Historic Urban Morphology

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Geological Underpinnings // Topographical Boundaries The very unique substrate of Edinburgh is the geological formations which underpin the city and have necessitated a unique approach to the foundations of the urban fabric. Edinburgh has always been dominated by the three vestigial volcanic peaks of Castle Rock, Arthurs Seat and Calton Hill.
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Historical Urban Morphology // The Medieval City The city of Edinburgh originally clustered around the castle rock itself, and straddled the Crag and Tail geological formation which was contained within city walls. As such, long, narrow closes and wynds sit at a perpendicular to the main route between the two centres of power: the castle and the Palace of Holyrood.
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Historical Urban Morphology // 1795 Housing pressures of the historic old town, and a desire to realise a new urban extension to Scotland’s capital suffused with the backgrounding enlightenment thinking of the day, lead to the first New Town being laid out by James Craig in the late 18th Century. This, as shown, was on a rigid grid-plan on virgin ground, and completely unlike the original urban form. To the south of the city, and earlier, George Sq was formed for the city’s wealthy. A new bridge was forged from the hill of the old town to the rise of George Sq.
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Historical Urban Morphology // 1807 The success of James Craig’s plan, and the continuation and elaboration of classical and enlightenment thinking, saw the development of the second new town at the turn of the century. This embraced increasingly more elaborate geometries, mimicking the other classical urban forms of the great Hanoverian cities of the day, such as Bath.
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Historical Urban Morphology // 1823 Never fully completed, the natural progression of the next urban extensions was the third new town (seen towards the north-east). This was made possible by the connection of Regent’s Bridge, negotiating the steep canyon of lower Calton at the east end of the original New Town. In its urban form, this embraced the lay of the land and the contribution of the landscape itself, with more intricate urban plan geometries moulding to the contours of the ground. An urban extension to the west end also developed at this time, developed with similar themes.
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Historical Urban Morphology // 1826 Highlighted here is the development of the Moray Feu. A parcel of land owned by the Earl of Moray, and finally completed sometime in the late 1850s, Moray Place demonstrates the continuation of rational, neoclassical thinking emerging at this time.
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Historical Urban Morphology // 1880 The full swing of the industrial revolution, and the wealth of the mercantile British Empire, provided the impetus and means of further Edinburgh expansion. By 1880, the West End had grown to an urban assemblage of crescents and small squares. Common land such as the Meadows to the south becomes encircled by development. Most importantly, The heart of the city is gutted with fire, and the reconstruction is seen as an opportunity for further feats of engineering improvement in negotiating the vertiginous terrain.
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Historical Urban Morphology // Present Day Edinburgh today still retains many of the features of its historic development. Predominantly, the major changes are the result of further industrial and post industrial urban infill, occupying the same urban footprints as those which surround it. The city is still clearly bounded by its natural features; the parks which constitute public space, and the rugged hill scape of Castle Rock, Calton hill and Arthur’s Seat.

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