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JULY 3rd

On this day in history in 1728, was born Robert Adam.  

Adam was an architect who developed and improved the Neoclassical style, and  made it the outstanding  form of British architecture.

Robert Adam was born on 3rd July 1728, at Kirkcaldy, Fife, the son of William Adam, a prominent architect, and master mason to the Royal Board of Ordnance in North Britain.  At the age of 6, his family moved to Edinburgh, where he entered Edinburgh High School, and in 1743, he matriculated at Edinburgh University. In 1745, he abandoned his studies to join his father's firm as an apprentice.

Adam’s father died in 1748, and his business and Ordnance post passed to his eldest son, John Adam. Adam went to work for his brother, building Fort George in the Moray Firth and restoring the earl of Hopetoun's house, which he did in novel, lighter Rococo style. He became well acquainted with the earl and his family, and in 1754, was invited by the earl’s younger brother, Charles Hope, to accompany him on a tour of Italy. He readily seized the opportunity to acquire more architectural knowledge from a study of antique Roman monuments.

Adam and Hope left for Italy in December 1754, arriving in Florence in late January 1755. In Florence, Adam met the French architect Charles-Louis Clérisseau, who introduced him to the avant-garde architectural practices currently in vogue at Rome. Clérisseau familiarized Adam with sketching and measuring the antique monuments of Rome, with a view to making similar works of his own. The pair crossed the Adriatic to visit, Diocletian's palace at Spalato, now Split, Croatia, where they prepared a full set of drawings of the ancient palace. They planned further expeditions to Greece and Egypt, but unfortunately ran out of cash.

Adam returned to London in 1758, just when the current architectural style, Palladianism, was beginning to loose its attraction. Adam quickly established his reputation as an architect with a new architectural style, known as the Adam Style. He claimed that the style ‘brought about, in this country a kind of revolution in the whole system of this useful and elegant art.’  The Adam style was characterised by a new lightness, and a freedom in the use of classical elements. For example, in the Royal Society of Arts building, Adam combined an Ionic pilaster, a column with scrolled ornaments, with a Doric entablature, the horizontal section resting on the columns, in a plain Greek style, an innovation quite out of keeping with traditional methods of maintaining a single style in one building.

Adam obtained the patronage of John Stuart, 3rd earl of Bute, a friend of George III and, in 1761 he was appointed Architect of the King's Works. He obtained commissions for the redecoration of earlier period houses, but oddly was rarely asked to build new buildings or fulfil his grandiose ideas for public buildings. He designed, amongst others, Harewood House, Yorkshire, Croome Court, Worcestershire, Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, Bowood House, Wiltshire and Osterley Park, Hounslow. His most significant contribution was Kedleston Hall of 1757. His theme of a triumphal arch, coupled with a domed interior, is reminiscent of a Roman cathedral. Also noteworthy is Osterley Park, with a double portico, derived from the Portico of Octavia, Rome. Adam was not without his critics. Horace Walpole referred to his work as ‘Mr. Adam's gingerbread and sippets of embroidery.’ Toward the end of his career, Adam built the Register House at Edinburgh with a massive domed hall, and in 1789 he designed the University of Edinburgh building, with an imposing Neoclassical exterior.

Adam died on 3rd March 1792 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. He left behind nearly 10,000 drawings which are now contained in a museum to his honour. [Sir John Soane's Museum, 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3BP.]

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