THE work of the architect William Henry Playfair, who helped earn Edinburgh the title of Athens of the North, is to be marked in an exhibition at the City Art Centre which opens today.

Around 50 drawings from Playfair’s practice, including plans for some of Edinburgh’s most famous landmarks, will be on show in an exhibition that runs until March and is free to view.

Complemented by images made by 19th-century painters showing some of his best regarded buildings, the Playfair drawings have been gathered from the University of Edinburgh’s Department of Architectural History and its Centre for Research Collections, Historic Environment Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council’s permanent collection.

Playfair (1790–1857) was one of Scotland’s most prolific Georgian architects.

His contribution to the architecture of early 19th-century Edinburgh is found in many of the city’s most famous buildings, including Old College and New College, Donaldson’s School, George Heriots, the Scott Monument, Surgeon’s Hall, the Royal Scottish Academy and the City’s Observatory on Calton Hill.

Most famous for his neo-classical buildings, Playfair later moved to a neo-Gothic style showing how he and his architectural practice were engaged in shaping Edinburgh as a developing, working city. His work showed his vision and ambition for Edinburgh as a place of significance within the British Isles.

The show is curated by Dr Kirsten Carter McKee and John Lowrey from the University of Edinburgh’s Department of Architectural History.

Councillor Donald Wilson, the city council’s culture and communities convener, said: “Almost anywhere you turn in Edinburgh, look up and you are likely to see Playfair’s magnificent monuments, domes, spires and structures scattering the skyline.

“It is thanks to his vision that Edinburgh earned its ‘Athens of the North’ title, with his breathtaking City Observatory one of his earliest projects.”

Dr Kirsten Carter McKee, curator of Playfair and the City, and research and teaching fellow in architectural history at University of Edinburgh said: “It is through Playfair’s understanding of the broader context of the city landscape that the true mastery of his skill becomes apparent.

“Playfair and the City explores this through the layout of Edinburgh’s Third New Town to the north of the city, which includes the urban parkland of Calton Hill.

“This vision and ambition in both Playfair’s architecture and his exploitation of the city landscape aimed to place Edinburgh as a city of style and significance within the British Isles.

“Playfair’s role as an architect of significance in the 19th century therefore extends outside of Edinburgh, and places him within the realm of the British architectural greats of the late Georgian period.”

David Patterson, curatorial and conservation manager with Museums and Galleries Edinburgh, said: “This is a unique opportunity to see the work of one of Scotland’s most influential architects.

“Without doubt William Playfair left his mark on the appearance of Edinburgh in a way which no other single architect had done previously or has done since.”