Who took part?

  • S4 Art & Design pupils from The Royal High School, Edinburgh
  • S3 Graphic Communication pupils from Broughton High School, Edinburgh

What building did we look at?

Scottish Widows building, Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh

Final product

3D models


Students used the Scottish Widows building on Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh for inspiration during the workshop3D model making in progress

(left) Students used the Scottish Widows building on Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh for inspiration during the workshop and (right) 3D model making in progress

We examined an architect's approach to the design process, with students exploring the design stages that Spence's practice went through when working on the Scottish Widows building. Then, we asked students to take part in a design project for themselves. Looking at material from the Spence archive, as well as making a visit to the building itself, it was an opportunity for students to experience Spence's thought process directly. Students then created their own design brief, adapting Spence's design process and using it to create their own 3D model office structures and office furniture.

"Now, I want to be an architect when I'm older!"

(pupil from Broughton High School)


1. Exploring archive material relating to the Scottish Widows building, Dalkeith Road

As a group, students explored archive material with the help of an RCAHMS staff member.

"I have learnt to see buildings from different perspectives"

(pupil from the Royal High School)

Copies of the building's original plans were given to students who then went on a tour of the building, conducted by a Scottish Widows representative. On the tour, students considered the following:

  • How has the office building changed over time? Has the layout changed?
  • What impact has the growth of technology had on the building?
  • What features of Spence's original design are still apparent?
  • Does the building provide a comfortable working environment for its staff?

The broad range of learning resources held within an archive such as the one drawn upon for these activities can be used across the entire curriculum, involving the development of skills such as numeracy, critical investigation, and creative and analytic awareness. As such, it is fully in line with the principle of cross-curricular working.

2. Creating a design brief and making 3D models

As a warm up, students took part in a "scribble session" using rolls of detail paper. This session was designed to illustrate the idea of generating quick fire ideas, working quickly and without inhibition.

After this activity, students worked in groups to create their own design brief for either a new piece of office furniture or a new office structure.

Students considered the following when creating their design brief:

  • Light
  • Ergonomics
  • Access to natural environment
  • Innovation
  • Aesthetics

Students began by making preliminary sketches and then with the help of the designer, scaled these drawings up into 3D structures using cardboard and recycled materials.

On the final day of the workshop, students took part in a critique panel, which was an opportunity for them to present their designs to the group for feedback.

Allowing an opportunity for group feedback is an important part of the learning process in an activity of this kind. It allows students' communication skills, creativity and confidence to develop which accords with the purposes of the Curriculum for Excellence in developing confident individuals and successful learners.

Learning aims

  • To learn more about the design process of an architect/designer
  • To develop skills in 3D model making
  • To appreciate how designs for office structures and public buildings change and evolve over time.
  • To develop an understanding of how to interpret and use architectural plans and archive material
  • An opportunity to forge relationships with pupils at other schools involved in the project.

Learning outcomes

  • Practical understanding and experience of design process
  • Understanding of how to respond to and solve design challenges
  • Introduction to developing ideas into working 3D models
  • Greater confidence in articulating ideas and explaining their personal design process to a group
  • Positive links with other schools involved in the project

Materials & equipment

  • Recycled materials including cereal boxes, string, drinking straws etc
  • Large sheets of cardboard, various sizes
  • Scissors
  • Stanley knives
  • Balsa wood in various shapes
  • Rulers
  • Cutting mats
  • Compasses
  • Glue
  • Masking tape
  • Double sided tape
  • Rolls of detail paper
  • Tape measures
  • Marker pens

Further development

Consider the variety of shapes Spence used in his designs for public buildings and office structures. Consider the following questions:

  • How did these buildings fit in with their surroundings
  • Why did Spence choose the shapes he did?
  • What were some of the advantages to be had from the shapes he used?
  • What modern day public buildings can you think of that use interesting or unusual shapes for their design?