Embedding research-led teaching on sustainability in the design of a major gateway project
Collaborating with Concrete Scotland and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, construction experts have engaged students and local schools in the design of a public artwork for a new interchange.
Edinburgh Gateway is a new transport interchange connecting the Edinburgh to Fife railway line with the Scottish capital’s tram network. Part of the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme, it is intended as a catalyst for future economic investment and activity along Scotland’s central belt. In line with its Corporate Social Development Plan, Network Rail has been active in involving local schools, organisations and communities in the development of the interchange and surrounding landscape. One such contributor is the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA) at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA).
Innovative concrete construction in a biodiverse landscape
ECA is renowned for research into sustainable construction, including innovative investigations into the use of fabric in concrete formwork. Seeking to contribute to Network Rail’s forward-looking vision for Edinburgh Gateway, the College pitched the idea of incorporating fabric-formed concrete elements into the interchange. At the same time, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) was proposing an urban biodiversity project for the site. Together with Concrete Scotland (with whom ECA was already working on experiential learning), the group began to collaborate on artworks and landscaping features for key public areas of the Gateway.
Stimulating the next generation of designers and makers
One of the benefits of working with Concrete Scotland is that it has given partners the opportunity to engage young people in the project through an initiative called Concrete in the Classroom. This is designed to stimulate children’s interest in materials and construction, and typically takes the form of lessons and site visits to concrete factories. In the case of Edinburgh Gateway, it has also involved around 25 young people from Inverkeithing and Queensferry Community High Schools learning about urban biodiversity from RBGE, and visiting ECA to design, fabricate and cast a series of decorative concrete panels. Drawing on local features from both sides of the Firth of Forth, from school crests to brambles, these will be installed as a group artwork at the Gateway.
Additionally, the project involves the fabrication of a large concrete ‘tree’ as part of a Gateway garden developed in conjunction with RBGE. One of ESALA’s largest fabric-formed pieces to date, this follows on from an earlier, award-winning design at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Meet the people involved in ECA's collaboration with Concrete Scotland and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on a series of workshops resulting in artwork for Edinburgh's new transport interchange in this short video.
Building capacity among early career researchers
ECA researchers involved in the project include Remo Pedreschi, Professor of Architectural Technology, and Fiona McLachlan, Professor of Architectural Practice. In addition, there has been a high level of involvement from recent graduates of Structural Engineering with Architecture (a joint programme with the School of Engineering), and Material Practice, as well as current PhD students. In this way, the project has built capacity among early career researchers to undertake research-led teaching, outreach and public engagement. Such has been the success of the partnership with RBGE and Concrete Scotland that the group is already planning another collaborative project on concrete’s interrelationship with nature.
Since I became involved in the project, I’ve become increasingly interested in concrete. From RBGE’s point of view [it’s] interesting for its focus on living buildings. Concrete is definitely going to be a material of the future. How can we make it better for biodiversity.
Concrete in the Classroom allows school children to see what employability opportunities there are for them in the future. Working with the University of Edinburgh helps for those students who want to go on to higher education, so they can actually see what they’re going to be getting involved with. It also allows Concrete Scotland to work with some really talented individuals to develop further programmes that could help inspire the engineers and architects of the future. This ensures that the built environment is built in harmony and that industry outcomes are aligned with what’s been taught in schools.
Network Rail and Balfour Beatty through the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme.