Author: Suse Coon

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Tuesday, February 27th, 2007 at 4:01 pm
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Think Global, Think Glass

Sir Patrick Geddes, one of Britain’s first town planners, but also a scientist and ‘educator’, worked all over the world to deal with poverty created by industrial expansion and mass urbanisation. Now he has been immortalised in light and glass as part of an ongoing campaign to celebrate his international achievements more than 150 years after his birth.

Geddes, who was born in Ballater in 1854, believed that people are strongly influenced by the physical conditions around them and that social conditions such as poverty could be tackled by enabling people to charge of their local environment. During his lifetime, he lived on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and would have seen many opportunities for improvement as the Industrial Revolution brought about cramped and unhealthy living conditions. There are numerous accounts of his involvement in the life of the Old Town: painting closes, cleaning, gardening as well as encouraging street theatre, sculpture and mural art.

GeddesEdinburgh in perspective
As the upper end of society moved to the New Town, Geddes set about reviving the Old Town. He established ‘residential halls’ and, in 1892, he took over part of the old School of Art on Castlehill to create the Outlook Tower, with its museum and camera obscura. His objective was to show people a wider view of Edinburgh to enable them to put their own corner of it into perspective, as well as gaining an understanding of Edinburgh’s place in the larger world. Geddes believed in the exhibition as a vehicle of education. The Outlook Tower was, unfortunately, relatively short-lived and never completed. Today, it is a tourist attraction, with an exhibition of Geddes’ work and displays of holograms and pin-hole photography. The camera obscura itself is still one of Edinburgh’s most popular attractions. Many sites stand testament to Geddes’s work, notably Pittencrief Park in Dunfermline, his biggest piece of commissioned work, which Geddes gifted to the town in 1904.
Geddes’ work was not confined to Edinburgh. His son-in-law was the architect, Sir Frank Mears and they worked together on projects in India and the Middle East where, in 1919, Geddes was consulted on the urban development of Jerusalem. He also authored the 1925 master plan for Tel Aviv.

He still believed in the concept of the Outlook Tower, however, and at the ripe old age of 70, he moved to Montpellier, France, where he again bought land with a view over the city. Here he built a house from scratch, incorporating another Outlook Tower. The house became the Scots College (College Des Ecossais)an international teaching establishment.

Influential
His own influences came from thinkers such as Ruskin and Adam and, in turn, Geddes strongly influenced the thinking of the American urban theorist Lewis Mumford, as well as many other 20th century thinkers and town planners.

He was knighted in 1932 shortly before his death on April 17th.

Commemorated in Glass
Now, more one hundred and fifty years after his birth, Edinburgh-based Scottish Arts Club (SAC) wished to commemorate Geddes. They invited artists to submit concepts for a stained glass panel, to be housed in the main reception area of the new Council Headquarters at Waverley Court.

The selection panel included a number of Geddes enthusiasts: Alistair Guild representing the Scottish Arts Club, Colin Macintosh of the City of Edinburgh Council, Ben Tindall, architect and chairman of the Patrick Geddes Memorial Trust, David McDonald, then director of the Cockburn Association and now Director of the Gigha Trust.

Think Global Act Local

The winning panel is by Kate Henderson, from Haddington, a former Edinburgh College of Art student and a member of Scottish Glass. The panel has been built into a purpose built light box. Henderson says, “It aims to reflect the energy and enthusiasm so apparent in the life and works of Patrick Geddes. The imagery reflects Geddes’ forward thinking about education and the environment, and is a strong reminder of our responsibility for our environment and the future.”
Cllr Brian Fallon, Executive Member for Business & Property Management, said, “The light box will be a great asset to the modern Council headquarters. Sir Patrick Geddes was a renowned artist, designer and planner and I’m sure he would have appreciated this sustainable, environmental friendly building.”

Think Global, Act Local
The message ‘Think Global, Act Local’ is one of Geddes’ famous sayings, which became the motto of Agenda 21 followers post the 1992 Rio Conference, and like most of his work, is of tremendous relevance today.

The main sponsors for the panel have been Arts&Business Scotland, EDI, Edinburgh World Heritage and West Lothian based Icon Research Ltd.

Think Global Act Local bookThink Global, Act Local: The Life and Legacy of Patrick Geddes (ISBN: 1 84282 079 6 published by Luath Press) examines the life of this important man, who in recent years has become almost a patron saint of the sustainable development movement, and the continuing relevance of his ideas and their place in our world, present and future.

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2 Responses to “Think Global, Think Glass”

  1. Local Focus with Another View | Edge Management Says:

    […] trend toward acting locally and thinking globally is one that some consider to have reached a peak a long time ago.  This might indeed be the case, […]

  2. Lothian Life the magazine for Edinburgh and the Lothians » Archive » New Monument Celebrates Patrick Geddes Says:

    […] Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) was a Scottish polymath, thinker, and visionary. He is best remembered for his innovative approaches to town planning and, in particular, the foundation of an ambitious urban renewal programme in Edinburgh’s overcrowded and dilapidated Old Town. In the 1880s and 90s he pioneered the principle of ‘conservative surgery’ by implementing sensitive improvements to living conditions, while retaining the existing character of historic buildings. […]

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