Robert Adam (1728-92), architect, interior designer and furniture designer, son of William Adam, was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife. He was second of four brothers, (James, John and William) he also had three sisters. His early education was at the Royal High School in Edinburgh before going to Edinburgh University in 1743, a period of study subsequently interrupted by illness.
He spent four years studying in Italy and the neo-classical style he was exposed to helped to make him the most celebrated and influential architect of his time.
Following his return from the Grand Tour in 1758 he joined his brothers James and John in the family business. In 1761 he was made Architect of the King’s Works, a post he held jointly with Sir William Chambers until 1768 when elected as Member of Parliament for Kinross-shire. His brother James Adam was appointed Architect of the King’s Works to succeed him.
In 1764 he published The Ruins of the Palace of Emperor Diocletian, at Spalatro in Dalmatia. He would later publish, in three volumes, with James, The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam.
Most of Robert Adam’s commissions were for what historian T M Devine called the, “Laird Class, even though his best-known work was for the nobility.”
His first commission was to continue the remodelling of Hopetoun House near Edinburgh, a project begun by his father William. Some of his other early work included Dumfries House, a large Palladian country house in Ayrshire and Fort George near Inverness, an army barracks built after the Battle of Culloden to prevent further Jacobite unrest. In Edinburgh’s New Town, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, he designed the central dome of Register House and some of the buildings in the prestigious Charlotte Square, one of the finest in Europe.
Some of his best work was done at Culzean Castle in Ayrshire, in particular the additions to the medieval towerhouse and the design of the oval staircase often described as a masterpiece.
Working during that golden period of Scottish intellectual flowering, that was the Scottish Enlightenment, he became a leading figure in the movement, meeting and befriending David Hume and Adam Smith.
Perhaps one of the few dark times in his career was the family’s involvement in the Adelphi, a residential block in London build as a speculative venture. The failure of this project almost drove the family to bankruptcy.
Robert Adam died at home in London in 1792 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.