Robert Geddes, the founding dean of Princeton’s School of Architecture, the William R. Kenen Jr. Professor of Architecture, renowned urbanist and innovative educator, died on Feb. 13, 2023. He was 99.
Engaged with his projects and liberal politics to the last, Robert Geddes entertained and informed fellow residents of Stonebridge at Montgomery at occasional presentations. Aided and encouraged by another resident, the politically savvy Ingrid Reed, he railed against the potential destruction of his beloved Liberty State Park and fretted about the future of Philadelphia’s Roundhouse. He also loved to speak about his former students who now lead departments at prestigious universities, and he devoted time and energy to the work of Princeton Future.
Richard K. Rein, in his column for TAPInto Princeton. tells about the work of Princeton Future. Rein also discusses how Geddes’ students founded the movement known as “the new urbanism.”
Geddes’ students, carrying on the broad view of architecture and looking purposefully not just at buildings but also at the space between the buildings, became the founders of the movement known as the “new urbanism.” The husband-and-wife team of Andres Duany, Princeton Class of 1971 and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk ’72, along with Stefanos Polyzoides ’69, were joined by Elizabeth Moule, who earned a masters in architecture at Princeton in 1987 and is now the wife and partner of Polyzoides, to form the Congress for the New Urbanism along with Peter Calthorpe (from Yale), and Daniel Solomon, (Columbia and Berkeley).
The founders were joined by several more Princeton alumni to become early leaders of the movement. These include environmentalist and architect Douglas Kelbaugh ’67 *72, landscape architect Douglas Duany ’75, and writer and educator Ellen Dunham-Jones ’80 *83. (Full disclosure: This reporter was a Princeton roommate of Polyzoides, who is now the dean of architecture at Notre Dame.)
Geddes’ obituary from Princeton University summarized how he was “a pioneer in forging deep connections between architecture and the humanities, social sciences, public affairs and urban design. He always focused on the social basis of design — for buildings, landscapes and cities.”
From an early age, Geddes was known to be a convener, locally as a co-founder of Princeton Future. He continued that at Stonebridge, co-founding a “Guys Group” to meaningfully engage with ethical and social problems. After his cherished wife Evelyn died, he was especially lonely on Sunday afternoons and instigated — with help from Julia Bowers Coale, president of the Residents’ Association — informal teas on Sunday afternoons.
Geddes and his wife Evelyn moved to Stonebridge when they were in excellent health and were still traveling abroad. With their new Stonebridge friends, George and Barbara Wright, they visited museums in New York and Philadelphia and attended performances on Broadway and at Caramoor in upstate New York, Many Stonebridge friends helped Geddes in his last years. After Geddes’ wife died, two residents who knew what it was like to be suddenly alone – Jeff Tener and Barbara Wright –committed to have pizza with him every Friday.
As for me, busy with my own too many doings, I had only limited time to be with Bob. I wish I had had more time. But I can immerse myself in his website and in his book “Fit,” to glean his “lively, charming, and gently persuasive” wisdom.