Alumni Services

Insider look at the McEwan Hall Pathway to Enlightenment

As this popular campaign reopens for a final, limited time, we reveal how art students created the design concept for the Pathway by drawing on the University’s Special Collections.

A tile displaying 'Thank you'
Each tile is accompanied by a fragment of an image from the University's collections.

Over 1,600 alumni and friends supported the redevelopment of McEwan Hall in 2016-17. Today, their names, or that of their loved ones, are recognised on glazed tiles in the Victorian concourse of this beloved building.

Each named tile also displays a fragment of an image found in the University’s Special Collections. We reveal how these designs came to be.

Special Collections

Given the importance of McEwan Hall in the University’s history, it was decided that the University’s Special Collections should be the creative starting point for the design of the Pathway to Enlightenment.

But to really bring the donor recognition project to life, third-year Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) students were invited to submit design proposals for the Pathway in 2017. The Centre for Research Collections’ vast image archive boasts over 25,000 items and students were free to incorporate them into their designs as they wished.

Sense of movement

Lizzie and Despina
Students Lizzie and Despina collaborated on the design concept for the Pathway.

The winning proposal was the result of a collaboration between students Lizzie Bevington and Despina Petridou.

Their joint concept was based on the movement of ideas and people through the University, and the whole being greater than the sum of the many:

Lizzie, a final-year painting student explained, “My inspiration for this project has been influenced simultaneously by both the Edinburgh collections and McEwan Hall itself. The focal point of interest being the notion of movement within the university; the movement of students through McEwan Hall during and after graduation and the movement of knowledge throughout the University."

Final-year fine art student Despina added, “Our design combines the elements of geometry, rational placement of shape and line with the contrasting abstraction, diversity and movement of pattern. The puzzle-like shapes on each tile represent the concept of building up and accumulation of many donations that contributed to the renovation. Similarly, they point towards the accumulation of objects to formulate the vast collections of the University, which was our main source of influence.”

Fragments in focus

The sense of movement in the chosen images manifests itself in many different shapes, textures and lines. Lizzie talked us through two examples:

Mustard Seed fragment
In the image ‘Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, 1682’ from the New College collection, movement comes from the subject itself - the seed, at first small and insignificant, grows into something great with much potential (Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections, Inglis 23).


Image from the Koberger Bible
In an illustration from the Koberger Bible found in the Incunabula collection, both the subject and the aesthetics convey movement; the undulation of lines suggesting the infinity of water and continual flow. The fragment derived from this image fixates on a cat striding along the vessel’s edge (Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections, Inc.45.2).

Coming together

Eighteen image fragments were chosen in total from collections as diverse as Anatomy, Architectural Drawings, Geology and Geologist, Western and Oriental manuscripts, and even Shakespeare.

Lizzie and Despina noted that the coming together of these different disciplines mirrors the coming together of students, tutors and alumni to be “perceived as one, continually moving, progressive, positive entity.”

Thanks to the students’ considered design concept, the Pathway to Enlightenment is a fitting celebration of the support from alumni and friends that helped to make the renovation of Edinburgh’s magnificent graduation building a reality.

I liked the variations, the artistic corners – beautiful.

Ronald GardinerGraduate and Pathway donor

Final opportunity

The Pathway to Enlightenment campaign has reopened for a final and limited time and will close on 31 July 2018, or when the remaining tiles have been taken. See the link below for further information.

McEwan Hall Pathway to Enlightenment