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The Scottish Architects Who Changed the World

The Adam brothers reigned supreme in Britain for most of the last half of the 18th century as the ultimate arbiters of taste and style. They designed everything from country houses and London townhouses to theaters, bridges, and government buildings. Sons of William Adam, Sr., the foremost Scottish architect of his time, the brothers transformed the direction of architecture and design across the western world. There was Robert, supreme architect and the most famous and talented of the brothers; James, an architect, furniture designer, and scholar; William Jr., a landscape designer; and John, the business manager of the brothers’ architectural firm.

Robert Adam spent nearly five years on the Continent studying the ruins of the ancient world under the tutelage of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Upon his return to England, he rejected the popular Palladian style of Lord Burlington as “disgustful” and set about changing the taste of Britain with a new style of architecture and decoration – the Adam Style, whose influences remain with us today. Later known as Neoclassical (Federal in America), the style was so influential that it found its way to remote and exotic places like Russia, where Adam Style palaces were built for Catherine the Great and members of the nobility.

The Adam brothers were the first to fully and successfully integrate architecture and interiors. They designed curved walls, domed rooms, and elaborate plasterwork that perfectly meshed with fireplaces, furniture, fixtures, ironwork, carpets, and textiles into a uniform and harmonious whole. Partners like Josiah Wedgwood, Thomas Chippendale, and Matthew Boulton provided the icing on the Neoclassical cake, all brilliantly topped off with colors that had seldom been seen in European interiors: bright sky blue, intense pink, soft lilac, pea green, and the red-brown terracotta of Etruscan vases. The sublime beauty of the Adam Style in all its permutations comes to life via a lavish PowerPoint presentation by Curt DiCamillo, whose heart beats with a Neoclassical rhythm.