GRAFT was established when five landscape architects from France and the UK met at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) through the Erasmus and EMiLA (European Masters in Landscape Architecture) programmes and decided to set up a research-led creative collective that explores different approaches to Landscape Architecture through a combination of research, education, design and action.
GRAFT are Anaïs Chanon (Erasmus exchange in 2013), Andy Cumming (Landscape Architecture – MsC EMiLA, 2016), Stuart Malcolm (Landscape Architecture - MsC, 2015), Marie Montocchio (EMiLA exchange in 2016), and Alex Pirks (Landscape Architecture – MsC, 2016).
“We all benefited from ECA’s partnerships with other European Universities,” say the members of GRAFT, “We also enjoyed being part of a school where so many disciplines cohabit. It was inspiring to be able to experiment first-hand in subjects such as glass, printmaking and sculpture. This definitely filtered into our landscape work and influences our professional work, too.”
The members of GRAFT certainly have a diverse range of experiences and a willingness to explore and experiment in different fields. This was something that enabled them to make use of the unique opportunities that were on offer when they studied at ECA, and something that enables them to continue to contribute to the creative life of Edinburgh, Scotland and beyond.
“Between us, we had had the opportunity to study in five different schools in five different countries – Scotland, France, Spain, Norway and the Netherlands. We also have different backgrounds in art, literature, journalism and horticulture. As landscape architects, we often have to explain to people what we do. There is a common misconception that landscape architecture is all about gardening. Although we relate to the gardener’s relationship with the land, we are also architects who create outdoor public spaces. Our work can range from urban to rural, large-scale to small, temporary to permanent. We embrace this variety as it allows us to reinvent our role every time we start a new project.”
The variety of projects that GRAFT has been involved in so far include street libraries, community gardens, construction workshops and creative mapping exercises in the south side of Glasgow. Recently they were also involved in the relaunch of Custom House in Leith.
“The ‘Custom Open Studios’ project came about through collaboration with GRAS Studio Architects, based in Leith. We were asked to help re-introduce the former Custom House (now called ‘Custom Lane’ design studios) to the Leith community as it was re-opening its doors after more than 30 years. We felt it was important to re-anchor the building to its wider social, geographical, historical and cultural context through a series of events and interventions. One of these events was a multi-media art exhibition which celebrated the process of making and referencing the new vocation of the building. ECA graduates should play an important part in the Edinburgh art scene and we felt it was a great opportunity to exhibit the work of newly graduated ECA art and design students as part of the launch. This collaboration has inspired us to consider making this an annual exhibition, taking place in different venues, to continue our involvement in Edinburgh’s creative life.”
As might be expected from a group with an international outlook, GRAFT’s activities extend beyond Edinburgh. Currently they are working on a public art strategy for a large park in Glasgow, and are also excited to be branching out into Europe to create a new Franco-Scots landscape journal. But their approach is one rooted in the opportunities they enjoyed at ECA.
“With GRAFT we try to keep the ‘studio spirit’ going. A lot of what we do is based on experimentation. We are keen to creatively engage with sites and make the most of their resources as well as working collaboratively with practitioners from other disciplines.”