UCL CENTRE FOR ADVANCED SPATIAL ANALYSIS
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PATRICK GEDDES AND THE DIGITAL AGE

08/05/2007

The influence of the 19th century planning pioneer Patrick Geddes on the development of digital cities, GIS, and computer-based planning was explored at the Geddes Insitute for Urban Studies in the University of Dundee at a workshop on May 7-8 part-sponsored by the Spatial Literacy IN Teaching (SPLINT) Project. Fascinating stuff. Strange man. He was in UCL in 1878. Drill down for details.

Patrick Geddes was one of the pioneers of town planning over 100 years ago and through his writings, exhibitions and plans for various cities and regions, he impressed the idea on us that we should immerse ourselves in the problems of cities before one began to plan. Survey before Plan became his rallying cry. Obvious enough now perhaps but then….. He also coined the word ‘conurbation’ for a growing agglomeration of towns in a metropolitan or urban region and he established some key ideas in notions of sustainability and regional planning. He pursued his ideas through city exhibitions of which the Outlook Tower in Edinburgh (see right) was his permanent effort to link town to gown. He was a savant, a generalist and according to Sir Patrick Abercrombie (5 Bartlett professors back from now) who visited him at the Town Planning Exhibition in 1910 at the Royal Academy was “ a most unsettling person”.

What is of interest today is that his writings on Cities in Evolution anticipate by 100 years our present fascination with ideas about complexity, cities, morphology, and design. He worked for 30 years at the University of Dundee with D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson whose book On Growth and Form established many of the ideas that have now come to be synonymous with fractals, scaling and allometry.


There are two versions of the photograph above. Click here to generate the second one. We can't help thinking that this was the set for the Sergeant Pepper album !

Very important to us here in CASA and the Bartlett School is that before Dundee, Patrick Geddes spent the beginning of his unconventional, almost Bohemian, career at UCL holding the Sharpey Physiological Scholarship in 1887-1888 after taking classes with Thomas Huxley at the Royal School of Mines. It was in UCL in his lab while he was examining specimens under a microscope that he first met Charles Darwin, so Paddy Kitchen says in her book. Stephen Marshall, Phil Steadman and Mike Batty are researching his brief time in London and his influence on contemporary ideas in morphology, evolution, design and complexity. A paper is planned. Watch the CASA site.

Dick Legates of San Francisco State University led the meeting at Dundee where Mike Batty and Stephen Marshall from the Bartlett, Richard Aspinall from the Macaulay Institute, Nick Tate, the Director of SPLINT at Leicester who co-sponsored the event, and Andrea Frank from Cardiff all presented material about Geddes and the Digital Age. On the first day, John McCarthy from Heriot Watt and Murdo MacDonald from Dundee spoke about Geddes' life in Dundee and the region.

The event called "Managing Metropolitan Regions: Geddes and the Digital Age" was organised by Nick Fyfe from Geography and Lorens Holm from Architecture at the University of Dundee.

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