What’s it like to run a community-based, live build project in your first year out of university? We talk to the Civic Soup collective about their recent Festival of Creative Learning event in Dalmarnock, Greater Glasgow.

For five years running, Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) has been working with Baltic Street Adventure Playground in Dalmarnock to help bring the legacy of the 2014 Commonwealth Games to fruition.

In the summer of 2016, volunteers from both ECA and Heriot-Watt University helped build a WikiHouse for the playground, having previously worked on extending the outdoor space with play equipment made from recycled materials.

The Baltic Street WikiHouse is a 4.7m x 4m insulated pavilion constructed from digitally-fabricated, lightweight plywood ‘jigsaw’ pieces. It was based on a previous project by architect and ESALA tutor, Akiko Kobayashi, at the Grove Community garden in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh.

‘Clad the Wikihouse!’ was a follow-on project to design and build a weatherproof envelope for the structure using materials and expertise supplied by BAM Construction and CMS. 

Exploring new and exciting ways of practicing architecture and design

The project was run by Civic Soup, an Edinburgh-based collective established by five recent graduates, four of whom graduated from the Architecture - MA (Hons) programme at ECA in 2016.

The team’s ethos is “rooted in learn-by-doing” and the WikiHouse was its first “collective experience of running a live build project; an exciting if somewhat daunting prospect!”

Collaboration came in the form of ESALA Projects, an initiative to support live builds by designers at all career stages within the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, with particular input from Alex MacLaren and Fiona McLachlan who have extensive experience of the Dalmarnock site.

Alex says “It’s really exciting that something which started as a staff-run, student-based project has grown legs, becoming a vehicle for graduates to progress their own practice”.

A wholly different experience

The design proposal for the WikiHouse was based on drawings by the playground’s users, with the materials chosen on the basis that they could be customised on-site by the children.

Talking about the project, Civic Soup said “Although we have each individually participated at varying degrees in design/build programmes, it was a wholly different experience to be on the other side, not just working through the design stages with all of the parties involved, but also organising the logistics and programming of workshops, and managing lots of new people”.

“Much like the summer workshops in previous years, we decided to open up the build phase to allow as many people as possible to benefit from the experience, and with the support of the University of Edinburgh’s Festival of Creative Learning, we were able to take a group of eager volunteers through to the site every day of the build”.

As well as staff and children from the playground, participants included a visiting academic from the University of Maryland, USA, and students from a range of years and programmes, one of whom (a first year Architecture student) said “I feel I gained a lot of hands-on, construction experience, and also now have a much more optimistic opinion about the positive effects projects like the WikiHouse can have on communities”.

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Detail photo of a customised playhouse
Image courtesy of Civic Soup
The cladding was customised on-site by the children
Photo of a group of construction volunteers
Image courtesy of Civic Soup
The build attracted a close-knit team of volunteers

The WikiHouse project was carried out with participation and co-funding from the Innovative Initiative Grant (IIG) given by the University’s Development & Alumni office Heriot Watt University and BAM Construction.

IIGs are funded by alumni and friends of the University of Edinburgh who are keen to support innovation in teaching, research and student life. IIGs promote new initiatives in teaching, research and student experience. Applications are open to permanent members of staff and current students (both undergraduate and postgraduate) as well as EUSA, EUSA societies, the Sports Union and recognised sports clubs.

The next submission window for Innovation Initiative Grants opens on Thursday 14 September 2017 and closes at 12 noon on Thursday 26 October 2017.