Architecture, Improvement and the 'New Science' in Early Modern Scotland

Walker, Matthew
July 2012
Architectural Heritage;2012, Vol. 23 Issue 1, p41
Academic Journal
In Sir William Bruce's lifetime, the relationship between architecture and natural, experimental and mechanical philosophies - the so-called 'new sciences' - was a fundamental one.1 It was reflected in the presence of major architects in important European scientific institutions in the period: groups such as the Royal Society of London and the Académie des sciences in Paris.2 These organisations could count among their members Sir Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, François Blondel and Claude Perrault, all of whom practised architecture alongside other intellectual pursuits that we would now identify as science. In Scotland, the situation was somewhat different due to the fact that the new science was never institutionalised here, as it was in England and France. Nonetheless, as this article will demonstrate, many of Scotland's more prominent late seventeenth-century intellectuals counted architecture among their interests. Additionally, proposals were made in Scotland for scientific groups that, had they got off the ground, would have almost certainly promoted architecture as an intellectual subject in their meetings. What follows is an attempt to reconstruct how Scottish intellectuals in this period conceived of architecture as an intellectual discipline and as a practice. Ultimately, this paper will conclude that their approach to architecture tended to differ from their English counterparts. Just as they conceived of the new sciences in a much more straightforwardly Baconian way than the London Royal Society, so too was their attitude to architecture informed by the general climate of utility and improvement in Scotland at the time.


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