Housing 1600-2000

Ainslie Place, Edinburgh

Edinburgh New Town_530x666

Ainslie Place, Edinburgh
Architect: J.G. Graham (1820s)
Photograph: E. Smith (1954)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection

The contrast between Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns could not be greater. The Old Town, with its mishmash of housing, has an organic quality. The New Town, developed from the late eighteenth century onwards, is consistent in style, height, and materials. This is the built embodiment of the so-called Athens of the North.

Perhaps the most graceful of the New Town’s developments is the Moray Estate. Planned in 1822, this sequence of spaces, from crescent, oval and polygon, is a blend of fine terraces and communal gardens. Ainslie Place, shown in this photograph, forms the middle section of the development, two crescents framing an oval garden. Clearly, this is based on the earlier urban planning of the Woods at Bath. 

Smith’s photo reveals the delightful sense of movement, produced from the combination of the crescent’s curves and the site’s gentle inclines. Also obvious is the high-quality finish. The rusticated stonework remains sharp. The cast iron railings, balconies and lamps add delicacy. Looking closely, some changes are apparent: glazing bars have been lost; and attics added. Nevertheless this remains much as originally intended: an architecture of grace.


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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