Institute of Geography

(New Surgical Hospital)

Sitting back from the road, the B-listed Institute of Geography presents an imposing Italian-Renaissance facade, which comes as a surprise towards the bottom of Drummond Street on the South Side of Edinburgh. Built in 1853 as the New Surgical Hospital, between Old Surgeons' Hall (1697) and William Adam's Royal Infirmary (1738, demolished c.1884), it was the work of architect David Bryce (1803-76). After the infirmary transferred to Lauriston Place in 1879, this building was bought by the Town Council and became part of the City Fever Hospital. In turn, when this hospital moved to become the new Edinburgh City Hospital at Greenbank in 1903, the building became the property of the University of Edinburgh. It first served as the Department of Natural Philosophy (Physics) and the former function of several of the rooms at this time can still be picked out in the paintwork above the doors. It was here that Prof. Charles Barkla (1877 - 1944) undertook work which brought him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1917, and another Nobel Laureate Max Born (1882 - 1970), who was a great friend of Albert Einstein, served as Tait Professor of Natural Philosophy here 1936-53. Appointed in 1923, the first incumbent of the Tait Professorship was Charles Galton Darwin (1887 - 1962), grandson of the famous naturalist. Physics moved to the King's Buildings campus in 1976 and Geography progressively took over the building, which it completely occupies today. Edinburgh had the first geography department in Scotland, created in 1908, although geography had been taught as a part of other subjects since c.1620. In 2002, Geography lost its separate administrative existence, becoming part of a larger School of GeoSciences. However, the teaching and research undertaken here continues to be recognised as of international importance.

The building was constructed on a steeply sloping site and comprises three storeys, with mezzanine floors between, and an attic. The walls are of droved sandstone, with ashlar quoins. A university crest appears within a fine wallhead dormer in the middle of the 13-bay facade, high above the pedimented Doric entrance. This entrance is reached by crossing a bridge, accessing the middle floor of the three. There is a square balustraded tower in the middle - set well back from the facade - possibly part of a rear extension by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson and Balfour Paul that was added as part of a major reconstruction 1905-7 and occupies the site of the rooms of anatomist Dr. Robert Knox (1791 - 1862) on the west side of Surgeons' Square. It was to this house that the 'resurrectionists' Burke and Hare brought their victim's bodies for use in teaching and demonstration. There are linking bridges to the Old High School building behind and Old Surgeons' Hall to the east. The reconstructed building was opened on 16th October 1906 by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835 - 1918).

Inside, a wood-panelled outer hall leads to a large but utilitarian inner hall where a wide open-well stone staircase with metal balusters rises to the upper floor. Hanging within the stairwell is a large globe gifted in the late 1980s by cartographers John Bartholomew & Sons.

The finest room is the Edwardian wood-panelled library, which was restored in 2003. Opposite is the similarly wood-panelled Coppock Room, named in honour of Professor J.T. Coppock (1921 - 2000) a pioneer in the field of geographical information science, whose office this was. Also on the middle floor is a 90-seat raked lecture theatre, with the remainder of the building comprising various teaching rooms, offices and laboratories. A larger wooden-benched raked lecture theatre on the first floor was destroyed by fire in 1990 and replaced with two levels of modern offices and seminar rooms within the same space. There are small round-arched niche drinking-water taps on each floor, while an Escher-like complex of stairways rises to the upper floors through the rear section of the building.

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