Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing under the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing – see 'About Listed Buildings' below for more information. The further details below the 'Address/Name of Site' are provided for information purposes only.

Address/Name of Site


Status: Designated


There are no additional online documents for this record.


Date Added
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NT 25387 73845
325387, 673845


William Playfair, 1822-6, extended and enriched 1832-5, with later alterations and additions including WT Oldrieve, 1911-12. Sculpture, Sir John Steell, 1844 (see Notes). Art gallery in form of rectangular-plan Greek Doric temple on stylobate. Culallo and Craigleith sandstone ashlar. Fluted Greek Doric columns; acanthus frieze below Doric entablature with triglyphs, guttae, wreathed metopes and mutuled cornice; scrolled foliate carving in pediments; acroteria and antefixae. Prostyle octostyle porticoes to N and S. Colonnades to W and E with distyle pedimented projections to ends; Statue of Queen Victoria above N portico; paired sphinxes to corners (see Notes).

INTERIOR: marble staircase leads to a series of inter-related galleries.

Statement of Special Interest

Erected by the Board of Manufactures and Fisheries, and providing accommodation for the Royal Society (to the W), the Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts (to E) and the museum of the Society of Antiquaries (central top-lit galleries). Playfair's original design, illustrated by Shepherd, had shallow octastyle porticoes to N and S, 8 columns between pilastered corner blocks with battered pedestals intended for sculpture and a plain parapet above. According to Grant, the construction of the building involved driving 2,000 piles into the ground to stabilise the foundations. A painting by Alexander Nasmyth shows the building under construction in 1825, with the fluted columns being erected under the supervision of Playfair. In 1837 the Royal Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts commissioned John Steell to carve 8 sphinxes and the colossal statue of Queen Victoria with crown and sceptre, 'her robes draped so as to give a general idea of Britannia' for the roof of their building. Steele went to Windsor to make preparatory studies for the Queen's likeness. The Queen requested a model of the building be sent to London so that she could study the proposed position for her statue. A drawing by Playfair indicates that a statue of Britannia with a reclining lion, was originally intended. By the end of the 19th century the museum of the Society of Antiquaries had moved to Queen Street (National Portrait Gallery), the Royal Society to 22-24 George Street, and the new Edinburgh College of Art had been built. In 1911-12 the interior of the building was adapted, with the addition of upper level galleries and coved concrete ceilings (by LG Mouchel and Partners) to provide accommodation for the RSA (previously housed in the National Gallery building) by WT Oldrieve of the Office of Works. The building is at present (2001) in the process of refurbishment, and an underground link to the National Galleries of Scotland, which will provide access from East Princes Street Gardens, a cafe and bookshop is under construction.



Letter book (Playfair) and plans, Edinburgh University Library. Plans, SRO. Thomas Shepherd MODERN ATHENS (1829). Grant OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH (1885) pp 83-7. AJ Youngson THE MAKING OF CLASSICAL EDINBURGH (1966) pp162-5. Gifford, McWilliam and Walker EDINBURGH (1984) p 289. Fiona Pearson SIR JOHN STEELL AND THE IDEA OF A NATIVE SCHOOL OF SCULPTURE in Pearson (ed) VIRTUE AND VISION, SCULPTURE AND SCOTLAND 1540-1990 (1991) p74.

About Listed Buildings

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Listing is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for buildings of special architectural or historic interest as set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

We list buildings which are found to be of special architectural or historic interest using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Listed building records provide an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building which has been identified by its statutory address. The description and additional information provided are supplementary and have no legal weight.

These records are not definitive historical accounts or a complete description of the building(s). If part of a building is not described it does not mean it is not listed. The format of the listed building record has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site which is known as the statutory address. Other than the name or address of a listed building, further details are provided for information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland does not accept any liability for any loss or damage suffered as a consequence of inaccuracies in the information provided. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing. Even if a number or name is missing from a listing address it will still be listed. Listing covers both the exterior and the interior and any object or structure fixed to the building. Listing also applies to buildings or structures not physically attached but which are part of the curtilage (or land) of the listed building as long as they were erected before 1 July 1948.

While Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating listed buildings, the planning authority is responsible for determining what is covered by the listing, including what is listed through curtilage. However, for listed buildings designated or for listings amended from 1 October 2015, legal exclusions to the listing may apply.

If part of a building is not listed, it will say that it is excluded in the statutory address and in the statement of special interest in the listed building record. The statement will use the word 'excluding' and quote the relevant section of the 1997 Act. Some earlier listed building records may use the word 'excluding', but if the Act is not quoted, the record has not been revised to reflect subsequent legislation.

Listed building consent is required for changes to a listed building which affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest. The relevant planning authority is the point of contact for applications for listed building consent.

Find out more about listing and our other designations at You can contact us on 0131 668 8914 or at


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