As part of their final project the RCAHMS Skills for the Future Trainees have recently catalogued and digitised a collection of student drawings from the 1930s and 1940s. This collection contains the student work of Hamish McLachlan and Duncan Black. Both architects were enrolled at the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) in the late 1930s until their studies were interrupted by war service in the 1940s. After the war, they both returned to the College to complete their training.
Their artwork is unique and fascinating but their life stories are also enthralling. McLachlan was head hunted by Sir Basil Spence, the renowned architect and prolific designer. Black was a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft III and worked as a forger for one of the most famous escape attempts of the Second World War – which was immortalised in the 1963 Hollywood film The Great Escape. Both were awarded the Rome Scholarship which allowed them to travel across Europe. Once fully qualified they used their skills and training for the development of post-war New Towns.
Their collections include artwork, architectural drawings, sketch books, study sheets, reports and photographs from their time as students and their early careers. But the most exciting part of the collection is a number of esquisses. Esquisse is a French word meaning sketch. As part of the Beaux Arts curriculum at the ECA in the 1930s and 1940s students were challenged to produce an esquisse. It was a strictly timed exercise showing a student’s immediate reaction to a specific theme or brief, usually to be produced within 24 hours. These wonderful drawings reflect the dreams and aspirations of architects in the first half of the twentieth century.