Leader comment: What Edinburgh should learn from Playfair’s genius

A design for a Royal Observatory that was never built. Picture: RIAS
A design for a Royal Observatory that was never built. Picture: RIAS
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So Edinburgh, a city designed as if by “enlightened angels” in the words of the cultural critic Jonathan Meades, could have been even more beautiful.

An exhibition of plans by William Henry Playfair that never made it off the drawing board shows what might have been with a grand terrace on Calton Hill, an expanded New Town and an underground shopping centre in Princes Street Gardens. But Scotland’s capital is not called the Athens of the North for nothing – even if Playfair’s replica of the Parthenon temple was infamously left unfinished.

Some modern-day aberations aside, Edinburgh’s most prominent buildings match the splendour of its natural setting.

Few cities boast a mountain like Arthur’s Seat or a river as pleasant as the Water of Leith. In recognising the genius of Playfair, who designed the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy as well as playing a key role in the creation of the New Town, we should remember that maintaining Edinburgh as once of the world’s most pleasant urban environments is a duty that falls to us all.