George Square was planned in 1766 by architect James Brown, and at the time represented the most ambitious new development yet attempted in the city. It was the first development outside the old city walls, and as a precursor to the New Town, offered an exclusive setting for Edinburgh’s professional classes. Sir Walter Scott’s father, a prominent lawyer, was one of the first to have a house built there. His neighbours were a distinguished set, including the Countess of Sutherland and Lord Braxfield, the Justice-Clerk of the Court.
George Square has large concentration of University of Edinburgh buildings, and in August each year the square hosts events as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
As well as the historic buildings, George Square is home to more modern buildings, and ironically many of these buildings are themselves now protected. Their architecture is of a very high standard of design, with materials of exceptional quality, reflecting architect Robert Matthew’s interest in the use of traditional materials in a Scottish context. In 1967 the new University Library was built, designed by Sir Basil Spence and was seen as one of the finest buildings of its type in Europe.
In 1914 the University of Edinburgh bought its first property in the square, and gradually increased its ownership until by the 1940s it owned the entire place. Then in 1949 a controversial programme of major development was planned, involving the demolition of much of the square.
Despite a huge public outcry the development started, but the destruction proved to be a turning point in focusing public attention on the plight of Edinburgh’s historic buildings. The western side of the square was saved and the remnants of many demolished houses were later used to repair buildings in the Georgian New Town.
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