a significant part of each year in the country, either when the weather in town was too hot for comfort, or when the pleasures of country sports beckoned.

As roads and carriages improved however, it became more and more fashionable and convenient for those with any social pretensions to visit London, or a provincial capital such as Edinburgh, Dublin, York or Exeter. They came to attend the theatre or the concerthall, take in balls and similar entertainments, and to follow the fashionable, highly formal rounds of visits and receptionsat which their manners, costumes, and conversations could be displayed to best advantage.

Source: Life in Georgian Britian, by Michael St. John Parker

New Town

When Edinburgh outgrew its walled city, it was decided to build a "New Town" to the north. Charlotte Square and St Andrew Square were at the two ends of a new thoroughfare, George Street (named after King George III). Charlotte Square has retained its elegant, old buildings on all four sides, thanks in part to the National Trust for Scotland (St Andrew Square was not so lucky). The Edinburgh residence of the Scottish Parliament's First Minister is in Charlotte Square and meetings of the Executive (cabinet) are held there.

Source: Edinburgh Photo Library

Charlotte Square was the last part of James Craig's New Town in Edinburgh to be developed, but the City Council decided to approach Robert Adam for a design . Hence, unlike the rest of the Edinburgh New Town, the houses are integrated into blocks each appearing to be  an urban palace. 

It was this combination of the houses of a terrace into a unified block which had been pioneered in Bath during the 1720s by the architect John Wood the Elder, and which Robert Adam was also considered by his contemporaries as particularly skillful at managing. (Robert Adam designed the north side of Charlotte Square in Edinburgh but died before the rest of the square was completed.)

The conventions of classical architecture are followed, and each of the palace blocks is composed of a central pavilion, joined by less elaborate, slightly recessed, connecting links to terminal pavilions.  The skill comes in the ability to provide enough variety and surface articulation to maintain the visual interest throughout a long facade. 

In designing, for example, a country house, this can be produced by varying the height of the roof line along the facade and by projecting wings or a portico beyond the line of the main part of the building.   In designing a terrace of houses such as Charlotte Square, however, the wall-line of the facade needs to be comparatively straight, so as to allow a similar outlook for all of the houses, and the number of storeys cannot be varied without making some houses smaller than others. 

Furthermore, throughout the New Town the Council, had stipulated that houses in the main streets should all be three storeys high, excluding basement.  

Adam shows that it is possible to maintain the balance of the design, even within these constraints.  Each terrace appears to have wings and a central block, although the connecting links are only slightly recessed from the pavilions.  There is enough visual emphasis at the center and the ends that the whole composition hangs together. 

Adamís designs included only the facades of the terraces.  The houses themselves were built in the same way as in the rest of the New Town, with plots made available to prospective residents or to builders, who would construct the house. 

St. George's Square at the west, in honor of the patron saints of Scotland and England was later renamed St. George's Square in honor of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III.  Thus, the name Charlotte Square dates only from 1785.

Source: Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, by Julian Small

Photos and their arrangement © 2004 Chuck LaChiusa
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