Advanced Sustainable Design - MSc

Programme video: Advanced Sustainable Design (MSc)

Advanced Sustainable Design - MSc


Advanced Sustainable Design asks how we can transform our built environment by putting sustainable development into practice. We are distinctive in being a design-based programme.

Our emphasis is not only on gaining knowledge of environmental technology, but also developing skills in synthesising design solutions specific to place, community and habitat. We consider ideas of community, trade, wellbeing, communication and knowledge networks as purely technical responses are always vulnerable to failure. 

One of the great challenges we face is that of making sense of, and ordering, the enormous volume of information about sustainability. You will acquire confidence and experience to create and refine strategies to produce settlements and building proposals that embody high standards of design, as well as demonstrating low carbon behaviour.

What you will study

Your base is the studio, supported by seminars and workshops, which culminates in a major design project followed by a research dissertation.

The first semester deals with theories and contexts of sustainable development in the built environment, with a series of short projects to understand the possibilities of applying theory to design.

In Semester 2, a main design project focuses on an urban context and looks at the social, economic and environmental drivers of sustainable development and how these translate to architectural and urban design. In tandem with this, you have the opportunity to work with environmental simulation software and test your design ideas quantitatively. The semester also includes a field trip that introduces you to best practice building and settlement design.

Although this Masters degree has architectural design at its heart, we welcome graduates from different academic and professional backgrounds. In the past, these have included engineering, art, construction and landscape disciplines. We encourage you to work in multi-disciplinary teams, especially during the main design project.

The research dissertation is also an opportunity to undertake a substantial period of study on a research question that can relate to your own personal interests, home contexts or professional interests.

In studying Advanced Sustainable Design, you gain critical skills that work well within your existing professional contexts or assist you in forging a new career path in sustainable development.

Links and resources

Top five reasons to choose the programme

  • This programme is design-oriented, fusing creative solutions with sustainable strategies.
  • Our staff are all experienced in practice and have track records in the design and procurement of sustainable solutions.
  • We don’t just look at technical fixes, we focus on the social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainable design.
  • We look at best practice in Scotland but are international in our outlook, addressing global as well as local issues.
  • Our programme helps you gain critical skills in a fast growing and evolving design sector.

Interested in a Design for Change - MA/MFA programme? Please fill out our short survey about this new proposed programme >

Student work


John Brennan is the Programme's Director. He is a senior lecturer in environmental design and is partner in an award winning design practice. He has 20 years' experience of sustainable design and his research interests include contemporary rural design and adaptive environments. View John's staff profile >

Lisa Moffitt contributes to our design semester. She is a lecturer in architectural design. She has studied, taught and practiced architecture in the US and Canada. In independent practice, she completed a design-build, off-grid house in rural Ontario, Canada. Through research, teaching, and practice, she explores relationships between architecture, landscape, energy, nature and climate. View Lisa's staff profile >

Donald Canavan is a practicing architect with specialist knowledge of sustainable and low energy design, with over 20 years' experience. He contributes to the principles and studio semester. He was design and job architect for the award-winning Great Glen House in Inverness.

Ranald Boydell is an architect with unrivalled experience of teaching and practicing sustainable architecture both in the UK and abroad. His interests include international perspectives on sustainable planning & construction and renewables planning.


Everything you need to know about finding perfect student accommodation.

Resources for History of Art, Art, Architecture and Landscape Architecture students.

A fully operational, entirely student-run 90-seat theatre housed in a neo-gothic church.

Get information, advice and guidance about your career options.

The Centre for Research Collections (CRC) is the main space for anyone using the University of Edinburgh’s historic collections.

Work spaces are available across the University. ECA's computers include software tailored to the disciplines studied here.

At the heart of the Evolution House Learning and Research Zone, the ECA Library provides an innovative environment for learning, teaching and research resources in art and design.

ECAfé provides a full catering service to all staff, students and visitors to Edinburgh College of Art.

Edinburgh Global's mission is to encourage internationalisation, enhance the student experience, create and develop partnerships.

EUSA represent the student voice. They provide services, run events, and facilitate student societies.

Information and guidance on financial matters for all students of the University of Edinburgh.

A Georgian garden that doubles as a venue for performances in the centre of the city.

The primary collection of books, periodicals, manuscripts, and research material.

The workshop facilities include band saws, pillar drills, sanders and wire-cutters.

This model workshop is equipped for constructing architectural models in a wide variety of materials.

By day, a café, bar and study space, and by night a club venue. Potterrow’s dome is also home to the Advice Place and the Potter Shop.

Includes a screen-printing room, relief room, lithography room, process room, intaglio room, and caseroom.

The neo-classical Sculpture Court in the ECA Main Building is home to the many pieces from the Edinburgh Cast Collection, and is regularly used for student exhibitions.

Caters to a diverse range of users from occasional exercisers to international athletes.

Offering counselling services for students, workshops, consultation and training for staff.

Supporting students with dyslexia, mental health issues and students on the autistic spectrum, as well as those who have physical and sensory impairments.

Talbot Rice Gallery is the public art Gallery for the University of Edinburgh.

Home to six distinctive bars, Teviot is the oldest purpose built students' union in the world.

A hub for the University Societies and setting regular live music, comedy, spoken word and poetry nights.

A bar at the Lauriston Campus which hosts regular events including club nights and gigs.

Woodworking tools and machinery include laser cutters, a vacuum former, and a 3D scanner and printer.

Scholarships & bursaries

Scholarships available for one academic year of postgraduate study at Edinburgh College of Art. (£5,000)

News & events

"After the Railway" is part of a two-year project that has looks at a town on the cusp of change.

Cindy Li IMG_4643-1 [Patrick Sun] 960 x 610.jpg

Photo of a student in the National Museum of Scotland
Cindy Li at the National Museum of Scotland
She lives near the museum, one of her favourite places in the city
Image courtesy of Huanran (Patrick) Sun

Cindy moved from Jiaxing to study a Masters degree in Advanced Sustainable Design at ECA.


For information about academic aspects of the course please contact:

John Brennan

For enquiries about your application please contact:

Edinburgh College of Art Postgraduate Admissions

Phone: +44 (0)131 650 4086