Returning Identity to the Islands: Towards an Architectural Panacea

Uilleam Lawson

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The Outer Hebrides of Scotland are facing a dwindling population, a declining economy and a progressively assimilating culture - three crises amid which this chain of islands is slowly drowning. 

Holding untapped potential, much of the archipelago is protected habitat and brimming with native biodiversity. Playing to the strengths of local hospitality, their unique culture and scenery, an opportunity is identified with an existing walking track branded the ‘Hebridean Trail’. Although this track takes the tourist on a breathtaking 250km pilgrimage through ten islands, it is currently not fulfilling its promise.


Recognising that architecture is a fundamental tool in constructing a destination’s image, this thesis proposes a collection of pilot projects along the walking route. On an archipelago where the vernacular architecture has long been lost to the pervasive force of cultural colonialism, the initiative aims to restore and reimagine Gaelic traditions. These branding vehicles promote both the Hebridean Trail and the culture, and intend to revive a dormant architectural identity, paving a new path for Scottish contemporary architecture.

Uilleam Lawson Modos Concept
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The Hebridean Trail Ecotourism Framework : Through an exhaustive research process, the inaugural ten pilot projects are strategically scattered through the islands, placed at key tourist nodes intersecting the trail.

Final Product

Establishing the ‘Hebridean Trail Ecotourism Framework’, the thesis not only provides an architectural solution but also outlines a holistic strategy for future development. Criticising the sustainability of global tourism as well as the placelessness and homogeny of the international style, critical regionalism is used as a methodology for the design process, and the theory of ecotourism governs a contextual framework for the project to sit within. 

Identifying the current lack of accommodation along the pilgrimage, locals who are deemed to be working in a profession which is seen to bolster the islands' cultural image will be granted the opportunity to have guests. This will call upon certified Harris Tweed Weavers, crofters accredited by the Crofting Commission, traditional musicians and Gaelic language speakers. The benefits of the proposition are manifold. There will be an authentic cultural and environmental immersion for the sightseer; the nature reserves will be revitalised through an established economic rationale to preserve them, and the rural economies invigorated with education, careers, and the influx of tourists.

The framework intends to incentivise the retention of culture and power and a renaissance of crofting, weaving, music and language. Alleviating the three crises, the thesis asserts that the synthesisation of critical regionalism and ecotourism will assist the economy, stabilise the population and preserve the culture and identity of the islands.

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Pilot Project I: Loch Druidibeag Visitor & Wildlife Research Centre
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Pilot Project II: Mount Clisham Trekking Cabin
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Pilot Project III: Berneray Machair Wildlife Observatory Tower
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Physical Models: Staining and charring local timber to mirror the terrain, the architectures respectively merge with the red tones of the moor, the darkness of the mountains and the blondes of the machair.