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Lochside lookout

Part 2 students Angus Ritchie and Daniel Tyler on how they built a mirrored cabin in Scotland’s first national park. Photography by Ross Campbell

We began this process by questioning at a fundamental level what we wanted to gain from our final year at the University of Strathclyde. We were nearing the end of a long academic process and had grown weary of drawn projects that inevitably focus on the theory of design, rather than the act of building. So we set out to realise a built scheme to better understand the complexity that construction brings, and better prepare us for practice. We identified what our learning outcomes would be and we began the search for a client to give the process parameters.

In September last year, Scottish universities were offered a £5,000 grant to embed the Scottish government’s Scenic Routes Initiative into their academic programmes in parallel to the main content. The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority became the University of Strathclyde’s grant sponsor - and ultimately our client.

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The national park project started as a first year module. We participated in reviews and a small number of projects were selected by the national park as possible concepts to be realised and referenced. Boris Milanov, a first year student, had proposed a large, complex, mirrored design for a ‘room with a view’ that the national park and the university reviewers agreed had the potential to be developed.

We initially worked with the first year designer to distil key aspects of his design into a realisable form. We developed and articulated a geometry of standard sheet material dimensions to help keep the project within our small budget. A 2440mm cube was the basis of the form with voids introduced to frame space or guide views.

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We then developed a series of technical studies where we modelled prototype aspects of the construction, such as a variety of recessed edge details, seat fixing and cladding methods. This formed an iterative process of discussion with material suppliers, giving us a better understanding of the materials we were working with and how best to use them.

To bolster our budget, we collaborated with local companies; the digital fabrication firm MAKLab in Glasgow offered us workshop space and machine time in its new fabrication studio and timber supplier Russwood provided us with the thermally modified hardwood for cladding the seats.

In addition to our usual tutorials, we had regular meetings with the national park for input on construction, legislation, access and transportation. The client contribution had an inevitable effect on the design; the proposal is exempt from most statutory approvals, but it is a publicly accessible building.

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Having established our list of suppliers, addressed all of the client issues, completed our production drawings and defined our construction programme, we began building our structure in MAKLab’s fabrication studio. Over the course of 21 long days (and nights), The Lookout was completed and transported to a site in Balquhidder Glen with views across Loch Voil and Loch Doine.

The project hopefully illustrates our belief that building at a small scale and engaging with a client better prepares architecture students for practice and shows what benefits client bodies can gain when engaging with academia.

What is the Scottish Scenic Routes Initiative?

The scheme, a Scottish version of an existing Norwegian programme, began in June 2013 with a government funding award of £1.5 million over three years. The initiative was designed to open up remote and spectacular parts of the Scottish landscape through installations encouraging and enabling people to stop and view the scenery.

The project aimed to promote the work of young, untested designers and competitions. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park was the first government agency to roll out the scheme and offered £5,000 grants to all Scottish architecture schools willing to take part. The University of Strathclyde was the only school to accept. Students also worked on two other sites within the national park including the falls of Falloch, where Part 2 student John Kennedy created a walkway and viewing platform.

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