Housing 1600-2000

Advocates Close, Edinburgh

Edinburgh 17th cent tenements_530x704

Advocates Close, Edinburgh
Photograph: E. Smith (date unknown)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection

To really understand a building, we need to look beyond the façade. This atmospheric photograph records the rear elevations of some of Edinburgh Old Town’s tenements, exposing warts and all.

At the centre is a seventeenth-century stair turret, giving access to a later seven-storey high block. Originally there was a block to the side of this, traces of which can be seen to the right: high up, remains of a fireplace hang perilously; sections of wall jut out. Already the housing looks mean, the stacks of crowded rooms looking in on themselves. Before the demolition of this lost block, this really must have been dreadfully dark and miserable housing. 

Smith’s composition concentrates on the tenement’s powerful vertical forms: stair-rails, glazing bars and even the drainpipes all lead the eye upwards. The chimneys stretch up like skyscrapers. The patched assortment of materials – stone, brick, plaster and slate – adds texture to this. And caught in the shot, a boy and a woman peer towards the camera.


About the online exhibition

'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC


Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

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