Public engagement project

The City is a Thinking Machine

The City is a Thinking Machine is a research exhibition bringing together in a single space, Geddes’ collection of city plans with his thinking and lecture notes.

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Start date

July 2014

Completion date

July 2015

Marking the centenary of the publication of Geddes, Cities in Evolution (1915) and his associated Cities Exhibition, the exhibition included projects by eight practices affiliated with the Geddes Institute at the University of Dundee. The Scottish polymathic planner and botanist, Sir Patrick Geddes, was able to articulate conceptual frameworks – what he called ‘thinking machines’ – for understanding the joint evolution of cities and the social formations that inhabit them.

Affiliates include members of the academic and professional communities from Scotland and abroad, and include artists, architects, and the Local and Strategic Planning Authorities. The city plans were drawn from Geddes’ touring Cities Exhibition, most of which have not been brought to the public view since the Outlook Tower closed in 1949. The lecture notes include his ‘thinking machine’ diagrams, drawn on folded paper, which trace the linked evolution of civic society and the places they build to live well in them. Most of the diagrams have not, to our knowledge, been exhibited or published before, nor have they been seen together with the plans. The project included a program of public lectures and research dialogues whose aim was to contextualise the work presented in the exhibition.

The aim of this exhibition and associated publications and series of events is to evaluate the continuing significance of Geddes’ thought for today.

The project was timed to mark the centenary of Geddes' most comprehensive work, Cities in Evolution (1915) and forms part of a larger project to re-evaluate key contributions to urban and social thought from the 20th Century – from Geddes to the contemporary architectural avant-garde – and in order to re-integrate this thought into contemporary planning and design practices.


Project lead(s)

Dr Lorens Holm, Matthew Jarron

External team members

Deepak Gopinath

Cameron McEwan

Project team

Tracey Dixon