Saving Adam Smith's house

How much of the 18th century philosopher's Edinburgh home should be renovated for public access?

By , Guest blogger

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    The engraving is a portrait of the 18th century philosopher and economist Adam Smith. The Edinburgh Business School recently bought his home and plans to restore it for public use, but the government is questioning whether the renovation plans are too extreme.
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Adam Smith's old home in Edinburgh, Panmure House, was bought recently by the Edinburgh Business School, who plan to spend £3m restoring the building to provide a scholar's library and a salon for public events. It's good that this fine building – currently very shabby from being stripped and used as council offices for thirty years – is to be restored and made accessible to the general public.

It is hard to provide modern access and facilities in a cramped 18th century townhouse. The Business School plans an external glass atrium housing a stair – solving the access problem with minimal impact on the historic structure. (See attached pictures.) I see no viable use for Panmure House without it.

But a government agency, Historic Scotland has (predictably) insisted that the plan goes to a public inquiry next month, saying the atrium is out of keeping. I have submitted my own support for the restoration. And friends from around the planet share that view. Here are words from a few of them:

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Admirers of Adam Smith from around the world will be thrilled at the prospect of his last home being opened up to the public and to scholars. I very much hope that the innovative restoration plan goes ahead. – Nobel economist Gary Becker

As an Edinburgh graduate and frequent visitor to Edinburgh, I have long been dismayed at the state of Adam Smith's old home in the Canongate. Its restoration is long overdue, and I am hugely pleased that the innovative designs will make it accessible to the many friends of Adam Smith both in the UK and in many other countries. – Heritage Foundation President Edwin J Feulner Jr

I was honored to unveil the Adam Smith statue in Edinburgh in 2008, but dismayed to see the dilapidated state of his old home, Panmure House. Adam Smith was, after all, the father of modern economics, and it is marvellous to think that with this ingenious restoration, people from all over the world will be able to visit his Edinburgh home. – Nobel economist Vernon Lomax Smith

As beneficiaries of some of the greatest institutions and ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment, Australians and New Zealanders are especially mindful of the great contributions of Adam Smith. One of the most disappointing things about a visit to Edinburgh has been the poor state of his last home, Panmure House. The proposed restoration looks magnificent. I am sure that the restored house will attract many visitors from Australia and New Zealand and indeed from the many other countries that have gained so much from his legacy. – Greg Lindsay, Centre for Independent Studies, Sydney

Adam Smith's ideas were critical to freeing Estonia and other countries from Soviet domination, and he deserves better than for his home to be neglected and closed to the public. The planned restoration looks wonderful and I am sure it will attract many visitors from all over the world. – Mart Laar, former Prime Minister of Estonia

Adam Smith's old home, Panmure House, was always open to his many friends who wanted to discuss ideas with the author of The Wealth of Nations. It is well past time that it should be open to scholars and those who remain interested in these ideas. I very much welcome the plan to improve access to the public. – Leading Danish economist Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard

Karl Marx's worldwide followers can visit his house in London, and it is a shame that Adam Smith's house is not similarly accessible to his worldwide followers too. The proposed improvements look like a splendid way to make this house live again. The project is beautiful. I endorse the idea wholeheartedly. – Antonio Martino, former Foreign Minister of Italy

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