Toby Paterson, The Sociology of Autumn, 2017

“A city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time”

Toby Paterson discusses The Sociology of Autumn.

In Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, our 2017 Commissions Programme invited artists to reflect on two important anniversaries for our city – the foundation of the first Edinburgh Festival in 1947, and the publication in 1917 of Patrick Geddes’ The Making of the Future: A Manifesto and a Project. Separated by a generation, both were born directly out of the experience of global conflict, and a strong belief that artists could play a critical role in helping societies to imagine new and better ways of living.

A town planner, conservationist, social activist and polymath, Sir Patrick Geddes (1854–1932) was a profoundly visionary thinker whose ideas continue to resonate with contemporary societies around the world. His pamphlet The Making of the Future, looks forward to the end of WW1, and lays out his vision for a new more holistic society in which ‘Art and Industry, Education and Health, Morals and Business must… advance in unison’. Thirty years later, the Edinburgh International Festival was founded with the ambition to ‘provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit’, seeing art and artists as critical in fostering dialogue between nations in a Europe torn apart by war.

Presenting new projects by Scottish and international artists at sites in and around Edinburgh’s Old Town, our wider 2017 Commissions Programme – The Making of the Future: Now – paid homage to the physical and intellectual legacy of Geddes and the origins of festival culture in our city, and explored the continued relevance of their ideas today. 

About Toby Paterson

Toby Paterson has a strong interest in the built environment, and in particular, the approach to architecture and public space which emerged in post-war Europe, inspired by modernism and the utopian ideas which underpinned it. Many of his projects emerge from extended periods of time spent directly observing and documenting architectural schemes, but always with a view to the larger political, economic and sociological contexts which have shaped and find their expression in them. It is an
approach which finds parallels in Patrick Geddes’ detailed and empirical surveys of cities as a means to study human activity and society.

Paterson’s work was developed for Chessels Court, a tranquil close associated with Geddes’ network of green spaces in the Old Town, and today entered from the Canongate through an arcaded frontage designed by architect Robert Hurd in the 1950s. The work borrows its title from Geddes’ 1895 essay of the same name, in which Geddes finds ‘in Autumn its secret: that of survival yet initiative, of inheritance yet fresh variation’.

For Paterson, Chessels Court embodies this process ‘of inheritance yet fresh variation’, as does his response: a series of interrelated sculptural, architectural and landscape elements which respond to the essential colours, materials and form of Edinburgh’s Old Town, producing a microlandscape that invites reflection on Patrick Geddes’ observations on the city, in the context of Chessels Court and the Royal Mile today.

The project was supported by Edinburgh World Heritage and the New Waverley Community Fund
(a partnership between City of Edinburgh Council and Artisan Real Estate Investors).