Sir Patrick Geddes inspires tomb restoration

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He may be best known for his pioneering work tackling the slums of Edinburgh’s Old Town, but 80 years after his death, Sir Patrick Geddes is influencing work in modern-day India.

Sir Patrick has been revealed as a key inspiration behind a restoration project at an ancient Indian emperor’s tomb, which was a precursor for the Taj Mahal.

The Mughal Emperor Humayan’s 16th-century tomb has just been renovated as part of an initiative in New Delhi, which combines conservation with health and education 
initiatives to improve the lives of people living in the area.
Geddes (1854-1932), who was based in India for eight years, opposed “sweeping clearances and vigorous demolitions” but always paid special attention to the needs of disadvantaged groups, including women, children and the lower castes.

Visiting the tomb as part of a week-long trip to India to ­promote business, cultural, education and tourism links, Scotland’s External Affairs Minister Humza Yousaf heard how the project had been influenced by Geddes and his emphasis on how people related to places.

The project is part of the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, which promotes the conservation and re-use of buildings and public spaces in historic cities.

Ratish Nanda, project director of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, said: “The Nizamuddin Urban Renewal project couples major conservation efforts with socio-economic development. The urban conservation approach is significantly informed by Patrick Geddes’ teachings.”

Mr Nanda spent six months working in Scotland, working on graveyards, in 1999.

He said: “My time at Historic Scotland gave me a deep understanding of materials which has been very useful for the work on Humayan’s tomb – a predominantly sandstone building.

“We look forward to fostering further partnerships with Scotland following the minister’s visit.”

Geddes’ work in improving the slums of Edinburgh led to an invitation in 1914 from Lord Pentland, then governor of Madras, to travel to India to advise on emerging urban planning issues, in particular, how to mediate between the need for public improvement and respect for existing social standards.

He later became professor of sociology and civics at Bombay University from 1919 to 1924 and only left India for the south of France when advised to do so on health grounds.

Mr Yousaf said: “It has been truly remarkable to come to one of the world’s ancient heritage sites to see a project of this scale and ambition and to learn that it is founded on advice that came from someone so significant in Scotland’s own rich history.

“The Scottish Government shares Patrick Geddes’ belief that preserving historic buildings and urban renewal is vital for the vitality of our ­communities.

“It was amazing to see first-hand the excellent conservation work being carried out at the urban village of Nizamuddin and understand how it is bringing together a range of capabilities to establish a model for participatory conservation-led development of historic cities.

“This visit was also a great opportunity for Scotland to share knowledge about our own building conservation work, including our commitment to sourcing local materials whenever possible and training apprentices in traditional building skills.”

Worldwide influence

ALTHOUGH best known for his work in Edinburgh – he designed the zoo as well as many of the squares and closes of the Old Town – Sir Patrick Geddes has been influential around the world.

As well as his work in India, he founded the Collège des Écossais (Scots College), an international teaching establishment in Montpellier, France. He collaborated with his son-in-law, architect Sir Frank Mears, on projects in the Middle East. In 1919, he was commissioned by the British Mandate to draw up a masterplan for Jerusalem. In 1925, he submitted a blueprint for developing Tel Aviv, whose core is entirely built according to Geddes’ plan.