Adam designs on display at Dun

Treasure trove: John McKenna peruses William Adam's original design for the House of Dun, contained in the Vitruvius Scoticus.'Staff photograph
Treasure trove: John McKenna peruses William Adam's original design for the House of Dun, contained in the Vitruvius Scoticus.'Staff photograph

A RARE book showcasing the talents of one of Scotland’s foremost architects and designers has found its spiritual home at the House of Dun.

The Vitruvius Scoticus, one of only 30 thought to still exist, contains 160 plates showing designs and plans for some of the country’s grandest houses designed over a 30-year career by William Adam, and is one of only a few on public display.

Currently on loan to the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), the book will now be displayed in the house – which itself was designed by Adam in the 1720s – and property manager John McKenna is thrilled to have such a rare volume included in the house’s collection.

Although his early work is obscure, Adam shot to prominence around that time after working on such prestigious building projects including Floors Castle, where he executed a design by architect Sir John Vanbrugh, and designing extensions to Hopetoun House. His services were soon in demand by the top echelons of 18th century society, and he carried out projects for the Duke of Buccleuch, the Earl of Stair, the Duke of Argyll and the Duke of Hamilton.

He also completed designs on a more modest scale for landed families such as the Erskines at Dun and the first design for the house he submitted to the family is included in the book. In all, 14 designs were drafted before the Erskines’ requirements were met.

Mr McKenna said: “In terms of Scottish architecture, it’s absolutely fundamental. It’s a keynote document, and anyone visiting the house and seeing it will be stunned by its quality.

“What’s brilliant about it from our point of view is that we can see what Adam submitted, compared to how the house actually looks, so all the changes made are down to the Earl of Mar and Erskine of Dun, as it was their money paying for it, so it shows the mark they also left on the property.”

Although Adam had plans to publish the collection – which also includes some work by other architects – in his own lifetime, the plan foundered possibly due to a lack of money. He commissioned some engravings during a trip to London in 1727, and began collecting subscriptions, but these fell short of what was required.

William died in 1748, but his son John attempted to restart the project 18 years later, although again, nothing came of it. The book was finally published in 1812 by John’s son William, and contained 160 plates, including 100 of Adam’s own designs.

Its vellum pages contain a treasure trove of his work on some of Scotland’s most famous country houses including Haddo House, Dalkeith House, Hopetoun House and Inveraray Castle as well as for houses that have since been demolished, such as Hamilton Palace. The plates illustrate the properties’ elevations as well as floor plans, all meticulously drawn.

Mr McKenna said the book would be an undoubted attraction to help draw visitors to Dun when it goes on display in a specially-constructed case in the house’s library.

He said: “Its clarity is breath-taking, especially considering that it’s 200 years old. It’s on loan to the trust from a very kind gentleman who felt that if it was kept in his home, people wouldn’t get the benefit of it and he wants the nation to be able to appreciate it.

“This book is a huge reference point for many an architect and we’re quite excited, because we can see architects from around the country and the world beating a path to our door to see it. It’ll be kept in the new library, and we thought it would be good to turn a page every month.

“It’s a stunning addition to the house’s collection.”