The square was laid out by Edinburgh builder James Brown, in the mid-eighteenth century and named after his elder brother, George Brown. Originally comprised of modest-sized Georgian, terraced houses, these were arranged around central gardens.
The University had first purchased property in the Square in 1914 and occupants included student residences Masson Hall (female) and Cowan House (male). A major programme of redevelopment began in 1949. Plans were delayed while battles were fought with conservationists, but eventually the new buildings went up; the David Hume Tower (1963), the Appleton Tower (1965), the William Robertson Building, a new University Library (1967, by Sir Basil Urwin Spence (1907-1976) and regarded as one of the finest buildings of its type in Europe), the Adam Ferguson Building (1970) and the George Square Theatre (1970). The remaining Georgian properties in the square were Category A-listed in 1970, with the David Hume Tower and the University Library being given the same designation in 2006.
Initial development was undertaken on the Medical School Extension (1956) and the Faculty of Arts phase one, according to the Sir Basil Spence layout of 1955, when Percy Edwin Alan Johnson-Marshall (1915-1993) was appointed Planning Consultant. Johnson-Marshall was not the architect of any of the George Square buildings but took responsibility for the overall layout, designation of sites, harmonisation of finishes, landscaping and external works. The second phase of the Arts Faculty Buildings (1967), the Main Library (1967), two further phases of the Medical School extension (1970 and 1978) and the first phase of the First-Year Science buildings (1966) were completed during Johnson-Marshall's tenure.
There was much opposition to demolition of the Georgian Square, particularly from the Cockburn Association, and the Georgian Group of Edinburgh. In the end, the western side of the square was retained. However Spence had always aimed to retain this side of the square anyway. Part of the east side also survived, with the intended entrance to Appleton Tower never being built. On the north side, what had been George Watson's Ladies College was also retained.
The University still does not own all the properties in the square.
- "Sir Basil Spence", CANMORE database, http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/122519/details/edinburgh+george+square+general/ (accessed 11 June 2014)
- "George Square", Gazetteer of Scotland, http://www.scottish-places.info/features/featurefirst1260.html (accessed 11 June 2014)