Family homes in the City

A Radical History

The historic Edinburgh Colonies are a wonderful thing: a duplex over a ground floor flat, self-built by workers originally locked-out of industrial disputes, on cheap land on the then-outskirts of the city – the “colonies”. 

They provide dense city living but with every house having its own garden – an exemplar of family living in the city and a challenge to the poverty of contemporary thinking about place, which banishes families to wee boxes in the suburbs, abandoning the city to the poor or gentrified.

Edinburgh Colonies Credit John Reiach
Edinburgh Colonies, built by and for 19th century workers. Image: John Reiach.

CLIENT / Port of Leith Housing Association and City of Edinburgh Council

ARCHITECT / Malcolm Fraser Architects, delivered by Collective Architecture

COMPLETION / January 2018

Site area / 94 new homes on a 1.7 hectare site in a mix of social rented (32) and mid-market rent (62).

Brief and Construction / New Council homes showcasing the City of Edinburgh Council’s 21st Century Homes ambitions.

Stockbridge Colonies aerial view
The Stockbridge Colonies, built during the 1860s and 70s.
Sketch of site concept - Leith Fort colonies
Leith Fort Colonies: site concept sketch.

History Reinvigorated

The original Colonies split their gardens to the east and west and therefore limit sunshine to morning or afternoon, while providing awkward overlooking, with ground floor living rooms looking out to their upstairs neighbour’s gardens.

Leith Fort took the old Colonies patterns and reinvigorated them, orientating all living spaces and gardens so all face the sun, controlling parking through a calmed loop and fanning the close layouts out from a shared village green, located at the old Fort’s historic gateway.

Leith Fort colonies from the air
Leith Fort Colonies, site plan. Malcolm Fraser Architects
Leith Fort Colonies.
You're not just bundled together. There's so much space for the children
Leith Fort

Patterns of Occupation

First is a Village Green at the heart, engaging with the Fort’s retained gateway (designed by James Craig, masterplanner of Edinburgh’s new Town) and Adjutant’s Houses; secondly vehicles are stitched through, traffic-calmed; third Colonies terraces fan out with all living rooms and gardens facing south – with a bit west too; next pedestrian closes access the remaining terraces; parking is held to the homezone and surrounding streets; the historic Fort wall is reduced to allow sun in; and the layout fans out to fill the site and embrace the sun.

Coming Alive

It’s lovely to see residents taking full ownership: people on the forestairs, talking across to their neighbours; the wee village green at the heart with kids playing in it; washing hanging out, people gardening, toys left around and an ice-cream van visiting; the calmed street stitched through it all and its general sociability and amenity.

Leith Fort Colonies, Edinburgh. Exterior view of block with stair/balcony
Image: Nicola McLachlan.

Main ContractorCCG (Scotland) Ltd; contract value £11.6m.

MFA Team / Malcolm Fraser, Pete McLaughlan, Nicola McLachlan, Neil Munro, Jamie Moor (project delivered by Collective Architecture)

Structural Engineer / Will Rudd Davidson

Services / Harley Haddow

Costs / David Adamson Group

Landscape / Harrison Stevens

Fort House housing estate, Edinburgh
Fort House housing estate, completed in 1966 and demolished in 2013, to make way for the new Colonies.

Leith Fort

Edinburgh City Council introduces the project, with input from stakeholders.

Principal Awards

RIAS Award, 2018

Saltire Award and Medal, 2018

EAA Building of the Year, 2018

Highly Commended

Homes for Scotland, 2018

Affordable Housing of the Year

Scottish Design Awards, 2018

Affordable housing of the Year

Herald Property Awards, 2018

Best Affordable Housing

Further Information

Site History
The Scotsman

Colonies History
Tales of One City

Leith Fort
City of Edinburgh Council

Recollections: Leith Fort
Edin Photo


City of Edinburgh Council
John Reiach
Nicola McLachlan