Last year I did a research unit looking at the work of William Playfair. My output is not currently online (although I may make it available in the future), however some of the key ideas explored overlap with my research this year.

Wilson (1992) writes on Georgian Dublin that, ‘the people who built these houses had the good taste to know they had nothing very important to say; and therefore they didn’t attempt to express anything’; and Bonta (1979) writes that, ‘forms become meaningful not only because of contrast with other forms, but also because of similarity to certain forms that carry the same meaning’. These two ideas are perhaps the crux of generating order in the city – the regularity of the ‘in-between’ realm allowing the celebrated buildings to emerge from the urban landscape.

Edinburgh figure ground plan. Highlighted in red: New College, the National Gallery of Scotland and RSA buildings, St Stephen's Church.

Edinburgh figure ground plan. Highlighted in red: New College, the National Gallery of Scotland and RSA buildings, St Stephen’s Church.

 

This is particularly striking in the context of Edinburgh where both Old Town and New Town have a similarity of form that typifies the region, creating both a striking contrast between the two sides of Princes Street Gardens. This similarity of form also allows the ‘monuments’ within the city to stand out.

While my Rationalist studies in pursuit of an architecture for the urban block may seem to lack the artistic value of, well, architecture, it is quite possible that this structure and function-driven method of design is perfectly suited to filling that in-between realm of the city.

References

Bonta, J. P. Architecture and its Interpretation: A Study of Expressive Symbols in Architecture. London, Lund Humphries Publishers, 1979.

Ellis, W. C. ‘The Spatial Structure of Streets’ in Anderson, S. (ed.), On Streets. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, M.I.T Press, 1978.