Thoughts on: The Making of Classical Edinburgh

Edinburgh is an extraordinary city: the ancient vernacular of the Old Town is historically fascinating, the urban planning of the New Town is one of the highlights of architecture and urbanism in Europe. In The Making of Classical Edinburgh Youngson outlines the cultural, social, economic, and political context for the creation of Edinburgh’s New Town. From an overcrowded, dirty, and rather marshy city, the creation of the New Town fundamentally shaped the way Edinburgh is today and reflects the growing wealth and knowledge of the time – an idea that Youngson explores in intricate detail throughout his book.

The National Gallery of Scotland designed by William Playfair, one of Edinburgh's finest classical buildings.
The National Gallery of Scotland designed by William Playfair, one of Edinburgh’s finest classical buildings.

While the subject matter is architecture and planning The Making of Classical Edinburgh is, in many respects, a history book. Chronicling the innovation, entrepreneurship, and risks associated with a project such as that of the New Town, the book provides an invaluable backdrop to the Georgian streets that we enjoy walking around so much. It is beautifully illustrated, contains reproductions of key letters, and explores the influences of Edinburgh’s Enlightenment and the new aspirations for society. What emerges is a story that extends far beyond the spatial and civic qualities of urban planning to encompass a new way of thinking and a new model for living. It was a fiercely patriotic development, originally based on the design of the Union Jack, designed to reflect Edinburgh’s intellectual standing.

What makes the book so interesting is that Youngson is able to link the social aspiration for the New Town with the physical manifestation of the New Town. As the story unfolds it becomes apparent that one could not exist without the other. The intellectual capacity for ground breaking masterplanning combined with a social determination to remake the city and the ambition for a development of this scale, was the key driver for the development, of which the architecture is a reflection. Aside from the inherent historical interest, The Making of Classical Edinburgh also gives us some insight on the nature of successful masterplanning. At the most basic level, successful large-scale urban planning requires both a design with architectural merit and a collective determination to see it through to completion.

I’ve lived in Edinburgh for about ten years. The Making of Classical Edinburgh, which I only first read about 18 months ago, has significantly increased my enjoyment of the city. It gives a new meaning to the streets, the squares, and the architecture; and I would encourage you to read it too, whether you live in Edinburgh, are planning to visit Edinburgh, or are simply interested in urbanism and social mobility.

The Making of Classical Edinburgh: buy online

The Making of Classical Edinburgh is available on Amazon in paperback for about £30 or about $50.

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