A Cunning Plan - James Craig, 1739-1795, Town Planner and architect
James Craig, a young builder who won a competition to design the New Town and who knew a thing or two about politics.
At the end of the 1700s Edinburgh changed dramatically. The council had a vision to build a New Town to transform the city and rival London, Berlin, Venice and Turin. The idea was to bring grandeur and wealth to the city by attracting the aristocracy and ‘people of rank’ back to Edinburgh.
In 1766 a competition was announced to design the New Town, and the winner was a relatively unknown young architect called James Craig. It was a simple but cunning plan based on a grid system with two squares, three main east-west streets and a linking series of north-south streets. It would not be completed for many years, but the ground plan remains the same to this day.
Craig realised that getting agreement from King George III would be very helpful for his plan, so the street names were carefully chosen. This can be seen in names such as George Street and Princes Street, with Thistle Street and Rose Street symbolising the union of Scotland and England.
The plan seems elegantly simple but it took Edinburgh from being the medieval ‘Auld Reekie’ of the past to the grandeur and classical style of the city as ‘Athens of the North’.
Why is he important?
- He designed the plan for Edinburgh's New Town
- The New Town was and is starkly beautiful and it has become a template of urban planning all over the world. It is therefore hugely significant.
Things to do
Be a town planner and design your own city! What would you need? What would it look like?
What would you improve in your neighbourhood? Better houses, more playgrounds? Who would you suggest your improvements too?
Museum of Edinburgh, to see the original James Craig plan.
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