Cross-disciplinary design: the Hunter Square Project


It all started with a speculative email from Sargent Scott Casey of the Central Edinburgh Community Policing Team who wrote to Edinburgh College of Art seeking help to deal with anti-social behaviour issues in Hunter Square.

Hunter Square, embedded in the history of the city, is situated behind the Tron Kirk at the intersection of Royal Mile and North Bridge. The current strategy is increased Police presence and closure of the public toilets. Could a re-design of the square, a new vision, change the nature of the square into a more welcoming and vibrant place and discourage anti-social behaviour?

Following discussions with Sargent Casey and Kathy Evans of Edinburgh City Council the form of a project that would combine the ideas for the square with a prototype for pedagogical practice emerged.

A key aspect of the resulting project was a multi-disciplinary approach: both to address the problems of the square from different perspectives:  the legislative, commercial and architectural and to facilitate cross-disciplinary team working. Students would work in cross-disciplinary groups to produce a series of proposals in an intensive design charette.

Academics from the Schools of Law, Business and ESALA were drawn together to develop the project. A workshop was held with local residents and businesses, the council, police and the academic team. The intention was to establish good links with stakeholders and produce input for a competent project brief. It was decided to run the project in June, outside of semester and invite student participation through an open call to Law, ESALA and Business. The students would therefore be self-selecting and motivated. Twelve students arrived for the project, from quite diverse programmes, 3rd year UG Architecture, LLB In Law, Masters in Business and International Relation and 3 PhD students in Landscape, Business and Architectural Conservation. The charette ran for three days and started with a series of briefings from the Police (Scott Casey), Edinburgh World Heritage (Fiona Rankin) and stakeholder consultation (Lesley McAra) a site visit (John Lowrey Architectural Historian).

The students were organised into 3 teams of four, carefully arranged to ensure diversity of discipline and stage. Each team was issued with a resource pack including relevant reports, papers and web resources.  The students undertook a series of interviews with local businesses and an ad hoc user survey of visitors to the square. Emphasis was placed on working method: think-act-present.

Each group to identify their own skills and expertise, in research, in drawing, multimedia, writing etc. and then:

  • Allocate tasks
  • Agree key points during the workshop: when you meet, agree and consolidate ideas
  • Allow time to prepare presentations.

Members of the academic team provided support through frequent informal discussion. Each group worked well and produced, credible proposals, which they presented to local residents, businesses, police and council. The feedback was very supportive and encouraging, despite some early cynicism during the initial stakeholder consultation. Each group then produced a series of panels illustrating the proposals that formed the basis of a public exhibition at Minto House.

Next steps:

We will be working with the stakeholders to develop the proposals into practical action and the students involved have been encouraged to apply for a Social Responsibility and Sustainability Award.

As a teacher, the experience of working with colleagues and students from different schools on a project of practical value was immensely satisfying and I believe will lead to further collaboration, both to tackle current issues and in different modes of teaching.

Remo Pedreschi

Prof Remo Pedreschi is a Chartered Civil Engineer and holds the Chair of Architectural Technology in the Edinburgh College of Art.

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