Patrick Geddes

Town planner

B/W photograph of Patrick Geddes

Patrick Geddes (1854–1932), biologist, sociologist, conservationist, influential town planner, writer and teacher, was born in Ballater, Perthshire. 1 He studied at the Royal School of Mines under Thomas Huxley and at the University of Paris. After travels in South America, he returned to Scotland in 1880 to teach Practical Botany at Edinburgh University. He held the Chair of Botany at University College Dundee from 1889–1919 and the Chair of Sociology at the University of Bombay from 1919–24 . He initiated a range of schemes to improve housing and living conditions in the Old Town of Edinburgh. From the mid-1880s he organised Summer Meetings of Art and Science which attracted scholars from Britain, Europe and America; Mackintosh attended the 1915 Summer School held in London. 2 In 1892 Geddes bought an old camera obscura building near Edinburgh Castle and set it up as a museum called the Outlook Tower, as a centre to develop how people viewed their city and environment. In 1894 he built the Arts-and-Crafts-inspired block of flats by the castle esplanade, Ramsay Gardens, where he lived.

Geddes organised the first International Conference on Town Planning in London in 1910, and in 1914 was a founding member of the Town Planning Institute. 3 In 1910 he created the Cities and Town Planning exhibition, which toured internationally, in 1914 reaching Madras. He was closely involved in planning projects in India and Palestine. Between 1915 and 1919 he produced a series of reports and an exhibition showing options for city and town planning in India, where he lived from 1917 to 1924. In 1919 he was commissioned to draw up a master plan for Jerusalem; in 1920 he advised on the replanning of Colombo, Sri Lanka; and in 1925 submitted a master plan for developing Tel Aviv, which was subsequently carried out. In 1924, with his health failing, he moved to Montpellier, where he began to create the Scots College. Geddes was knighted in 1932, shortly before his death in Montpellier.

His publications included The Evolution of Sex (1889); City Development, A Report to the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust (1904); Cities in Evolution (1915), Life: Outlines of General Biology (1931). Major archives are held at the National Library of Scotland, University of Strathclyde and the University of Dundee.


1: Helen Meller, Patrick Geddes: Social Evolutionist and City Planner, London: Routledge, 1990; Volker M. Welter, Biopolis: Patrick Geddes and the City of Life, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002.

2: Letter from Mackintosh to William Davidson, 21 July 1915, written on the School's headed paper, refers to Mackintosh's participation. The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 52536.

3: Oxford Art Online, [accessed 18 November 2013].