Product Design at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) considers the role of design in improving people’s lives. In this short article, Eva Cameron Coutts - web team intern at ECA - writes about a micro-architecture project by BA (Hons) student, Elliot Benjamin.

The Sculpture Court at ECA has been an integral part of many an occasion, from the infamous Revel party, to packed out lectures by acclaimed artists. Recently, it became a working studio for Elliot Benjamin, a place to collect feedback from the hundreds of curious students and teachers who pass through daily.

It’s not unusual for final year students to be thinking about life after university as it creeps ever closer. Elliot, a fourth year Product Design - BA (Hons) student, has taken the ideas and practices he’s learned over the past four years and weaved them within his final year project, with one eye firmly on the future.

Affordable co-housing and working environments for young creatives

Elliot’s focus is on micro-architecture, combined with co-housing and creative communities. His idea is to produce affordable co-housing and working environments for young creatives, specifically aimed at recent art school graduates who perhaps don’t have much money but are passionate about their discipline.

“People who don’t want to spend their whole lives working commercial jobs just to pay for their housing and studio space; the idea is about bringing people together and sharing facilities to create an affordable community.”

Elliot built his first prototype in a public place with the hope that the people who pass through the Sculpture Court daily would be drawn to come and look at his model, giving the crucial aspect of user-testing to his project from the very beginning. In an attempt to be as efficient as possible and utilise factory standard plywood sheet sizes, he built it with the dimensions of 1.22m x 2.44m.

“A lot of artists keep their work to themselves until it’s the end exhibition date but getting feedback and influence from other people, especially in such a creative space as the art college, can really influence the project and help you come up with ideas you might not have thought about yourself.”

So what was some of that user feedback?

“There’s been lots of talk about how you get dressed. Some people have said maybe you could stand up in half of it. I feel like that’d be a bit of an odd feeling, yet it’s something I'd like to explore more in the next prototype. An architect said having the same floor plan but a tall ceiling would make it more claustrophobic as it’d be tall and thin and sort of oddly out of proportion.”

The value of internships

Elliot’s inspiration for the project came in part through an internship he did in Oakland, California at a sustainable, co-housing community. There, people shared communal studios and communal kitchens and it was up to the individual what they made their bedroom from. Everything from shipping containers to trailers to sheds were transformed into little hideaways.

“They had made a box probably half the size of this one.” Elliot recalled his bedroom whilst there, pointing to his prototype. “It was on top of one of the shipping containers. It made me think I’m probably pretty happy with that kind of space - this is roomy! As long as all you’re doing is sleeping, I quite enjoy it.”

“I’ve been trying to have less stuff and just simplify life. This kind of forces you not only to spend less time by yourself in your room but maybe to be less attached to your material goods.”

After his first prototype, Elliot went on to re-build in his flat, playing with similar space dimensions but this time managing to fit two beds and a separate cubicle for each, resolving the changing dilemma whilst halving the amount of space needed per person.

The model has clearly progressed massively since the initial stages, looking like a fully formed bedroom in some respects. Best of all, moving it out of the Sculpture Court doesn’t seem to have diminished the feedback-driven nature of the project, with friends having slept in the bottom bunk and him on the top he’s managed to get a really wide variety of opinions.

“My lecturer even came to the flat the other day, it was really cool, we just had a tutorial in my bedroom.”

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