THE winding up of one of Scotland’s leading cultural and community architecture practices sent reverberations across the country and left its founder in "great pain" at its loss.

Now Malcolm Fraser is hoping his new business, set up four years after the liquidation of his eponymous Edinburgh practice, comes at the right time, at the advent of a new era in how Scotland plans and builds its communities.

Launching with a different commercial model, Mr Fraser and Robin Livingstone, a former partner at Malcolm Fraser Architects, aim to "advocate for architecture to put social responsibility at its heart" and make homes, businesses and community spaces more accessible, safer and healthier.

Malcolm Fraser Architects had been a driving force behind the design of a series of high-profile cultural buildings in Scotland, including DanceBase, the Scottish Poetry Library, and the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh, Scottish Ballet’s headquarters at the Tramway, Glasgow, and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s premises at Spiers Locks in Glasgow.

In his first interview since reforming after his previous firm closed in 2015, Mr Fraser said the duo’s return comes at a time of change in the delivery of built environment projects and said that pressures of corporate giants dictating design are diminishing.

Greater emphasis is being placed on well-being, the dangers of toxicity have been tragically laid bare in Grenfell Tower, and there are forms of design and build, such as the growing moves towards collective self-build tenemental, or multi-occupancy, properties developing in places like Glasgow an Edinburgh.

Read more: Edinburgh architects Malcolm Fraser and Robin Livingstone reunite to form new practice

he said: "There has been or some time in Scotland a kind of corporatist approach to bundling up business into bigger parcels, and I’m interested in a bit of unbundling going on.

"I think we see the fallout from that [bundling] in problems with PFI [private finance initiative] contacts with super-massive hospitals with, in the built environment certainly, hub contracts for building public buildings that are so huge that the majority have gone to English contractors.

"We need to revive the smaller economies in Scotland.

"I have always been interested in that.


Mr Fraser, above, said: "I have in the past had something to give and I hope that I can do that again.

"I do feel that there are good things happening in Scotland, like communities being given additional levers and community asset transfers.

"I’m working with several community projects on that and enjoying it."

Forward-looking housing programmes and new architectural forms that can boost urban living are emerging, added Mr Fraser.

"Glasgow is pioneering collective self-build in Scotland.

"It has a register of people looking for plots and is actively working with them.

"I am suggesting that that is a really important initiative and that other local authorities should embrace it, and look at how to release more sites in urban situations and apply the Kinsley tenemental model to produce a new form of collective urban living."

Read more: Edinburgh architects rejoin to form new practice four years after liquidation

In one recent development, this time in Portobello, fellow architect John Kinsley has built a block of flats with three other families, who pooled their borrowing power to raise £900,000 for the project.

Mr Fraser said: "I absolutely applaud the government’s initiative in setting up a national investment bank.

"I’m on the board of the Common Weal think and do tank and I think we’ve been important pushers and supporters of that.

"I think it is very exciting how the Scottish National Investment Bank might be able to invest in social housing and renewable energy, and relevant low carbon industry might well feed into housebuilding too, using our timber rather than importing timber as we do a lot at the moment."

He continued: "I think it is an important thing to be done.

"If we started tackling issues around air quality in towns and cities, and tackling air quality in homes and prevention of asthma, we [would] need to think about breathing technologies for new buildings and avoid this toxicity and flammability, which have caused such horrific disasters elsewhere."


Mr Fraser, above with Mr Livingstone, said: "I’m looking ahead but I would like to see a Scotland that makes its construction and building standards around natural materials, renewable technologies and healthy places and spaces."

Mr Fraser, who also worked Halliday Fraser Munro Architects, has criticised the design of the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

He said: "Perhaps we need to start around changing the focus from empowering major contractors and their bankers to the built environment and putting more focus back on architects and clerks of works and professionals to lead those sorts of things, instructing them as to what we want out of our public buildings and what we want out of our built environment and to focus on well-being and walkability in cities, and healthy buildings.

"I would like to see hospital policy re-written to put fresh air and sunlight at the heart of the briefing process so we don’t get mechanically ventilated monstrous hospitals stuck in the middle of car parks, inaccessible to the community.

"Simple things like that would help, and I would like to see architects being employed not on the basis of the cheapest tender and for the least effort they can put in but on the basis of the most effort they can put in, paid a bit more to make buildings and communities that are healthier and happier.”

Read more: Architecture: Warning that more practices will close as clients "squeeze" fees

Mr Fraser added: "Scotland has shown that it is able to change with remarkable rapidity.

"How the nation has come to feel different about gender and sexuality has been quite extraordinary and I hope there are similar sorts of things happening in our opening to the idea of walkability and health and community as being equally important. I do think there’s a need to strengthen local democracy along the way to allow that to happen."

The new practice, Fraser/Livingstone Architects, has a host of projects on the go, including a restaurant overlooking the Water of Leith in Edinburgh, a distillery on the island of Barra, and a business hub in Kinning Park, Glasgow.


Above: Scottish Ballet in Glasgow and Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh

Mr Fraser said: "It’s exciting and certainly nerve-wracking.

"We’ll need to grow a bit but we have got what’s happening around community asset transfers, around historic buildings, which I have always loved doing, bringing them alive joyfully, around social housing and other initiatives, so we are looking forward with optimism towards working on a manageable scale with clients who are interested in what we can bring, to think about materials and to think about how heritage and optimism about the future come together.

"I’m quite enjoying being a bit smaller more focused. Obviously with my previous practice, our work was of great interest to larger UK practices who could cross-subsidise our sort of work, and that I obviously need to, on a personal level, avoid competing in areas where fees are unsustainable.

"So you live and learn.

"One feels great pain when the practice ended, but you are sustained by the fact that you have let behind buildings which people love and are successful and use.

"The loveliest thing about being an architect is knowing that at any moment in time there are people, there are huge numbers of people, in your buildings, and for me if the view is better if you feel a bit more uplifted, if they enjoy their meal better, if they feel calmer when they leave, if the kids in my nursery have a better play space and go home more exhausted but happier I will have left wee marks on the world.

"I would like to continue doing that, which is why I’m setting up again."

Mr Fraser and Mr Livingstone worked together for ten years in the practice which was set up by Mr Fraser in 1993 and won a host of awards for projects across Scotland.

Mr Livingstone has worked for five years as an associate at 7N Architects, and also teaches in architecture schools across Scotland and England.

Q&A ...

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

I love the Middle East, for its buildings, people and history, and have travelled widely including in the Yemen and Syria, so the unfolding disasters are extra-painful.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

I always liked building things and what I do now is just a bigger version of playing in my sandpit.

What was your biggest break in business?

The first Lottery projects simply rewarded opportunity, initaitive and vision – a far cry from today’s choking bureaucracy.

What was your worst moment in business?

My first practice ceased trading – a matter of much trauma.

Who do you most admire and why?

My children, for not repeating my weaknesses.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to? What was the last film you saw?

I’m reading St Kilda, The Last and Outmost Isle; listening to Coca Sugar by the Young Fathers and the mournful Thomas Fraser, an extraordinary Shetland fisherman who died and left boxes of his American roots recordings; and went to see Mary Queen of Scots, whose wild inaccuracies were less forgivable than those in the broad comedy of the Favourite – my previous film.