Skip to main content
A digital mockup of a council chamber, the rooms is airy and bright, chairs are laid out in rows with a few people sitting.

MA (Hons) Architecture graduate Inka Eismar has been recognised with multiple awards for her 2022 project, Common Ground, which reimagines Leith’s New Kirkgate as a ‘thriving civic space’.

Inka Eismar, who graduated from the Edinburgh School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture (ESALA) in 2022, was named the winner of the internationally-recognised Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Award for Sustainable Design and received a High Commendation in the overall RIBA Bronze Medals. 

Inka also won the 2022 Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) Student Award for best graduating student project in Scotland and the Edinburgh Architecture Association 2022 JR McKay Medal for best graduating architecture student project in Edinburgh. 

Inka drew up her proposal while in her final year of the MA (Hons) Architecture programme.

Sustainability in architecture and a circular model 

At the heart of Inka’s design is a Town Hall, a building designed as a system of layers, each with a different rate of change which may be re-configured or dismantled throughout the building’s lifespan.  

Inka said: “The Kirkgate is a fascinating area of Leith, blending architecture of different centuries, from old churches and guild halls to modernist tower blocks.” 

She explains: “Walking through the Kirkgate, you can witness the various historic layers ‘superimposed’ on one another, forming unique junctions and contrasts. This visual manifestation of time periods overlapping has inspired a key aspect of my project, which envisions how the proposal might look and be used in a hundred years’ time.” 

Sustainability is an important consideration in Inka’s work. She explains: “I believe sustainability is paramount to architectural design. Architects urgently need to rethink the traditional building lifecycle from blank slate to demolition. In my work, I’m interested in how building materials can be employed as part of a circular model and how this informs our view of buildings as evolving structures rather than final products. 

“Equally, I want to ensure that my work balances environmental sustainability with a brief focused on social issues, as the latter is commonly overlooked when talking about sustainability in the context of architecture.”

Addressing the Kirkgate’s physical and social challenges 

Inka’s project addresses the physical and social challenges public housing estates often face. She explains: “The modernist masterplan has left the streetscape of New Kirkgate overexposed and without public amenities. My proposal physically addresses the lack of considered landscaping by splitting this large open space into a series of smaller squares more appropriate to human scale, each with a distinct character.  

“In Leith, an active culture of communal engagement is already well established. Alongside the local government and administration, the proposal includes meeting spaces for grassroots movements and provides local residents with a platform to advocate for their objectives.” 

On receiving the RIBA award, Inka said: "I’m very honoured to be awarded the RIBA Award for Sustainable Design. I hope this is part of a wider shift that indicates architects are starting to consider social and environmental sustainability as complimentary rather than conflicting aspects.” 

A significant accolade 

Kieran Hawkins, Inka’s tutor, commented on Inka’s proposal and the significance of this recognition: “Inka's project was a fantastic example of a student's work that takes the brief that we set and runs with it, far beyond our expectations. Her project is rigorous in its engagement with its setting in Leith and succeeds in commitments to low-carbon construction and social sustainability while being a rich architectural design.  

“To have received a High Commendation for the overall award, together with winning the Sustainability Award outright, is a huge achievement. The award is recognised around the world and will certainly broaden Inka’s options as a young architect.” 

Congratulations, Inka! 

Read more about Inka’s proposal on the RIBA website

Commitment to sustainable design 

ESALA students show consistent commitment to sustainability in architectural design, with the RIBA Award for Sustainable Design previously going to 2020 graduate Gergana Negovanska and 2021 graduate Sonakshi Pandit.

Laura Harty, BA/MA (Hons) Architecture programme director and lecturer in architectural design/detail, said: "In such an expanded field, it is especially significant to see ESALA feature repeatedly, a fact which underlines the quality of our students and the pedagogies which prompt, encourage and steer this exemplary work. As a school of architecture and landscape architecture, we situate our teaching and research practices at the intersection of unfolding environmental, political and societal crises. This ethos foregrounds a critical engagement with the civic and ecological urgencies of our time, a joint commitment shared by staff and students alike. 

"This effort, formalised by the staff and student collective ESALA Climate Action (ECAN), has nurtured and developed thoughtful, provocative and award-winning work. As a school and a community, these accolades feed ongoing discussions and help promote future, hopeful responses to the challenges which we face together."

ESALA, along with more than 400 other international institutions, nominate two undergraduate students each year for the RIBA Bronze Medal.

Related programmes

Meet our staff