Edinburgh Doors Open Day 2012 : Playfair Library Hall

The Playfair Library Hall in Old College, University of Edinburgh:
Come up a fairly dark set of stairs with portraits of Edinburgh’s famous (mostly) sons. Go past the portrait of David Hume wearing what looks like a velvet shower cap. Push open a boring door at the end of the hall, and unexpectedly, you find yourself entering into one of Edinburgh’s most sublime interiors.

I defy anyone not to be wowed on seeing it for the first time. One hundred and ninety feet long, with a very impressive barrel vaulted ceiling.

It is a beautiful room with a slightly institutional feel. Being so used to columns like this on the outside of buildings, I was surprised to see that these appear to be painted wood. What else would they be really? But I expected them to be plastered.

Along the walls behind the pillars are reading niches housing the books. The library was in daily use until the 1960s when the modern university library opened in George Square. On the day I was there, sunlight flooded in to the niches.

So, what can we take from this vast space that can be applied to interiors. Two lessons for me:
1. Repetition and symmetry – humans seem to like pairs of things, things in threes, things that can be counted. It’s calming. This can be directly applied to interiors.
2. Colour – you’re not in there saying “I’m in a BLUE! room”. Sometimes you do want colour to reach out to you. Other times you want it to just wrap around you gently. This room does the latter.

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