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Robert and James Adam's 'The works in architecture' marked a watershed for the Adam practice and the careers of the brothers. It first appeared in several sections between 1773 and 1778. The book was reissued as two volumes in 1786, and a third volume in 1822.
Throughout the 1760s, the Adams' practice saw continued success, until the brothers overstretched and almost ruined themselves with a huge speculative building project at the Adelphi in London.
Started in 1768, the Adelphi was a huge speculative project to build an elevated terrace of 22 private houses with the space below designed to be let as warehouses. The national credit crisis of 1772 led to the project being abandoned and almost resulted in financial ruin for the practice. The failure of the project also attracted negative attention to the firm and both Robert and James had to re-build their reputations and re-assess their future.
The Adams brothers looked to re-establish themselves with 'The works in architecture'. Beginning publication in 1773, it was one of the best architectural books of the 18th century. The engravings showcased their successes and helped to establish the 'Adam style' in Britain and beyond.
Parts from the gateway at Sion,
from 'The works in architecture'.
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Publication of the book helped to transform the firm and the expansion of the practice. It also marked a new direction for Robert.
Breaking new ground, the illustrated plates showed a mixture of furniture individually. Chimney-pieces and decorative details were set out in a balanced composition on the page, which at the time was considered to be new and bold.
Establishing the 'Adam style'
The book's large illustrated plates proved to be a very effective way of advertising the 'Adam style'. Movement, variety and irregularity of plan and elevation were all incorporated into the spirit of the 'picturesque'.
This same spirit later came to symbolise the Adam practice where a distinction was made between what Robert himself termed 'architectronic' (basic architecture) and the wider-ranging style of the 'picturesque'.