Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Adam Spotting, Plane Spotting: Architecture and the Visually Impaired

Robert Adam was responsible for the design and execution of many works.  There are numerous websites for lists of the Adam family achievements and it is amazing how prolific Robert Adam was in both London and Edinburgh.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Adam)

Growing up in Edinburgh one seemed never to be far from the Adam family. During last summer I visited some of the buildings in the Edinburgh area and though it is not always possible to gain access inside, much can be appreciated from the outside.  Steps can be climbed, railings can be rattled with a cane and the exterior can be touched.  It is surprising how the clear lines of a Robert Adam designed house or some of the interior features in the house can be accessible to visually impaired people.    

This post covers a few properties with Adam family links and while these are not always accessible on one’s own (often not open to general public), they make an interesting side trip with friends

Edinburgh area

Charlotte Square Edinburgh.

Bute House - Charlotte Square, Edinburgh
© Professor Whitestick

The north side of Charlotte Square in Edinburgh was designed by Robert Adam and presents the New Town plan by James Craig.  Charlotte Square is a useful place from which the New Town can be explored and the National Trust for Scotland has several properties in the square. 

During the Edinburgh Book Festival the garden within the square is occupied with tents and though the site resembled Glastonbury in the rain on the day we visited, it was fine as shown (take my word for it). (http://profwhitestick.blogspot.com/2011/08/edinburgh-international-book-festival.html)  The Georgian House is open though Bute House is used for Scottish Government functions and is the official home of the First Minister. 

Edinburgh University Old College Quadrangle
2 August 2012

The quadrangle reconstruction gradually approaches the plans as envisaged by Robert Adam and Playfair.  The car park has been removed and the area is used for events during the Festival. 

General Register House, Edinburgh
A Robert Adam design

Dalkeith Palace

Dalkeith Palace, Front view
Midlothian, Scotland
© Professor Whitestick

Dalkeith Palace was a major home for the Dukes of Buccleuch and while the house itself is now leased to a university in Wisconsin, the country park is open to the public, for a fee.  The estate is walled by the Duke’s Dykes and although having driven myself and been driven more recently around the perimeter, I had never visited the park.   I had, however, observed the house and grounds from the air as the approach to Edinburgh Airport is frequently overhead.

 View of Dalkeith Palace from the Montagu Bridge
© Professor Whitestick

The Rivers North Esk and South Esk flow by the house and the confluence is in the park. The house was rebuilt by James Smith of Newhailes fame and William Adam and his sons had some input on the works.  The Montagu Bridge was designed by Robert Adam and built around 1792.

Montagu Bridge
© Professor Whitestick


Syon House

Syon House
© Professor Whitestick
The property is in the family of the Dukes of Northumberland (Alnwick Castle).  Robert Adam adapted the earlier building and formed a quadrangle which ought to have been covered to form a salon but this was never realised. 

Again, I often flew over this property on the approach to Heathrow.  It can be reached by bus from Gunnersbury Station, and as an accompanying guest goes free, there is little point in attempting this on one’s own. 

The audio guide is standard and, unlike Osterley House, no provision for visually impaired customers is made (audio wise) though the human guides are very helpful. My visit to Osterley was made more or less on my own (http://profwhitestick.blogspot.com/2011/07/osterley-house-and-park.html) and I would suggest trying out Osterley before attempting Syon.  

My cane was inspected by security (also at Osterley) and there are some treats in the house.  For example, there is a touchable model of how the scagliole floor was made.  The floor itself, however, is off limits for a cane. 

Another treat is the quadrangle, which for me was a highlight. It is open to the heavens and is on the approach to Heathrow with a plane going over every minute or so.  Staring up and listening to the sound of the jets is fascinating and I tried to predict the flight path with the sound reflected off the four walls of the interior façade.  Occasionally a plane could be picked up on my peripheral vision as it descended on the way to Heathrow. 

Mega scones in the tea room make a visit complete! 

Chandos House

In an exchange with Ken Titmuss (OldMapMan) we discussed Robert Adam in London and having visited Syon House with a friend, I bought a small guidebook to Robert Adam.  Last summer, I arranged to meet Ken in central London and we walked to Chandos House and Fitzroy Square.  

There was something strangely familiar about Chandos House and the building reminded me of Edinburgh.  Ken explained that Robert Adam and his brother speculated on building the house for the Duke of Chandos and had brought the stone from the Craigleith Quarry in Edinburgh.  No wonder it looked familiar to me!  My old school had been built from the same stone and it stands out against the Portland stone used in the surrounding buildings.   And like the stone, the clear lines of the Adam building stand out on my peripheral vision.

Fitzroy Square

The South and East sides of Fitzroy Square were designed by Robert Adam.  The area around the square is quiet though it is not far from some very busy roads. The south side was damaged by bombs during WW2 and some restoration was underway during our visit.  The square is a pleasant and relatively traffic-free oasis and coffee shops are not far away.

Ken Titmuss (aka oldmapman) can be contacted via http://londontrails.wordpress.com/

So, while climbers in Scotland can do Munro Bagging, there are opportunities for visually impaired people to enjoy Adam Spotting, and even Plane Spotting given the acoustics and locations of Adam properties in and around airport flightpaths!