However, Adam received many important private commissions, his designs were highly sought after and they had a more lasting influence than Chambers'.
As a youth, Robert went to the Royal High School, Edinburgh and entered the University of Edinburgh in 1743. His schooling was cut short by illness and the Jacobite Rising of 1745, so he and his older brother, John, assisted their father in the family business of stonemasonry and architecture. The two brothers then formed a business as partners that became known as the "Adam Brothers."
The Adam Brothers' first commission was decorating the state apartments in Edinburgh, on the first floor at Hopetoun House. They then were commissioned to do projects at Fort George, Dumfries House and Inverarary.
Adam, now becoming a leading Neoclassical designer in England, left to continue his schooling by making the "Grand Tour," traveling to France and Italy in the 1750's and acquainting himself with Neoclassicism. He studied drawing with both French architect Charles Louis Clerisseau and the famous architect and archaeologist Geovanni Battista Piranesi. He admired and measured ancient buildings, mainly Diocletian's Palace in Spalato in Dalmatia. Later, in 1764, he wrote a book called The Ruins of the Palace of Diocletian. Admiring Roman architecture, he was greatly influenced by Piranesi, Raphael and Michelangelo. Running out of money and becoming homesick for England, Robert decided not to continue his tour to Greece and Egypt.
Back in England in 1758, Robert's mind was still full of Romanesque and French images. He had designed and built very few houses and was remembered mostly for his interiors, so he focused completely on designing interior decorations and furnishings. The Palladian design was popular and he decorated the interiors of several country homes in this style (Roth, 1993, p. 397). The Palladium style of architecture was based on the writings and buildings of the humanist and theorist from Vicenza, Andrea Palladio (1508-80), the great architect during the latter part of the 16th century and certainly the most influential. Palladio felt that architecture should be governed by reason and by the principles of classical antiquity (Palladianism, 2006).
But Adams eschewed the rules set up by the Neo-Palladian styles that had come into vogue in the first part of the century, adjusting his proportions and elements according to individual requirements. He also began designing interiors (and the exterior facades of some buildings) in the manner of the more Romantic styles he had admired in France and Italy, incorporating classic elements mixed with Greek, Baroque and Byzantine styles (Roth, 1993, p. 402).
Robert had an illustrious career, designing interiors with his brothers John, James and William Adam, including drapes, furniture, and everything in each room down to the smallest detail, which created a unity of design. He designed the interiors of many of the best-known historic homes in London, such as Osterley Park (1761-80) and outside of it, including Mistley Towers in Essex. He designed the interiors and remodeled exteriors of castles and country homes, such as Kedleston Hall (c. 1765-70) in Derbyshire, with the front based on the Arch of Constantine in Rome. He also designed for the Adelphi development in London (1768-72) and the University of Edinburgh (1789). He even designed furniture that was then copied and popularized by George Hepplewhite. (Dennis, 1991, p. 11)
Robert had been elected a member of the Royal Society of Arts in 1758, and in 1761 was elected a member of the Society of Antiquaries. When he was appointed Architect of the King's Works, to his surprise he found he was appointed jointly with Sir William Chambers, his long-time rival. Robert's younger brother James succeeded him when he left this post of Architect of the King's Works and was elected a Member of Parliament for Kinross. He died at the age of 64 of a stomach aneurism, leaving nearly 9,000 drawings, most of which were bought by architect John Soane to be put into the Soane Museum in London. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. He published two volumes of his and his brother's work (Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam) in 1773-1778 and his brother had this masterwork published again in 1822.
Dennis S. (1991). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Architects and Architecture. New York: Quatro Publishing.. p 11.
Harwood, B., May, B., Sherman C. (2002). Architecture and Interior Design through the 18th Century, an Integrated History. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Palladianism. (2006). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved November 13, 2006, from Encyclopedia Britannica Online:
Roth, L.M. (1993). Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History and Meaning, First, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 397-402.
Adam Keddleston Hall, 1759-1770, Derbyshire, England by James Paine, completed by Robert…