Patrick Geddes and the City of Life

By Volker M. Welter

Foreword by Iain Boyd Whyte

An examination of the work and influence of Scottish urban planner and theorist Patrick Geddes.





An examination of the work and influence of Scottish urban planner and theorist Patrick Geddes.

The Scottish urbanist and biologist Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) is perhaps best known for introducing the concept of "region" to architecture and planning. At the turn of the twentieth century, he was one of the strongest advocates of town planning and an active participant in debates about the future of the city. He was arguably the first planner to recognize the importance of historic city centers, and his renewal work in Edinburgh's Old Town is visible and impressive to this day.

Geddes's famous analytical triad—place, work, and folk, corresponding to the geographical, historical, and spiritual aspects of the city—provides the basic structure of this examination of his urban theory. Volker Welter examines Geddes's ideas in the light of nineteenth-century biology—in which Geddes received his academic training—showing Geddes's use of biological concepts to be far more sophisticated than popular images of the city as an organic entity. His urbanism was informed by his lifelong interest in the theory of evolution and in ecology, cutting-edge areas in the late nineteenth century. Balancing Geddes's biological thought is his interest in the historical Greek concept of polis, usually translated as city-state but implying a view of the city as a cultural and spiritual phenomenon.

Although Geddes's work was far-ranging, the city provided the unifying focus of nearly all of his theoretical and practical work. Throughout the book, Welter relates Geddes's theory of the city to contemporary European debates about architecture and urbanism.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262232111 379 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 44 illus.


$45.00 X ISBN: 9780262731645 379 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 44 illus.


Iain Boyd Whyte.


  • A landmark study that analyzes the complex ideas that lie behind Geddes's work with fresh clarity and insight.


  • Welter does a first-class job of 'reading' Geddes and interpreting the complex ideas in his work.

    Journal of Regional Science


  • Volker Welter's book offers a fascinating journey into uncharted territory. The seminal figure of Patrick Geddes emerges from the extraordinary quantity of archival documents as a key thinker on the city and its history. Issues hitherto repressed in the history of modern urbanism, such as the impact of spirituality on town designs, are brought back to the center of attention.

    Jean-Louis Cohen

    Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the history of Architecture, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and Director, Institute francais d'architecture

  • Biopolis scrapes off a century of gloss to give us Patrick Geddes's early modernist vision of the city in all its original vivid coloration.

    Michael J. Hebbert

    Professor of Town Planning, University of Manchester

  • This impressive and topical study on Patrick Geddes is a major contribution to the 'postfordist' call for an understanding of the city as an expression, symbol, and monument of human culture—as a social piece of art. Biopolis is an indispensable source of inspiration for all urban theorists and practitioners who are engaged in the reinvention of the city after a century of failure in urban planning and urban design.

    Dieter Hassenpflug

    Faculty of Architecture, Bauhaus Universität Weimar

  • Biopolis breaks through the long-standing enigma of Patrick Geddes and his 'thinking machines.' It is essential reading for anyone interested in the cross-currents of modernism at the turn of the twentieth century.

    Robert Wojtowicz

    Chair, Department of Art, Old Dominion University

  • Taking the city as the unifying focus of the prolific but seemingly disparate activities of Patrick Geddes, Welter brilliantly illuminates and lucidly explores the guiding threads in Geddes's projects on the city within a 'larger modernism' and as an organic entity, as expression of life, as historical ensemble, as metaphysical city, and as cultural and spiritual metropolis. In so doing, and for the first time, Welter has provided us with a richly textured conception of Geddes's project as a living whole, one that is not only deeply embedded within its international philosophical, cultural, and social contexts but is revealed to be profoundly relevant to today's urban and architectural concerns. As such, this finely crafted and meticulously researched study should be essential reading for all those concerned with the development of the modern city.

    David Frisby

    Professor of Sociology, Glasgow University

  • Going further than all recent discussions of the history of the city in the first machine age, Welter considers the Geddesian thinking machines' as fundamental with regard to the emergence of the modern city. Biopolis, with its profound analyses, has set a keystone for a new way of looking at the starting point of modern town planning in Britain and Europe before World War I.

    Bernd Nicolai

    Department of Art History, University of Trier


  • Winner in the 2003 AAUP Book, Jacket, and Journal Competition in the Scholarly Illustrated category.
  • Winner, Scholarly Illustrated Category, 2003 Association of American University Presses (AAUP) Book, Jacket, and Journal Show.