The students’ final design projects were part of the “Open Studio” unit, and they decided to work together to find a common thread between their individual projects. The result was the jig. collective.
“We came up with the idea of setting up a faux practice in the studio, a collective which operated on a flat hierarchy,” said Sigi Whittle, “We did shared research to try and tie the eight projects together, with each individual being able to research and design their own building.”
“We created a code of ethics and a code of conduct at the very start, which stated how you behave with one another in the group and how you interact with the community as part of the project,” said Will Gibbs, “It was totally democratic and really ambitious.”
Sigi, who grew up in the north west of Scotland, was able to contact people to get the project started. The uninhabited island of Isle Martin was previously owned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and was gifted to a community trust in 1999.
“It’s got a varied history. It used to have a big herring station on it, and it used to export salted herring to the West Indies to feed slaves,” said Sigi, “It was then bought by a Liverpudlian who expanded it and built infrastructure on it. The herring station then became a mill. Most of the land in Scotland is owned privately, but the island is now community-owned.”
The group visited the island and nearby towns to speak with the community as part of their research.
“The conversations were extremely important. Our tutors encouraged that,” said Will, “The first week one of our team was looking at demographics, statistics and the idea of the ‘brain drain’ in the area. And even though there’s value in that, we were also steered towards speaking with the community and how it affects them.”
The island has no electricity, and so the starting point for the connected projects was to consider how to get an energy supply to it, which would then feed into the other concepts. The team decided that a tidal energy farm out in The Minch between the island and Lewis and Harris was the answer, which would also supply electricity to surrounding towns and islands. Following on from this, the team proposed a maintenance, repair and research centre linked with the tidal farm, which has the dual purpose of creating more employment. On the island itself the team proposed an artists’ retreat and gallery, an inn and community centre, a rural skills and summer school, an archive centre designed for the archaeological activity that’s taking place on the island, a smokehouse to serve nearby fish farms, and a gin distillery that makes use of the native plants and whose gin bottles also double-up as being used as interlocking bricks once they’re empty. Finally, a church was designed which would act as the last stop on a pilgrimage and which included a gabion wall filled with the rubble and leftover materials from excavation work of all of the other projects, so that there was very little waste that would need to be removed from the island.
The team put up an exhibition of their final concepts at the MacPhail Centre in Ullapool, where locals were encouraged to come and interact with the project.
“I was worried that people would think ‘What have you done to our island?’, but they seem to be quite understanding of the fact that it’s theoretical,” said Sigi. “The buildings as they are could be seen as controversial, but the engagement with it shows how much people care.”
The students learnt a lot from working as part of a large team and on a project that may not be considered the norm for an Architecture programme.
“A lot of the time in architecture we talk so much about the city, so it was good to think what the questions were around rural life,” said Sigi, “brain drain, unemployment, lack of opportunities, the feeling of being forgotten.”
“You start to understand how one another work, and even little comments like ‘have you thought about it this way?’ can help to broaden your mind on how to solve something,” said Will, “It helps the visual communication of your ideas, too. I found it really useful working with people who could help me as I was trying to communicate through my work, and who had suggestions of how that could be done.”
After a well-earned break and after graduation, the team may continue to work together on similar projects.
“I was at a job interview and they were talking about the project, and some of the comments were about how the thinking and structure behind it was really impressive. I’d be happy to continue with the project or replicate the way we worked,” said Sigi, “In general the whole course is good at helping one another out. Even simple things like how to use a bit of software – having that support network is really valuable. We were friends before, but it was maybe a few different friendship groups at the start. Everyone’s now become really good friends.”
The students involved in the project were Sophie Agne, Leonor Costa Pinto Teixeira Dias, Will Gibbs, Martha Halliday, Gregor Hughes, Nathan Lang, Grant MacGregor and Sigi Whittle.