Student awards 2021: interview with Gergana Negovanska

An architectural drawing of a cross section of a proposed community centre.
Published: 22/10/2021

As part of the A&DS and RIAS Student Awards for Architecture 2021 Gergana Negovanska, ESALA, was awarded the A&DS Award for Best 3rd Year Student for her project "The Last Straw: A case for reuse Ratho community centre". In this interview she outlines her winning project and plans for the future.

Tell us a little about yourself

I am a recent MA Hons Architecture graduate from the University of Edinburgh (ESALA). Apart from studying architecture, I am also involved in an interior design studio. I am currently working full-time in an architecture practice in Sofia, Bulgaria.

About your project

My project is designed for a circular economy in the built environment and explores the potential of reusing a soon-to-be-demolished shed, which houses the Ratho Library, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. While the shed would typically be considered to have a low value, my proposal challenges the notion of which buildings are deemed worthy of preservation in response to the climate emergency.

By carefully surveying, cataloguing, and evaluating the existing modular building, the proposal for a community centre responds to and enhances its social, ecological, and historical relationships to its site.

Situated along one of Southern Scotland’s main biodiversity corridors, it also reinforces the site’s rich ecology by creating elevated lightweight structures that protect existing trees and a habitat wall as an interface of human and non-human communities. Designed with the life cycle of the building in mind, the proposal promotes the continued circulation in technical and biological cycles.

"The judges were impressed by what is a thorough and enjoyable project that has a strong sustainability narrative at its heart. The ‘back story’ is well-explained, and the outcome is a modest but carefully planned group of community buildings for the community to gather and interact with nature. With a limited intervention to the existing structure and use of locally available additional materials, the concept is rooted in the ‘circular economy’."


Judges' comments (A&DS Award for Best 3rd Year Student)

Studying during lockdown

Studying under lockdown has been challenging in many ways, but also quite productive. The condition of isolation affected quite significantly my working process, as I was not able to adopt the kind of physical making in the studio and fieldwork that I was used to.

It was also difficult for working on this particular project as without being able to survey the existing building (closed due to the pandemic) and interact with the people who use it – aspects that were fundamental to my design – I had to find other ways to do so.

It was challenging to keep the sense of working with something physically existing and alive, such as the Ratho Library, while working remotely and looking at it mainly through the computer screen.

Studying architecture in Scotland

Studying architecture in Scotland was an amazing experience, which taught me a lot about architecture not just at university, but also as Edinburgh is an outstanding city, and design thinking stemmed directly from living and studying in this unique context.

The past four years of studying architecture have broadened and challenged my understanding of architecture and allowed me to explore ideas beyond the conventional. I found particularly valuable the opportunity to engage with a wide variety of design approaches and ways of thinking and gain extensive knowledge and skill pertaining to design, technology, history, art, and theory.

What's next?

Following my graduation, I returned to architectural practice in Bulgaria to consolidate and develop further my skills before venturing onto the next stage of my architectural education. I am also continuing my work along the ideas I explored in my project by presenting it at seminars on sustainable design for the circular economy in the local context.

Further information on other awards and the Andy MacMillan Lecture