Edinburgh is a city of fascinating contradictions and is a city of hidden poverty, there are extremes of wealth and opportunity and much to be done to address this imbalance. The growing resurgence of Scotland’s interest to secede the union with the United Kingdom sets the city in a precarious limbo. The educational system in Scotland preferences helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds and unlike the rest of the UK has kept access to university education free of tuition fees for Scottish domiciled and EU students. It also provides financial support to students believing education should be based on the ability to learn, not to pay.
We are engaging in this intricate context, studying its spatial conditions and social and economic complexity to participate in the discourse around education and the city. Our theme in designing an educational institution aims to propose an alternative reading of the contemporary tendency to find a monumentalism in this type of architectural brief. The interest is in finding a more appropriate model for cities that have resisted many attempts at formal redevelopment and have at their heart a strong tendency to re-appropriate and accumulate programmes into its existing building stock.
Our project is to develop proposals for a large educational building in Edinburgh. Our proposals will follow as closely as we can the technical constraints of this type of hard-working adaptable institution and add a researched and critical line of questioning: What does the architectural presence of an educational institution offer to the city as a means of new forms of spatial organization? Should universities no longer be able to operate as autonomous entities in the city and how would the collaboration of academia and the city challenge these established models? Is an iconic aspiration relevant and can a building that sits more sensitively and inclusively make for a better city building?
To temper the audaciously daunting task of designing a major educational institution in Edinburgh we will direct our interventions to follow how the city itself has been formed and interrogate the unique conditions. The messiness, inconsistency and haphazard hierarchy of streets and neighbourhood will be approached as a composition. Views, to and from, inconstancy of scale, variety and informality will guide our views on what is appropriate. Re-use and appropriation are strongly encouraged, depending on the location you choose. The rejection of iconicity and tectonic hierarchy must be matched by reasoned methodology. The more industrial sites can be examined as resources for the collection and aggregation of defunct infrastructure.