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Work by Sonakshi Pandit
Studying Architecture MA (Hons) with ESALA at ECA made Sonakshi aware of the social responsibility that architects and designers hold, as well as the transformative potential of architectural and urban interventions.

Now, after graduating amid the pandemic and winning a RIBA Award for Sustainable Design, Sonakshi is working on practice- and research-led projects that have a meaningful impact on communities.

Why I chose to study Architecture - MA (Hons)

I chose to study my part 1 Architecture MA (Hons) with the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA) at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) primarily because of the programme structure; I was intrigued by the placement period integrated into the MA route, which allows for a decent amount of exposure to the architectural workplace. I found that it was incredibly useful to spend a sustained period of time in practice during my studies. This allowed me to develop and shape my own ideas from the insight learnt at ESALA and in practice. I was also particularly drawn to studying at Edinburgh because of how diverse and historically-rich the city is. I think that it is quite inspiring to study architecture in a city that is as breathtaking as Edinburgh!

My time at ECA

The interdisciplinary pedagogy of ECA has given me the opportunity to explore architecture through the lens of varied methodologies and approaches, challenging what is perceived to be conventional within the built environment. In a time where there is a growing urgency to address issues of social and climate injustice, the types of design studios offered within ESALA enabled me to actively work on projects that respond to these urgent real-world challenges - whether it be exploring sustainable modes of production and consumption through architecture or reimagining a built environment that is inclusive and equitable. The specific studio units that I chose at ESALA have enabled me to work with discarded and other devalued materials. This allowed me to develop original material and tectonic systems, whilst giving me the tools to enquire into alternate design methodologies that consider not only the human but also the non-human. The studio has also offered me a collaborative environment to develop and nurture my own ideas in conjunction with my peers and tutors.

"In a time where there is a growing urgency to address issues of social and climate injustice...ESALA enabled me to actively work on projects that respond to these urgent real-world challenges..."

Sonakshi Pandit

2020 Architecture - MA (Hons) alumna

ECA also offers amazing opportunities to take part in design competitions and placements, as well as a number of weekly lecture series where one can engage with visiting lecturers, designers and professors from around the world. During my third year, I had the opportunity to complete my placement period at a renowned international firm - Stantec - where I was involved in the detail design stage of several hospitality projects. 

I was very fortunate to have an amazing and supportive set of tutors throughout my time at ECA. And, whilst completing my final semester during the pandemic felt like a setback, I actually feel quite fortunate to have had my architectural education in a setting where the discipline has been undergoing - and continues to undergo - rapid change to respond and adapt to the very pressing issues that the pandemic has illustrated, such as the climate emergency and racial prejudice. I feel like my projects gained a new perspective and purpose because of these events.

My experiences since graduating

I feel hugely grateful to have won a couple of awards for my final year project, notably the RIBA Award for Sustainable Design. And, since leaving ECA, I have been able to translate what I have learnt about socially and environmentally conscientious design to the workplace. Being at ECA made me aware of the social responsibility that architects and designers hold, as well as the potential of architectural and urban interventions to transform and activate social and ecological systems. As a result, I am currently completing my internship at the architectural NGO Built Empathy, where I am actively working on projects to improve livability in under-resourced environments. In parallel to this, I am also working in collaboration with the International Association for Human Values (IAHV) to prototype and build low-cost, sustainable housing for tribal communities in Bengaluru, India. Both these projects have enabled me to take up both practice-based and research-oriented roles towards outcomes that have a meaningful impact on communities.

My advice to new and current students

The cross-disciplinary nature of the architecture program at ESALA provides an excellent opportunity to develop and situate your own thinking in conjunction with courses on architectural history, architectural design, art and design, theory, technology, and environment, as well as various electives. All these courses provide interesting overlaps and insights into one another, so I think that it is important to have an open mind and be willing to learn in a multidisciplinary manner to get the most out of this experience. In other words, don’t be afraid to experiment with various representational techniques, philosophies, and methodologies from different disciplines or to even invent your own!

Associated programmes