Mr Bryce was born in 1803, his father having been a builder in good practice in Edinburgh. He was educated at the High School of Edinburgh, and having, at an early age, exhibited an aptitude for drawing, entered the office of Mr William Burn. He later became a partner with Mr Burn, until 1844, when Mr Burn left for London. After 1844, David Bryce carried on the business on his own until then late 1870's when Mr Robert Anderson joined him as a partner. This arrangement only lasted for around twelve months, when Mr Anderson retired from the business, after which Bryce carried on the business with his nephew, Mr John Bryce. This nephew completed the works left behind on David's death.
The works of David Bryce are distinguishable by two leading features,- adaptability to circumstances and position, and propriety of plan and arrangement. Imbued with true artistic feeling, David Bryce was ever careful as to the ensemble of his works, and to their fitness for the position they were to occupy,and harmony with the surroundings. When he had a work on hand where anything like scope was allowed to his powers, he wrought upon it as a painter does upon a canvas on his easel, revisiting it again and again, altering proportions, and rearranging the grouping of masses, and in doing so he did not hesitate occasionally to obliterate what had cost much labour.
Arguably, in the late nineteenth century, no other man in the land had altered more mansion houses than David Bryce. Many an inconvenient, comfortless dwelling was converted by him, into one of the most comfortable residences, and many a tame, uninteresting, common place mansion rendered a picturesque feature on the landscape. One source of his success in carrying out such alterations was that he allowed no obstacle to stand in his way, and was permitted to do what others would not have dared suggest. The alterations in many cases resulted in the original structure being unrecognisable from its original state.
Bryce was cosmopolitan in style. He designed buildings of almost every description, and in the most various phases of architecture; however it was in the adaptation of the Scottish Baronial style to modern needs that he was most at home. He may, in fact, have been responsible for reviving the style at that time, and his works appeared in the most picturesque spots in Scotland. Unfortunately, some, like Craigends have not stood that test of time. Bryce did not confine himself to this style when designing his mansion houses, occasionally he used Elizabethan, Jacobean, Palladian and Renaissance styles, all with considerable freedom of treatment.
In public buildings for large towns, such as banks and insurance offices, he invariably adopted either the Palladian or Italian manner, and these were invariably characterised by breadth and solidity of treatment rather than by beauty and delicacy to detail. It was in ecclesiastical architecture that he was deemed to be least successful. When Gothic was the style he adopted the influence of the baronial style. The results produced picturesque effects, however, led to impure and misplaced detail, and an oversight of properties of ecclesiastical sentiment. When, however, he used Gothic for other purposes, he was more successful, as he chose the later phases of Gothic which aligned themselves neatly to his preferred Scottish Baronial style. His finest example of this work remains the Fettes College, which he designed in this manner, a building rich in detail, beautifully proportioned, well balanced, and picturesque.
The extent and variety of David Bryce's practices were such that entry to his office was eagerly sought after by the young men desiring to study the architectural profession. Many of the most successful architects in Scotland and elsewhere, in the late nineteenth century, had been his pupils and assistants.
Bryce was Grand Architect for Scotland, a member of the Royal Scottish Academy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Scotland, and a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He was a man of varied acquirements, and although somewhat rough in manner, he was of warm genial nature, and his company was much sought after by a large circle of friends. He died at the age of seventy-three, and, although vigorous in intellect to the last, his state of health had, for some years prior to his death, required him to abstain from over-exertion and excitement. He left several works in an unfinished state, the most important of which were the Royal Infirmary and the Union Bank of Edinburgh. The drawings for the hospital were made and now reside with the hospital archives. A list of his most important works can be seen at the above links.