GSA Showcase 2021: Mackintosh School of Architecture

A diverse range of community-driven work emerges this year from the Mackintosh School of Architecture

Feature by Abby Hopes and Jess Mitchell | 09 Jun 2021
  • GSA Architecture

Climate, context, community: integral themes that influence the built environment. The students of the Mackintosh School of Architecture, from Stages 3, 4 and 5, are united in their exploration of these subjects. Developing their ethical stance as future architects, the students are encouraged to design with people and the planet as their priority. The impact of COVID-19 provides the opportunity to engage with the context in which they find themselves – with Glasgow and its surrounding urban landscape as the catalyst for their investigations.

The Stage 3 cohort investigate Balloch in their studio project Energy, Landscape, Culture. Their client, Sistema Scotland, is a musical education charity that transforms the lives of young people from some of Scotland’s most challenged communities. Sistema requires the creation of residential accommodation and a performance hall to facilitate their Big Noise programme. The students are encouraged to consider a ‘how low can you go’ approach to the environmental impact of their designs, respecting the idyllic landscape of Loch Lomond.

Cara Taggart’s response is informed by her understanding of the young people of Sistema. Her empathetic approach ensures that the children feel safe and comfortable as they occupy the building, and she translates this into a series of adaptable spaces that respond to the users’ needs as they change and grow. Taggart encourages user interaction with the architecture through her playful manipulation of form, encouraging the children to play hide and seek within the structure.

Hamish Niven creates architecture with careful attention to every detail. His design concept derives from discovering an abandoned campsite on the site. From this experience, he was inspired to create a range of spaces for young people to gather together, fostering a sense of community throughout the building’s form. Niven explores the idea of temporality within architecture, inspired by the lifecycle of timber in traditional Japanese buildings. His light-touch approach to placemaking respects the landscape and local environment.

Ewan Brown's proposal does not shy away from the challenges of the climate emergency and COVID-19. His performance hall is situated on the water of the River Leven, creating floating architecture as a method of preparing for inevitable rising sea levels. Brown considers accessibility to the site, encouraging sustainable modes of travel through large-scale development of foot and cycle paths. His thoughtful creation of outdoor public gathering spaces encourages passive public interaction with the scheme, connecting the communities of Sistema and Balloch.

Stage 4 students investigate the impact of domesticity and labour at the urban scale this year. This line of inquiry informed their final projects, which propose the creation of a civic building in the Barras Market in Calton – an area of Glasgow that can feel disconnected from the rest of the city. The brief asks students to explore the significance of performance spaces within communal life and collective experience while encouraging adaptive reuse of the existing buildings on the site. The students consider the challenges faced by the local demographic, and how their intervention could encourage engagement within the community.

Coinciding with the Stage 3 projects, Stage 4 student Moa Maurex focuses on the user experience of Sistema Scotland, exploring how their music school would take shape in the city context. She identifies the need to engage the local demographic, creating a space to support young people in their development. Working actively with the current site, Maurex celebrates existing buildings alongside new architecture which utilises sustainable materials. Her intervention completes the urban block, creating an inviting space that allows the community to gather and grow.

Sophie Emerson’s proposal is strongly informed by the local demographic of Calton, striving to contribute to the community’s wellbeing. She sees the modern theatre as more than a place for performance: it provides traditional facilities like rehearsal rooms and costume workshops while allowing for local community groups to adapt the spaces to their needs, activating the area throughout the week. Her intervention empowers the users, encouraging shared learning as a liberation tool.

Carl Jonsson challenges the democratisation of architecture in his practice. His response to the brief breaks down socio-cultural barriers that many in the local area may experience when engaging with theatre and cinema. He explores a series of open and transparent spaces that demystify the inner workings of the theatre typology, providing a more accessible experience of architecture. His approach leads to an exciting and engaging public building that aims for inclusivity for all who interact with it.

The diverse explorations of urban interventions from Stage 5 students respond to the question of ‘Glasgow: The Ethical City?’ This acts as a scaffold for the students to formulate their own architectural provocation in their individual thesis projects, resulting in a variety of solutions that seek to tackle a broad range of societal challenges across Glasgow.

Maisie Tudge challenges the notion that demolition is synonymous with progress. Her thesis project is a sentimental approach to regeneration, creating a monument that immortalises the lost physical histories of Glasgow’s industrial communities. She restores the derelict Springburn Winter Gardens into a cultural centre that facilitates spaces for public gathering, restoration workshops, exhibitions and other forms of shared experience as a way of inviting Glasgow’s wider community to interact with the people of Springburn. Inspired by the principles of a circular economy, Tudge repurposes fragments from Glasgow demolition sites as part of the restoration – the architecture embodying the past.

Timothy Khoo recognises the displacement and disconnect of both asylum seekers and refugees around the city as something in need of urgent change. His thesis project, Commonplace: Terra Firma, is a statement of visibility at the heart of the city: an adaptation of the Customs House in St Enoch as a symbol of integration and celebration. Facilitating a support centre and place of cultural exchange, Khoo creates a welcoming environment for a community that often faces barriers when interacting with the traditional architecture of existing institutions, sensitively negotiating public and private spaces within the site.

Martha Duncan identifies the disruption that the M8 motorway has created within Glasgow’s urban fabric, which has impacted the city's community on a number of levels. Her thesis project, Healing the Wound, physically stitches together the road between the Cowcaddens and St George's Cross subway stations. Through developing accessible social infrastructure, Duncan’s proposal of a community centre aims to serve the needs of everyone in the area, bringing a human presence back into this car-dominated space in the city.

These Mackintosh School of Architecture students are just a handful of the exciting graduates who are emerging from the challenges of the academic year with resilience. Each student has demonstrated their own unique take on the design questions asked of them, resulting in a diverse range of thought-provoking and community-driven work. The 46th edition of MacMag – the annual publication of student work from the Mackintosh School of Architecture – is another fantastic display of the student body’s achievements. This student-led publication is available on the Showcase website, and explores the theme of responsibility within architecture via student work, interviews and more.

Explore more of the Mackintosh School of Architecture Showcase at