A Music Retreat for Sistema Scotland

Euan Clarke, Architecture

Winner, Stage 3 Architecture award 2021

Sustainability is most often defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. It has three main pillars: social, economic and environmental. Using this approach, I have designed a Music Retreat for Sistema Scotland to host up to 32 kids for a short duration of time in Balloch, West Dunbartonshire. The residential building is accompanied by a Performance Hall for up to 300 guests. Sistema themselves are a charity organisation which aim to transform the lives of children from challenged backgrounds through the notions of community and music. The all-inclusive program aims to engage children from an early age to their late teens, providing a reliable constant in their lives.

Pillar 1 -Social

The beauty of music is that it can be played anywhere without the need for a specific environment or space. The proposal looks to offer coherent spaces, both internally and externally, which promote the spontaneous playing of music. Lev Vygotskys’ social cultural philosophy states that the most effective way for children to learn is by being part of an environment where the children are constantly involved with each other rather than being alone. Throughout the scheme, a variety of internal and external social spaces are designed to encourage the children to socialise and practice music together in both larger and smaller group environments. It was paramount to provide the children with the necessary peer support and collaboration for which they can develop their mental and social wellbeing. The design allows them to sleep in pods together, capturing the spirit of Sistema and providing an exciting, stimulating experience for its users.

Communal Regeneration

For the Balloch community, the proposal reinstates a physical and visual link with the pier that has become abandoned over time. Extended walls stretching out into the landscape allow the scheme to act as a catalyst in regenerating a connection between the Balloch Town centre and the Pier. The gabion basket walls establish a new path which encourages locals to visit the pier instead of diverting towards to Lomond Shores shopping centre. This idea alludes to the Historic train line which used to run to the piers edge which once was bustling with life, but now is a vehicular honey pot which insufficient public space. The proposed public square provides an expansive open space for communities to gather and admire the vast views over Loch Lomond.

Pillar 2- Economic

Phased Construction

Designed in 4 phases, the scheme will gradually construct a connection with the Balloch community and the natural surroundings.

Firstly, providing a practice space offers freedom to how the Balloch community use the space. Large or small events can begin to re-establish a connection with the pier as a point of interest within Balloch. Secondly, autonomous sleeping pods will accompany the practice space and enhances the schemes visual attention which, in turn, supports the locals in fostering a new community where they can practice and rest. Lastly, providing a cafeteria, extra group spaces, and a performance hall would complete the scheme. This creates a multi-functional proposal that has been established as a necessary element valued by the local community.


Utilising prefabrication methods, 4 identical sleeping pods were carefully designed which allows for quick installation times, ease of transportation and low carbon emissions. Using SIP panel construction (structurally insulated panels) the pods can be pre-assembled in an offsite factory and then transported onto site easily. The nature of SIP Panels and their offsite construction method means finished components are fully manufactured in a controlled environment, minimising loose materials sent to site and offsetting the risk of waste. SIP Panels have significantly lower embodied energy than traditional construction materials, such as steel, concrete and masonry making them a very suitable construction method for the sleeping pods.


Functionally running an uninhabited building for large proportions of the year is simply not a sustainable solution. When designing the music retreat, it was paramount for the scheme to continually be used by other parties when Sistema are not using the facilities. Providing each autonomous pod with individual entrances offers the opportunity for renting throughout the year. Each pod is fully equipped with amenities to accommodate individual groups of up to of 12 people.

The Performance Hall provides a multi-functional space that can be used by a wide variety of events including musical performances. Flexible raked seating and the positioning of the hall onto an open courtyard, promotes the opportunity for weddings, dances and large markets to occur and further widens the demographic appeal.

Pillar 3 – Environmental


A glulam post and beam structure is used in conjunction with locally sourced Scottish larch cladding which provides a considered aesthetic that compliments the surrounding landscape. When properly managed, timber is arguably the only 100% sustainable construction material, simply because with sustainable forestry practices there are at least as many new trees planted as harvested.
Gabion baskets using locally reclaimed stone are used as cladding on the ground floor level of the Music Retreat. Carbon footprint analysis shows that the use of gabion baskets can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 80% compared to a concrete wall of the same height. The gabion baskets allude idea of the building being sympathetic to its surroundings as the structures can also be designed so that re-vegetation takes place when plants colonise the interstitial spaces between the rock fill which can further contribute to carbon sequestration of the solution.


Accompanying passive energy techniques with more advanced technical methods are what can significantly improve the buildings overall impact on the environment. I have opted to use an Air Source Heat pump which does not require a large area to be excavated like alternatives do. The existing trees provide solar shade and uprooting them is not a viable option as they would increase the existing water table level, and due to the building’s close proximity to water that would cause more issues. Air source heat pumps are low carbon heating solutions that absorb heat from fresh air and compress this heat into a higher temperature for heating and hot water. The hot water generated by the heat pump will then be used for a wet underfloor heating system. The efficiency of an Air Source heat pump varies across the seasons and time of day. They may be problematic in winter and the unit will require more electricity to operate efficiently. This is overcome by installing a large array of Photovoltaic panels on the roof which will provide the required electricity to power the Air Source heat Pump throughout the year in a hybrid system.

Flat roofs inherent to both buildings provide the required area for the optimal number of Photovoltaic panels needed to power the buildings services. The PV panels are concealed behind parapet walls. Grey water harvesting from the roofs provide a green source of water that is utilised for toilets and other suitable appliances.

In Conclusion, my scheme considers the 3 pillars of sustainability to develop a proposal that successfully addresses the needs of the Balloch community, and the surrounding natural environment sensitively. This Holistic approach to an architectural design culturally, economically and socially creates an environmentally sustainable building.

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