MSA Stage 3 School of Architecture

Ailsa Hutton


I am a third year architecture student originally from the Lake District. My work revolves around sustainability and how beneficial sustainable design not only helps protect the earth’s resources but also brings communities together through the appreciation of nature. The motivation for my projects always start with materials, understanding that materials have a much larger impact on a design than just aesthetics; they should have function and be the first step in the design process.

The Hidden Network of Mycelium, The Knoydart Peninsula
A Long-Life Adaptation, Fort William

The Hidden Network of Mycelium, The Knoydart Peninsula

In this project, I looked at the wider landscape in Lochaber to gain understanding of the wider rural context and experience of living in this part of Scotland. The Knoydart Peninsula is an area of land that has been bought by the Knoydart Foundation and works on the principle that the local community has full control and responsibility over this area. A key part of this small community is the Knoydart Forest Trust. Since 1999, the KFT has planted over 600,000 trees to help boost biodiversity in this landscape. This is due to the massive effects of deforestation in Scotland has faced in the last 200 years due to the Highland Clearances, meaning only 1% of Scotlands Native forests are left. The impact of the deforestation has damaged our ecosystems more than some realise as the Highlands are now primarily covered in acid grasslands and heather, which is due to poor soil structure (nutrient poor soil that vegetation struggles to survive in).

The process of planting is done by 4 local people and occasional volunteers during spring and summer months. All planting is done by hand and requires a lot of energy as sites are often in rural areas, far away from any services or infrastructure. This project has been formed around the current issues the KFT are facing around planting biodiverse forests.

The form of this design has been inspired by vernacular architecture from Mongolian cattle farmers, who stay in semi-permanent structures called ‘Gers”. This is because these tree planting huts are only necessary for roughly 6 months, so it is important to ensure the land isn’t scarred in the process of improving the landscape. The next issue this structure is helping is the hidden microclimate in the acidic soil. The building will be made from mycelium bricks because mycelium is a key part in healthy soil and helps transport nutrients to different flora and fauna. Thus, meaning the primary structure of the hut can be left on the landscape when people have done their job and the mycelium blocks can ensure proper development of the new forest.

Another reason for the circular form is due to the rich history of the stone circles found in the surrounding areas, such as the Isle of Skye. This is because during the ‘Decay’ phase of this building’s life cycle, a circular clearing will form in the growing forest similar to these stone circles. Nodding to the great history that the population of the Highlands has had and continues to have with nature, helping restore a new generations relationship with the natural world and our responsibility to protect it.

The knoydart Peninsula

The Timeline

The Hidden Network of Mycelium

Exploring the Impact of Micro-ecosystems on Macro-ecosystems

Construction to Decay

This demonstrates the improvement of the soil that the mycelium bricks aid through their cycle.

Future Hut Locations

This project and method can be repeated and reproduced in different planting sites to help the Knoydart Forest Trust achieve their goal.

A Long-Life Adaptation, Fort William

To begin this project, I reflected on the experience I had on my trip to Fort William. What I saw, how it felt to be in the landscape and what potential the space had. I enjoy the ability to roam in the countryside, the lack of rigid infrastructure that the natural world presents us. This contrasts with the hard boundaries in Fort William, the A82 especially, and how this impacts movement through the town and its connection with the wider landscape. Going forward with the design, I wanted to create a space that could reconnect people with Loch Linnhe, bringing the potential for greater development within the town. Another way of recognising the importance of the landscape through the design would be to reference the vast contrasting scales that you experience in the area, for example, looking at the size of buildings compared to the mountains helps to reinforce the point of importance that the hills surrounding have. Therefore, I want to take this effect and use it in the design. Creating a design that emphasises the large scale of a solid structure and the littleness of the people using it. Encouraging an urge to roam through the building as if it is a new rural landscape waiting to be explored.

I chose this site as it gave me an opportunity to explore an adaptive re-use method by using an existing structure, which also set some guidelines for my design initially. The site also has an uninterrupted view of Loch Linnhe on the North-West facing façade and meets the pedestrianised High Street on the South-East facing façade, which means that there was an opportunity to reconnect the community with the dramatic landscape using views and natural light.

The function of this building is a Dry-Stone Walling workshop which is a traditional skill that has been used for hundreds of years in rural parts of the UK. This workshop would be important in restoring culture in the area as Dry-Stone Walling is a dying craft due to more efficient building methods.This workshop also wouldn’t need any machinery meaning the operational energy of the building will be reduced. This building will be open to both visitors and local people, providing apprenticeship opportunities for this traditional craft to ensure the knowledge is being shared with the local community, boosting their economy and landscape.

In conclusion, I think this project balances the private and public spaces well with a journey through the building that simulates climbing a man-made mountain. I think the design provides opportunities for tourism to grow but also provides growth in the community, increasing economy and knowledge. I think this is more important that the residential retreat in the building, as local will be living with this building and should be able to use it in numerous ways throughout the year, meaning the building never needs to have an off season and due to loose-fit design the spaces are easily adaptable, giving opportunities for the locals to use the design to their needs. This ‘free to roam’ design encompasses the attitudes of rural communities, sharing and learning about their environment to respect their surroundings and each other.