/ The Edinburgh Guide
Edinburgh — By Andy Hayes on July 14, 2010 at 12:00 pm
Filed under: architecture, featuredarticle

Edinburgh Architecture: What is Georgian?

I’ve always wondered the question, what exactly makes a Georgian building, well, Georgian?  I’ve heard lots of little snippets and clips on tours and in articles, so I did a little investigation and wanted to share with you my thoughts on this topic.  It isn’t as simple as it seems.

Why ‘Georgian’

So, this one is an easy one.  Georgian architecture is called Georgian because it was popular during the reign of the Georgian Kings – specifically George I, II, III, and IV.  These were of course British kings (the first two kings of ‘Great Britain’ and the latter two kings over the ‘United Kingdom’).  This term is simply a ‘nickname’ if you will – common mostly in the UK, due to the prevalence of the architecture, but also in other English speaking countries.

The Georgian period, by most accounts, spans the years of 1714-1720 to 1830-1840.  Life under the reign of the Georges wasn’t too shabby, and hence the period of building construction.

Georgian Versus Palladian Versus Neoclassical

So if Georgian isn’t really Georgian, then what is it?  Well, I was under the impression that it was neoclassical.  But that’s not technically right either – it can be neoclassical or palladian.

Neoclassical Architecture

Neoclassical architecture is the architecture that you see, and you say: oh, Greek.  That’s the buildings on Calton Hill (map) that I’m talking about: the Old High School, the National Monument, etc. – the bulk of Edinburgh is strongly characterised by this influence.  You have the portico façades with pillars surrounding them, symmetrical structures, imposing and somewhat formal while still having romantic qualities.

Neoclassical interiors are often described as Romanesque, or Baroque – gilded mirrors, massive fireplaces, motifs and friezes.

Palladian Architecture

Palladian architecture reflects to those buildings directly influenced by the Venetian architect Andrea Palladio.  Similar to neoclassical, he used Greek and Roman influence and strongly valued symmetry in his work.  However, Palladian buildings are noteworthy for looking distinctively temple-like, with their huge domes and oversized features.  The best example of Palladian architecture in Edinburgh include the RBS Headquarters branch on St Andrews Square (map) – its interior blue-sky starred dome ceiling is the highlight.

Typical Features

So, what are the typical features of a Georgian building?  There are several, such as:

  • Symmetry, Symmetry, Symmetry!
  • Lots of windows (in England there was a tax based on how many windows you had – so windows were a sign of wealth)
  • “Box shaped” – typically one or two storeys
  • Pillars on the façade
  • A panelled and distinct front door entrance
  • A ‘hipped’ roof – that is, a roof that is angled upwards from the sides
  • Windows that decrease in size as you go up (a visual trick to make the building look more symmetrical)
  • Paired chimneys (symmetry?)
  • Sash windows – and the number panes on the window are also in symmetry and change in number as you go up, to match the increasing size of the window
  • Decorative moldings and furnishings

Wrought iron was also a popular feature, though many of the later embellishments we see today came in later architectural periods.

To Learn More

To learn more about Georgian architecture, grab your camera and go walking.  Turn down the narrowest and most hidden streets you can find.  Stairway?  Even better.  You don’t need your nose in a book (or on a travel magazine for that matter) to enjoy good architecture.  You need to see it – to touch it.  Whether it’s the New Town or the Old Town, Edinburgh’s waiting.

Photos by chatirygirl

Related places:
  1. A
    Calton Hill
    Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh EH1 3, United Kingdom
    View Details and Book
  2. B
    St. Andrew Square
    38 Saint Andrew Square, Edinburgh, , United Kingdom
    View Details and Book
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