Programme: Advanced Sustainable Design - MSc

Year: 2016

After serving in the Peace Corps, Kandrisa Alston was looking to gain technical experience to complement her fieldwork - this lead her to join the Advanced Sustainable Design - MSc. Now back stateside and working within the Centre for Sustainable Design and Resiliency in Washington DC, Kandrisa shares her memories of studying at Edinburgh.

Tell us about your time at ECA

The Advanced Sustainable Design programme was a natural step for me after my service in the Peace Corps (a volunteer program run by the United States government). I was interested in gaining technical experience, best practice methodologies, and foundational competency to complement the field work I had performed in Morocco. The group setting of much of the programme put me in contact with international perspectives, experiences, and modes of inquiry. It was exciting and at times a challenge to synthesise a solution for our assignments. In the first assignment for Sustainable Methodologies, we were tasked to devise a proposal for smart growth for the city of Galashiels. There was significant exchange on systems integration as well as the hydroelectricity in the site, but working through multiple visions and multiple criticisms to coalesce a completed project ultimately broadened the analytical scope we each brought to the project and minimised shortcomings in our individual plans for the final project.

As I came from an Art History background, the mode of the programme was challenging and pushed me to develop skills that shape the future instead of illuminating the past. Architectural inquiry for me had been more about motifs in ancient ruins and less about tree canopies in urban environments. Since my studies, I have gained an entire lexicon and an active appreciation for environmental sciences.


"[the programme]...prepar[ed] my cohort and I to tackle the challenges of the built environment and integrate the knowledge that we gained into the systems, programs, designs, and interventions we would initiate after [graduation]."

Kandrisa Alston, Advanced Sustainable Design - MSc alumna

My limited exposure to classic architecture encouraged a creative investment in the material and an application of principles that was at one end de-structured and the other resourceful. Daily, I would lament (at the time) that this programme was about what you can do, not about what you can learn. In fact, John Brennan and his colleagues were preparing my cohort and I to tackle the challenges of the built environment and integrate the knowledge that we gained into the systems, programs, designs, and interventions we would initiate after going our separate ways to the United States, China, Greece, El Salvador, and the rest of the UK.

Tell us about your experiences since leaving

Leaving Scotland was bittersweet. I was grateful for the many experiences and people that I met who shaped my time while there. Now stateside again, I work at the University of the District of Columbia within the Centre for Sustainable Design and Resiliency in Washington DC. I am beyond fortunate to have found a position that synchs perfectly with my passion and degree. The work I do with local communities on local issues is emblematic of how I envision sustainability and doing good. In the near future, I would like to pursue my doctoral degree in Sustainable Human Geography. There is much to learn about how to be an effective agent of change and I am excited about my future endeavours.

Alumni wisdom

The University of Edinburgh is a comprehensive, responsive system. Whatever (academic, personal, social, financial, spiritual, etc.) need that may arise, there is someone, somewhere on campus who wants to help you. Don’t let any emotion, whether it be fear, shyness, or pride prevent you from reaching out and making your time at Edinburgh as fantastic as it should be. Make yourself acquainted with the services the University has to offer. Use them as needed. Lastly, if you don’t know something, there are about a 1000 books and 1000 courses to sign up for so familiarise yourself with the library.


Are you interested in studying Advanced Sustainable Design - MSc at Edinburgh College of Art?

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