For Robert Geddes, the road to becoming an author began 40 years ago when he started teaching Architecture 101 at Princeton University.
He taught there for 25 years before moving to New York University for 10 years. During that time Geddes gathered information, opinions and ideas that would one day turn into his book Fit: An Architect’s Manifesto published by the Princeton University Press.
“I’d never written a book. It’s really a construction of itself. I was invited back [to Princeton in 2005] and I began to think about what I’d been teaching,” Geddes said.
Geddes began his career while studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He moved on to teach architecture and civic design at the University of Pennsylvania before coming to Princeton University in 1965 as the first Dean of the School of Architecture. He is currently the William Kennan Professor Emeritus. He has also worn the hat of urban activist and award-winning architect, among others.
To take all of his experiences throughout his career and meld them into a book that adds value to the field fits with the mission of the Princeton University Press.
“We’re interested in finding the most important books in the scholarly field. We publish books by scholars for scholars,” said press director Peter Dougherty.
The process of actually writing “Fit” started three years ago when Geddes came up with the working title “Why Architecture Matters”. A quick trip to the local bookstore showed him that his working title was, in fact, already in use by two other authors.
Geddes immediately assumed it was bad news that he saw books with the same titles, but the Press insisted this was a good thing as it showed there was interest in the topic.
Geddes began working closely with Dougherty from his office in the Emeritus wing in the Princeton University Press building. They joked the new working title should be called “Why Architecture Really Matters.”
“The book came about after a series of conversations in which he gave me a brief tutorial on how to think about architecture. His book essentially represents a way to evaluate good architecture. It’s all captured in the title, Fit” Dougherty said. “Does the architecture fit within its social context and environmental context? It’s a very important book.”
Geddes said architecture is something that has to be experienced to be understood.
“Once you start with an ocean of experience then you’re judgement of what architecture is includes the experience of people in consuming it and so forth,” Geddes said. “Meaning does it fit it’s purpose, does it fit its site and future possibilities? If they are both asking that, they are on the same page.”
From start to finish, most books take nine months to one year to go from a manuscript to a published book. “Fit” was first a mere outline, then it was sent out for reader reports, taken to the press’ editorial board and then it was sent to production. It was listed in the press catalog and supported with quotes from people who had read it.
Geddes wanted the book to be a short so that readers could remember the beginning when they got to the end.
“Trying to write a a short book means there are lots of first drafts as you figure out what was useful to the reader,” Geddes said.
Geddes said he has felt extremely supported while working at the Press.
“You meet people at the coffee machine, you go out to lunch with them, you meet them in the corridors. It’s just been an experience. It’s so collegial” Geddes said.
His book, out Nov. 1, will be available at Labyrinth Books.
Some books that are published through Princeton University Press reach a wider audience than just those in the field. Is Geddes’ books one of those?
“I would hope so. I would hope public officials on planning boards and mayors would find it helpful. I would help that students thinking about going into architecture would see the field in a better way. It’s aimed outside but also aimed inside,” he said.
Geddes said he admired the scholarly standards of the Press. His book was read by two independent reviewers and the editorial board of the press made up of university faculty members. The book then went into a tedious design process for everything from the page layout to the inside cover layout. Dougherty worked closely with Geddes throughout the process.
“You don’t do anything like this alone. It’s a collaborative effort. It’s a great deal of collaborative effort,” Geddes said.
He is scheduled to appear at the Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon St., Thursday, Nov. 8 at noon to read from his book and lead a walking tour of Princeton University.