Research and Knowledge Exchange

Using innovative, research-led learning to co-design a sustainable community hub

Working with an Eco Housing Co-operative, researchers and students have collaborated on the design of a sustainable new community hub and growing space on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Craigmillar Eco Housing

The Project

Craigmillar Eco Housing Co-operative is a group of Edinburgh residents who have come together to build ten new, highly-sustainable and affordable homes. Champions of working collaboratively to empower their community and reduce fuel poverty, they have been active in raising awareness of sustainable self-build for many years.

It was at a workshop on the energy-efficient house building standard, Passivhaus, that the Co-operative first met a group of researchers from Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) whose work focuses on architecture, technology and the environment. In the months that followed, the conversation evolved into a plan for a three-day ‘design sprint’ centred on a vacant site in the Edinburgh suburb of Craigmillar.

Sprinting towards a sustainable community resource

A design sprint is a short-term process for answering critical questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas. As a format, it lends itself well to the types of activity that the University of Edinburgh encourages its staff and students to use during the Festival of Creative Learning.

Together with PhD student Jill Zhao, Dr Kate Carter in the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at ECA successfully applied for £1,500 of Festival of Creative Learning funding to run a Craigmillar design sprint in February 2015. Over the course of three days, researchers, Co-operative members and undergraduate students came together to co-design a community hub and growing space for residents of the Co-operative’s proposed new housing development.

A shared vision rooted in action research

At the end of the design sprint, the Co-operative had a clear vision for what was achievable on a constrained, triangular site, while the students gained experience in working with a real-world client on a live brief. The alternative to the sprint, and engagement with the University, would have meant a much longer and more costly process for the Co-operative, most likely involving external, private-sector consultants.

The site adjoins the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and Edinburgh BioQuarter, where the University has a number of buildings, so the relationship with the Co-operative provides a solid foundation for continued dialogue with local residents as the area of Craigmillar continues to develop. The project has also strengthened research capacity at ECA through the recent appointment of Design Anthropologist, Dr Rachel Harkness, who has been shadowing the Co-operative’s work for a number of years.

The three-day design sprint was informal, fun and also an excellent learning opportunity for everyone concerned. We were given the opportunity to have a highly motivated, enthusiastic and visionary group of young architects to listen to our vision and help us bring to reality a blueprint of what can be achieved.

The process was stimulating and informative, the finished ‘Studio Design’ a success and gave everyone involved (students, teaching staff and self-builders) the chance to share ideas, visions and also learn from each other. We like to work with peopled-centred organisations and individuals who can collaborate to work up innovative but practical solutions. This project fulfilled our Design Brief in full measure

Craigmillar Eco Housing Co-operative

Funded by

The Festival of Creative Learning at the University of Edinburgh.


Dr Kate Carter, School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, ECA

Jill Zhao, School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, ECA

Elinor Scarth, School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, ECA


Craigmillar Eco Housing Co-operative

Festival of Creative Learning