Since 1947 the building has been in the care of City of Edinburgh Council. By 2011, it had fallen out of use and was placed on the Buildings at Risk Register by the Royal Commission of the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. The Scottish Historic Buildings Trust (SHBT) stepped in to raise funds and restore the building.
Five years later, at the ceremony that coincided with Patrick Geddes’ birthday in early October, a time capsule was placed at a secret location within the fabric of the building. It contains details of curiosities found during the restoration project, and mementoes contributed by supporters and other people connected to the building.
Learning from living
At the event, donors took a tour of the building. A vibrant painted ceiling commissioned by Geddes is one of its most notable features, depicting the building’s history. Another legacy of Geddes’ tenure is a series of small alcoves, which he created to encourage students to sit together to talk and share ideas across academic disciplines.
“Patrick Geddes was keen to get students to learn not just from the lectures, but from each other,” says SHBT Project Officer Audrey Dakin (MA Architecture 1989, DipArch 1991, MSC Architectural Conservation 1999). “He would have a mix of students within his halls – he tried to get medics, science students and arts students together.
“He built these little recesses, which are perfect places for discussion. He wanted students to spend time together and get into in-depth conversations.”
Mr Campbell adds that Geddes “devised ways of learning and teaching that were new in their time” and was equally imaginative in his approach to town planning. He launched a number of initiatives to improve housing and living conditions in the Old Town.
Geddes believed that in order to understand and improve a community, a person had to be part of it, and so he moved with his family to James Court, off the Lawnmarket, which at the time meant living in near-slum conditions.
Geddes, born in Ballater, Aberdeenshire, was known internationally for his progressive approach to town planning. He lived in India during the 1920s, holding the Chair of Sociology and Civics at Bombay University, and drew up new plans for several Indian cities. He was later commissioned to design improvements to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in Israel, and Colombo in Sri Lanka. He spent the final years of his life in Montpelier, France, where he founded the Collège des Ecossais.
He never completed a degree, although he studied botany briefly at the University of Edinburgh, and later returned to the University as an Assistant in Practical Botany.
Riddle’s Court is being restored as the Patrick Geddes Centre for Learning thanks to donations from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Architectural Heritage Fund and many philanthropic trusts and individuals.