OUTLOOK TOWER AS AN ANAMORPHOSIS OF THE WORLD
riches in a little room.
The concept of the Outlook Tower - at once observatory, museum and civic laboratory - was the outcome of an encounter between Patrick Geddes and a curious tower dominating the Edinburgh Old Town and, beyond, the whole city and its geographical setting. The very first moments of that encounter are described by James Mavor, Professor of Political economy at Toronto, in the account he gives in his memoirs of a walk with his friend Geddes in 1892, through the maze of streets on Castle Hill and terminating with a visit to the tower. It was then known as Short's Observatory. The roof-terrace had served as a popular attraction for local people and tourists since 1856 - moreover, it is used for that very purpose today. The owner, Maria Short , had moved her "Popular Observatory" there, complete with the Camera Obscura, in 1854 from Edinburgh's Calton Hill, where she had run a similar establishment, also with a Camera Obscura, until 1834.
of this type were already a fairly common form of public attraction in the 1820s
and were to become highly fashionable in Victorian Britain. An inclined, moveable
mirror reflected light vertically, through a system of lenses, into a darkened
room where a circular table at the centre served as a horizontal screen around
which the public could gather to contemplate the projected image of the surrounding
landscape. This was the fascinating spectacle Patrick Geddes and James Mavor viewed
which such enthusiasm. So taken was Geddes with the Camera Obscura and the panoramic
views to be had from the roof-terrace that he immediately offered to buy the tower.
His offer was accepted. In his account of the purchase, Mavor remarks that the
acquistion of the tower did not seem to have been motivated by any specific project,
nor to have formed part of any pre-formulated plan. Yet the Outlook Tower was
to assume special importance, both in terms of a synthesis of Geddes's numerous
activities and undertakings, and as one of the most sophisticated products of
It is interesting to note from the Reclus brothers' description that, even though the principal function of the Tower was optical and panoramic in 1896, it was not yet called the Outook Tower. This appellation would not seem to have appeared until the very end of the 1890s, very probably in conjunction with the Summer Meeting organised by Geddes in 1899. The event was described by two participants , Charles Zueblin of Chicago and Firmin Roz of Paris, both of whom made specific reference to the Outlook Tower : "Patrick Geddes has summed up his efforts and symbolised his work in a singular invention that is at once a museum, an observatory and a university : the Outlook Tower" . Yet as early as 1896, the scheme was beset with difficulties of various kinds. Some were financial - Geddes's colleagues had to set up the Town and Gown Association to manage his financial affairs on his behalf. Others were conceptual - Geddes's ideas for the Tower were as evolutive and elusive as they were chimeric and immoderate. Geddes constantly skirted round these difficulties and kept seeking more favourable conditions elsewhere, to bring his scheme to fruition. From 1895, he was involved with Elisée Reclus's "Grand Globe" - an ambitious project akin to a cross between a "Georama" and the Outlook Tower, for the 1900 Paris Exhibition. When the Reclus "Globe" project was abandoned in 1900, Geddes forwarded proposals for a temporary Outlook Tower to be located on the Panoramic gallery at the "Trocadéro Palace" in Paris. In 1902, Geddes threw himself into an ambitious project for a National Institute of Geography in Edinburgh. Designed by the French architect Paul Louis Albert Galeron, the building was to have centred on a high tower : the Tower of the Regional Survey. Finally, in 19