See J. Fleming, Robert Adam and His Circle (1962) and D. Stillman, The Decorative Work of Robert Adam (1966); D. Yarwood, Robert Adam (1970).
(born July 3, 1728, Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scot.—died March 3, 1792, London, Eng.) Scottish architect and designer. Son of the architect William Adam, he apprenticed in his father's offices. He traveled in Europe in 1754–58, studying architectural theory and Roman ruins. On his return to London, he and his brother James (1732–94) developed an essentially decorative style—known as the Adam style—that was marked by a new lightness and freedom in the use of the Classical elements of architecture. This style is most remembered for its application in interiors, which were characterized by contrasting room shapes and delicate Classical ornaments. Robert Adam's executed works, mainly remodeled interiors and exteriors of private houses, include Osterley Park (1761–80) in Middlesex and Kedleston Hall (circa 1765–70) in Derbyshire. Other works include the Adelphi development in London (1768–72) and the University of Edinburgh (1789). He was also a leading furniture designer; his style, popularized by designer George Hepplewhite, was meant to harmonize with his interior architecture down to the last detail.
Learn more about Adam, Robert with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Robert Adam (3 July 1728 – 3 March 1792) was a Scottish neoclassical architect, interior designer and furniture designer. He was the son of William Adam (1689–1748), Scotland's foremost architect of the time, and trained under him. With his older brother John, Robert took on the family business, which included lucrative work for the Board of Ordnance, after William's death.
In 1754 he left for Rome, spending nearly five years on the continent studying architecture under Charles-Louis Clérisseau and Giovanni Battista Piranesi. On his return to Britain, he established a practice in London, where he was joined by his younger brother James. Here he developed the "Adam Style", and his theory of "movement" in architecture, based on his studies of antiquity. He became one of the most successful architects of his day, and held the post of Architect of the Kings Works from 1761–1769.
He is considered by many to be the greatest architect of the late 18th century, and his work influenced the development of Western architecture, both in Europe and in North America. He was leader of the first phase of the classical revival in England and Scotland from around 1760 until his death. His rival Sir William Chambers was the leading official British architect of the era, but Adam received many important commissions from private clients and had a more lasting stylistic influence.
On his recovery from illness in 1746, he joined his elder brother John as apprentice to his father. He assisted William Adam on projects such as the building of Inveraray Castle and the continuing extensions of Hopetoun House. William's position as Master Mason to the Board of Ordnance also began to generate much work, as the Highlands were fortified following the failed Jacobite revolt. Robert's early ambition was to be an artist rather than architect, and the style of his early sketches in the manner of Salvator Rosa are reflected in his earliest surviving architectural drawings, which show picturesque gothic follies. William Adam died in June 1748, and left Dowhill, a part of the Blair Adam estate which included a tower house, to Robert.
On William Adam's death, John Adam inherited both the family business and the position of Master Mason to the Board of Ordnance. He immediately took Robert into partnership, later to be joined by James Adam. The Adam Brothers' first major commission was the decoration of the grand state apartments on the first floor at Hopetoun House, followed by their first "new build" at Dumfries House. For the Board of Ordnance, the brothers were the main contractor at Fort George, a large modern fort near Inverness designed by military engineer Colonel Skinner. Visits to this project, begun in 1750, would occupy the brothers every summer for the next ten years, and, along with works at many other barracks and forts, provided Robert with a solid foundation in practical building.
In the winter of 1749–1750, Adam travelled to London with his friend, the poet John Home. He took the opportunity for architectural study, visiting Wilton, designed by Inigo Jones, and the Queens Hermitage in Richmond by Roger Morris. His sketchbook of the trip also shows a continuing interest in gothic architecture.
Among his friends at Edinburgh were the philosopher Adam Ferguson and the artist Paul Sandby who he met in the Highlands. Other Edinburgh acquaintances included Gilbert Elliot, William Wilkie, John Home and Alexander Wedderburn.
He returned to Great Britain in 1758 and set up in business in London with his brother James Adam. They focused on designing complete schemes for the decoration and furnishing of houses. Palladian design was popular, and Robert designed a number of country houses in this style, but Robert evolved a new, more flexible style incorporating elements of classical Roman design alongside influences from Greek, Byzantine and Baroque styles. The Adam brothers' success can also be attributed to a desire to design everything down to the smallest detail, ensuring a sense of unity in their designs.
Adam was elected a member of the Royal Society of Arts in 1758 and of the Society of Antiquaries in 1761, the same year he was appointed Architect of the King’s Works (jointly with Sir William Chambers). His younger brother James succeeded him in this post when he relinquished the role in 1768 in order to devote more time to his elected office as Member of Parliament for Kinross-shire.
Robert Adam died suddenly at his home, 11 Albermarle Street, London, after a blood vessel in his stomach burst. He was 64. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. He left nearly 9,000 drawings, most of which were purchased by the architect John Soane and are now at the Soane Museum in London.
The Adam brother's principle of "movement" was largely Robert's conception, although the theory was first written down by James. "Movement" relied on dramatic contrasts and diversity of form, and drew on the picturesque aesthetic. The first volume of the Adam brother's Works (1773) cited Kedleston Hall, designed by Robert in 1761, as an outstanding example of movement in architecture.
By contrasting room sizes and decorative schemes, Adam applied the concept of movement to his interiors also. His style of decoration, described by Pevsner as "Classical Rococo", drew on Roman "grotesque" stucco decoration.
Picture perfect: this survey of Robert Adam's houses offers new insights into buildings that might have been designed for photography.(The Country Houses of Robert Adam fom the Archives of Country Life)(Book review)
Sep 01, 2008; The Country Houses of Robert Adam fom the Archives of Country Life EILEEN HARRIS AURUM PRESS, 40 [pounds sterling] ISBN...
Beyond the needle's eye: Robert Adam's Huntwick Lodge at Nostell Priory, Yorkshire: a newly discovered drawing by Robert Adam for Nostell Priory's Huntwick Lodge transforms our view of this overlooked element in the house's landscape setting. As Gareth J.L. Williams explains, the building is unique in Adam's work for its use of a 17th-century vernacular style, and may even have been designed to appear partly ruined.
Apr 01, 2006; When in 2003, with the assistance of a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Trust acquired the landscape...
Take a chair: for his latest exhibition, Hugh Buchanan has depicted furniture by Robert Adam at Osterley and Syon. Eileen Harris examines the remarkable sympathy between architect and artist.
Nov 01, 2004; The fact that the fourteen watercolour and acrylic paintings in Hugh Buchanan's current exhibition at the Francis Kyle Gallery...