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Ramsay Gardens, Edinburgh: Developed by Patrick Geddes
Ramsay Gardens, Edinburgh: Developed by Patrick Geddes

Sir Patrick Geddes lived from 2 October 1854 to 17 April 1932. He was a noted biologist and botanist who went on to become a pioneer in the field of town planning. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

Patrick Geddes in 1886
Patrick Geddes in 1886
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Patrick Geddes was born in Ballater on Deeside and spent his childhood in Perthshire, attending Perth Academy. He studied at the Royal College of Mines in London under between 1874 and 1878. In 1879 he established a zoological facility at Stonehaven for Aberdeen University, and he served as a lecturer in zoology at Edinburgh University from 1880 to 1888. He went on to hold the Chair of Botany at University College, Dundee, from 1888 to 1919, and the Chair of Sociology at the University of Bombay from 1919 to 1924.

Geddes made his name as a pioneer in the field of town planning at a time when urban deprivation and rampant industrialisation were both rife. He developed a deeply held conviction that social structures and behaviour were related to spatial form and environment: so that by changing a society's surroundings and environment, it was possible to change the structure and behaviour of that society.

This belief was first tested by Geddes' work in Edinburgh, where he brought about the redevelopment of a number of parts of the Old Town, an area effectively abandoned as slums in the late 1700s when the New Town was developed and little changed since. Geddes worked with Edinburgh University to produce a series of halls of residence, helping transform the environment and image of the Old Town. The most striking of these was at Ramsay Gardens, at the head of the Royal Mile next to the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade.

Geddes groundbreaking ideas were highly influential, and the projects in which he collaborated wide ranging. He worked with his son-in-law, the architect Sir Frank Mears on a number of projects in the Middle East. In 1919 Geddes was a consultant on the redevelopment of Jerusalem, and produced a master plan for Tel Aviv in 1925. As a result, Tel Aviv has a core entirely built according to Geddes' plans and principles.

In 1924, Geddes founded the Collège des Écossais (or Scots College) in Montpellier in France. This established itself as an important international teaching centre. In early 1932, Geddes was awarded a knighthood. He died on 17 April that same year at Collège des Écossais. His combination of broad interests, capacity for hard work and considerable accomplishments have since led to his being compared to Leonardo da Vinci, which is probably not a large exaggeration.

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