Scott Sutherland School students recognised at HIAA Awards

Rachel Gray

A student from the Sutherland School of Architecture & Built Environment has won the Highlands + Islands Architectural Association (HIAA) Student Awards 2024 for creating a sustainable project based in Finstown, Orkney.

Rachel Gray from Aberdeenshire, who is a final year Master of Architecture student at Robert Gordon University, triumphed for a project called ‘Homegrown’ that aims to reduce the carbon impact of the construction industry by advocating for the use of locally available and biogenic materials, such as straw, hemp, clay, and stone.

Rachel’s vision encourages circularity, in which building elements are re-used, recycled, or return to the ground at the end of their life cycle.

“I am delighted to have won the Highlands & Islands Architectural Association Student Award and that my project has been recognised by the HIAA judges for its environmental credentials.” Rachel said. “My project is a response to the twin crises of affordable housing shortages and climate breakdown; it aims to understand how low-carbon construction can become a mainstream reality for this sector.

“A small prototype affordable housing scheme has been designed to provide Finstown with 18 new houses. Along with the redevelopment of an existing farmstead site for use as a natural material production facility, the proposal rejects the contemporary proprietary building culture that emerged post industrial revolution.”

HIAA judges Mhairi Dobbie, Janet Philip and Jim Alexander, commented, “We felt Rachel’s scheme was a very thorough investigation of the production and use of sustainable and natural materials and that the buildings she proposed were well considered and sensitive in scale to the island location. We felt that the scheme as a whole could become a prototype for the small-scale production of locally grown/sourced materials in the Highlands and Islands.”

Toby Ross from Conon Bridge near Cromarty, who is in his fifth year studying a Master of Architecture at Robert Gordon University, was highly commended for his Inverness & Cromarty Green Freeport Centre, which puts sustainability at the heart of his designs. He has created a community centre, protected by a large stonewall to mitigate the effects of rising sea levels.

The centre uses lightweight timber and glass to offer panoramic views across the Cromarty Firth, while bespoke roof lanterns allow natural light into the centre.

Toby said, “I am really happy to have been recognised and highly commended by the HIAA judges. I have reimagined a typical headquarter building and created a Cromarty Freeport Centre that can welcome locals and visitors to the area. Located at the heart of Scotland’s huge offshore renewables sector, there is so much potential to create a community space that can act as a catalyst for new green technologies.”

The judges said, “Toby’s scheme responded well to its location and offered a bold and modern architectural design. The large gabion walls at ground floor level addressed the volatile nature of the sea to the north, whilst allowing visitors small glimpses of the views to the shore. The building’s main entrance and outdoor public space by contrast opened itself up towards the community/housing on the south side. The first floor public spaces such as the café were predominantly timber and glass structures and they emerged out of the stone gabion walls below to offer a more light weight solution and to allow the visitors to enjoy the sea views from a higher level.”

David Vila Domini, course leader in architecture, added, “We are very pleased that the Highlands and Islands Architects Association has recognised the high quality of work from students at the Scott Sutherland School. Our courses are considered in high regard by professionals, as are our graduates, and we aim to encourage all our students to design and build sustainable, well considered structures and spaces that reflect society’s aspirations.”

Both Rachel and Toby’s designs are on display as part of the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture & Built Environment end of year show at RGU’s Sir Ian Wood Building.