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Alternative designs for the building, c1772-79, executed with alterations (13)


These drawings are undated, and may have been made at any time from Adam’s official employment on the Register House project in 1772 until work was halted owing to financial difficulties in 1779. The extant drawings do not comprise a cohesive collection of designs for a single scheme, for example, the Venetian windows shown on the rear elevation in Adam volume 30/2, are not seen in any of the plans. Indeed, at least three variant designs were made, and the surviving plans are inscribed as showing the second and third schemes. One set of plans shows a square court, and the other shows the same arrangement but without the rear (northern) ends of the side (east and west) ranges, or the rear (north) range – effectively cutting the building in half. The executed scheme is much closer to that illustrated in the first volume of the Works in architecture of Robert and James Adam (1774), comprising a rectangular quadrangle, containing a central rotunda, and the principal front is almost exactly as shown in Adam volume 30/1.

The principal front survives unaltered except for the addition of two flag poles, and the removal of the external stairs and area wall during the nineteenth century. The other fronts of the building do not follow Adam’s surviving drawings. The side elevations (east and west) include relieving arches – which are not shown in Adam’s designs – but they appear to have been original in execution. Adam’s plans showing the full quadrangle – both in the drawings and in Works – suggest that he intended the rear (north) front to mimic the principal (south) front. The rear (north) range was built by Reid (see scheme notes), and is closer in appearance to the executed side (east and west) ranges. Moreover, the rear (north) front has since suffered the addition of two ground-floor links to later adjacent buildings.

Adam’s rotunda is the only room within the Edinburgh Register House to contain a decorative scheme by Adam himself. Elsewhere the interiors were installed later by Reid. The rotunda is the most important room in the building. Moreover, it is Adam’s largest surviving room at over 2000 square feet. The only Adam rooms to have been larger than this were the ball room and supper room in the temporary pavilion at the Oaks. The rotunda serves not only as a reading room, but also as a further repository for records, with two tiers of bookcases in blind arches around the room, with a gallery supported by brackets giving access to the upper tier. The domed ceiling is ornamented with stuccowork by Thomas Clayton, an Edinburgh plasterer, and was completed in 1785. Further to this, the environment within the room was maintained for the storage of records by the inclusion of Adam’s innovative underfloor flue system – shown in Adam volume 30/6. The interior of the rotunda survives largely unaltered.



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Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

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Contents of Alternative designs for the building, c1772-79, executed with alterations (13)