The Architecture of Robert Adam (1728-1792)



Essay by Julian.Small. Photographs by Sandy Kinghorn.






The Doric Order is the oldest and plainest of the three Greek architectural orders and was used, for example, on the Parthenon in Athens.  The columns are fluted, and have plain capitals.  Doric columns, in Greek usage, have no bases and rise directly from the floor, but in Roman architecture this is modified by the addition of bases to the columns and some slight elaboration of the capital and head of the shaft of the column.  In addition, the fluting of the columns is usually modified so that, like Ionic columns, the hollows are divided by narrow strips of unfluted surface rather than meeting in sharp edges.  Because of its rule by the Turks, however, the ruins of ancient Greece were largely inaccessible to western European travellers, and until a series of measured drawings of the ancient buildings of Athens was published by James Stuart and Nicholas Revett from 1762 onwards, they were almost completely unknown.  Italian Renaissance architecture of the fifteenth century had been based on Roman prototypes, since only the Roman version of the Doric Order was known at this period, and it was this which was used by Robert Adam.  It was not until the early nineteenth century that Greek models became more fashionable than Roman.  James Adam had been rather disdainful of the group of temples - built in the Greek version of Doric - at Paestum in southern Italy which he visited in November 1761, writing that "they are of an early, an inelegant and unenriched Doric, that afford no detail...  So much for Paestum." 

The Doric Order seems to have originated in early wooden forms of construction, the wooden details imitated as decorative conventions in stone.  This is the reason for the division of the frieze in the entablature into metopes and triglyphs, the latter representing the ends of wooden beams with, on their underside, a row of small stone beads known as guttae, stone replicas of the heads of the wooden pins used to fasten the original structures together, and the sculptured metopes originating as decorative terra-cotta plates inserted between the beam-ends.  The cornice represents the projection of the lower edge of the roof and its tiles, allowing rain-water to drip off onto the ground rather than run down the face of the wall.  The entablature, taken as a whole, is deeper and visually heavier than that of the Ionic or Corinthian Orders, and it is for this reason that the columns are thicker relative to their height than in the other orders. 


The entrance to Edinburgh University, designed by Robert Adam in 1789.  Adam uses the Roman version of the Doric Order, here with un-fluted columns
Click to see large image.

Edinburgh University, detail of the Doric entablature at the entrance gates, showing the division of the frieze into metopes and triglyphs, together with other elements of timber construction copied in stone, such as the "guttae".  The balustrade above the cornice is very common in 18th-century architecture, but is not properly a part of the entablature. 
Click to see large image.



The Doric Order developed, and remained more popular, in present-day Greece and southern Italy - the western half of the Greek world - as opposed to the Ionic Order, which evolved in Ionia, the Greek areas of what is today Turkey.  There were areas in which both orders could be found and, for example, the Acropolis in Athens has buildings of both styles.  In these circumstances, to the Greeks, the Doric Order, in its plainness and sturdiness, was the "male" order, whilst the Ionic Order was, with its greater elegance, the "female".  This is not, however, reflected in the respective styles adopted for the temples of gods and goddesses. 

The Romans made less use of the Doric Order in their public buildings than had the Greeks, possibly because they preferred the richer effects of the Ionic and Corinthian orders, and the version of the Doric which they used was more highly detailed than the Greek version.  However, Robert Adam advised using the Doric to convey an impression of simplicity and solidity, and uses it in some of the most severely "Roman" of his buildings, such as the entrance to his new buildings for the University of Edinburgh, and in the entrance halls he designed for Syon House, Middlesex and Harewood House, Yorkshire.  Adam also frequently combined rustication with Doric details, as at the Register House in Edinburgh, using recessed arches to make the building "read" as possessing a Doric loggia on the ground floor.  There is a similar arched Doric arcade, although without any rustication, surrounding the lowest story of the oval central staircase-hall at Culzean Castle, Ayrshire 

The ground storey of Register House, Edinburgh, has recessed arches with Doric detail around the piers, to give the impression of a Doric loggia. 
Click to see large image.

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