Fiona McLachlan profile picture

Job title:

Professor of Architectural Practice


Fiona McLachlan is Professor of Architectural Practice at the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA). A former Head of ESALA, she teaches architectural design, colour design for architecture, and contributes to the teaching of professional studies.

Fiona is interested in the inter-relationships between practice, research and teaching. Her current research on colour in architectural design is an example. She has written two books on the topic in addition to a number of peer-reviewed articles. The ECA 'Colour Collection' was established as a focus for the development of further cross-disciplinary research in colour. Fiona is one of a group of staff who lead the ESALA Projects office, which was set up in 2014 and undertakes a range of community outreach/research projects. Fiona's work is aimed at both academic audiences and the wider public with projects at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital and Baltic Street Adventure Playground, Dalmarnock.

Fiona was educated at the University of Edinburgh and became an ARB registered architect in 1983. She joined the University as a Lecturer in 1989, became a Senior Lecturer in 1995, and was awarded a personal chair in 2011.

Her architectural practice, E & F McLachlan Architects, specialized in social housing including frail elderly and wheelchair user housing. The practice has won a number of invited competitions and completed four key developments at South Gyle (1997), Canongate (2000), Whitburn (2007) and Denny (2011) alongside cultural projects and exhibitions.

Fiona was a founding Director of the Architects' Professional Examination Authority in Scotland (APEAS) and has served on the RIBA Education Committee. She has been an external examiner in the UK, Ireland and China.

She is the Convenor of the University Collections Advisory Committee (UCAC).



Fiona's main focus is the teaching of architectural design studio. She has been course organizer for first year, second year and final year MArch studio. She has co-taught a series of third and fourth year studios in Architectural Design: Explorations and Architectural Design: Tectonics, which tend to be research-led. Her studio on primary school design, which ran for five years, culminated in the publication 'Thinking, Teaching, Learning: Explorations in Primary School design, co-authored with Rachael Hallett. A studio ‘Civic Fabrication’ with Alex MacLaren was focussed on the regeneration of Dalmarnock, Glasgow, while ‘Open Studio’ allowed students to propose their own project.

She has recently developed a third-year studio ‘Chromatic Interventions’, a development of a previous elective course 'On Colour: in Architecture', to bring her research directly into teaching. Teaching of colour in architecture is a neglected area across Europe and Fiona is currently developing an international network to build expertise and further these studies. She has three current doctoral students researching topics relating to colour.

She also contributes to the professional studies teaching in the MArch Architectural Management, Practice and Law course, including a focus on Inclusive Design. Fiona was the course organiser for the Update in Architectural Management course for over 20 years, supporting candidates for the final professional 'Part 3' examination. ​


Fiona’s research has four major strands and varied outputs, all of which draw on inter-relationships of practice and teaching.

Colour in contemporary architecture

Her research on colour has led to three books; McLachlan, F (2012) Architectural Colour in the Professional Palette, Oxon and New York: Routledge, also translated into Chinese; and a co-authored book Colour Strategies in Architecture, Schwabe AG Verlag, Basel, (2015). This book is the result of a four-year collaboration with the Haus der Farbe in Switzerland. A major touring exhibition of the original artwork for the Colour Strategies in Architecture was shown in three UK venues; the Matthew Architecture Gallery in Edinburgh, The Glasgow Lighthouse and the Architectural Association, London and in a total of ten venues in Germany, Norway and Switzerland.

Colour Beyond the Surface: Art in Architecture will be published by Lund Humphries in the autumn of 2022.

Fiona has acted as a colour consultant for a series of University of Edinburgh Estates projects working alongside the external architects. These include the Edinburgh Futures Institute, the Law School, the Playfair Stair and Old College Reception, Adam House, Edinburgh College of Art main building, 7-8 Chambers Street and various spaces in Architecture.

This research theme feeds into a multi-disciplinary study ‘Colour Collection’ at Edinburgh College of Art investigating and documenting colour teaching and research across the University of Edinburgh and other UK institutions. The work spans Architecture, History of Art and the School of Art and is feeding into teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Creative Industries/Fabric Cast concrete

Work with Professor Remo Pedreschi (Professor of Architectural Technology at Edinburgh College of Art) focussed on the development of techniques in casting concrete against fabric, with panels cast in the workshop used in a social housing project at Whitburn, West Lothian, by her architectural practice (2007). This has also generated a series of workshops for primary and secondary school children and several publications.

Primary school design

The book, Thinking Teaching Learning, co-authored with Rachael Hallett, drew on a 5-year long third-year studio placing the student work in the context of the Scottish government’s ‘Curriculum for Excellence’. The Scottish Government distributed it to every local authority education department in Scotland and images are embedded in the Architecture and Design Scotland’s ‘Spark’ website.

Housing research and architectural built work

An AHRC funded KE project Home Improvements with Sheffield and Kingston Universities was completed in 2014. A collaborative report Space to Park with URBED was presented at Westminster and disseminated at on the Space to Park website.

An earlier major research project for the Scottish Government Design at the Heart of Housebuilding was completed in 2007.

E & F McLachlan Architects

Fiona’s practice, E & F McLachlan Architects specialised in social housing and residential work. The work of the practice was included in international exhibitions and publications, notably in New Architects: A guide to Britain’s best young architectural practices (1998) and RIBA:40 under Forty. An archive of the work of the practice can be viewed at:

ESALA Projects

Fiona is actively involved in outreach and community projects through the ESALA Projects office. Examples include colour design for healthcare ‘live projects’ at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital Dementia ward and Andrew Duncan Clinic and at Hope Park Counselling Centre. Previous projects include the Baltic Street Adventure Playground ‘Wiki house’ in Dalmarnock.

Current PhD students

Joyce Dixon

The Art and History of Werner's Nomenclature of Colours

PhD Supervision Topics

Accepting applications
  • Colour in architecture
  • The design of schools
  • Social housing

Related programmes