Learning Through Collaboration

Building on our practice vision and values principle of collaboration, we believe that design and construction are team activities. So what happens when we look to collaborate with a profession who might not normally be involved in the design and construction process?

Recently Smith Scott Mullan formed a new partnership with the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences. This collaboration sought to provide a student with a valuable placement and real project exposure, and in return SSM enjoyed interacting with academia and engaging with students during their journey to the workplace. We found that input from a different perspective and discipline was both refreshing and beneficial to the overall quality of outcome.

Earth Futures MSc student Erin Fowler joined our team on a productive 9-week placement, working alongside Senior Architect Jarek Gasiorek on one of our transition to Net Zero projects for Midlothian Council.

Erin has shared with us more about the process of her placement, key areas of learning and the impact her placement with us has had on her academic journey below.

‘Smith Scott Mullan Associates have recently formed a new partnership with the University of Glasgow, hosting a work placement opportunity for students on the Earth Futures MSc programme. The Earth Futures MSc is a multidisciplinary course that includes training across the social and physical sciences, equipping students with the relevant skills and experience they need to tackle the social and environmental problems of sustainable development. The course covers a wide breadth of topics, including climate justice, resource management, and urban development and students can specialise in the issues that interest them the most. As I am researching women and climate action in UK cities, I was keen to learn more about how our cities are planned for and how trends surrounding sustainability are being implemented within our cities. I was fortunate to secure a placement with SSM where I have been able to learn more about the built environment we live in.

During my time at SSM, I have worked with Senior Architect, Jarek Gasiorek, on a project for Midlothian Council. Midlothian Council aspire to reach net zero by 2030, and SSM is helping them to reach this target by creating a sustainable housing design guide. This has involved researching current policy guidance from the Scottish Government, Architecture and Design Scotland, and the RIBA, LETI or UKGBC that cover the principles of good place design, the 20-minute neighbourhood approach, and that emphasise the idea of carbon conscious places in terms of operational and embodied energy. This research has helped to ensure that our guide reflects current guidance and policy to establish an ambitious and robust document for the future. Social and environmental sustainability, inclusivity and safety through design are firmly embedded within the guide. As well as the importance of incorporating green spaces and ensuring that designs are futureproofed to withstand the impacts of climate change.

My placement has included opportunities to attend and take minutes at consultation meetings and discussions to help further shape the sustainable housing design guide. I have been able to take part in internal meetings held by SSM’s Green Group where I have learned about some of the work done by SSM to become more sustainable. I have also gained experience using new software, such as Adobe InDesign and Photoshop, to help create and edit an attractive and usable document for Midlothian Council to use. All of this has provided me with opportunities to help build and maintain professional relationships, improve my interpersonal skills, and allow me to become more confident in my ability to use new technologies.

Before starting this placement, I had little experience of working within the architecture industry. I am first and foremost an environmental geographer, and although I have a firm interest in urban geography, I went into this placement with many misconceptions of what I thought architects do. I was surprised at how much interdisciplinary and collaborative work take place within this industry, with each project team being made up of a diverse range of professionals bringing together their expertise and experience. I was also surprised about the wide range of topics architects can cover, including but not limited to social sustainability, place making, energy efficiency through passive house design, greenspace provision, building conservation, and of course, design for aesthetics. This experience has made me want to pursue a career as a sustainability consultant within the urban planning realm as I have become increasingly interested in how cities can be designed in more sustainable ways and how local communities can be involved in this process.

The placement has been carried out remotely (from my kitchen!) for the best part of three months, yet I have very much felt part of the team at SSM. I have learned so much in such a short time, and importantly for me that there are many aspects of architecture that overlap with geography. SSM have encouraged me to identify the topics I would like to learn more about and the skills I wish to develop. They have provided me with advice and relevant training opportunities for my own professional development, allowing me to feel more confident about my future after graduation.’ – Erin Fowler