Ava digs her hand deep into her bag to uncover her sunglasses, tucked between her potter’s knife, her pocket 3D scanner and a half-eaten sandwich that she couldn’t finish because she found herself absorbed in conversation with a group of phase 3 learners at ‘City Hall Learning Space’ earlier – the teenagers were enthusiastic about the progress on the project they co-developed, turning the gigantic former ‘Advanced British Standard’ teaching hall into the new phase 2-7 learner ‘Green House Farm Learning Space’. Ava herself never sat in one of those ‘halls of horror’, as they had become to be known, but still, she is glad to see its history finally transformed. Her mother had often told her the dreadful stories of the endless days spent in those horror halls. How there were hundreds of 16-18 year olds crammed into that space. How they lost track of time, countless hours of mathematics and English lit classes that seemed to never end. The whirring, numbing sounds of the processors that were needed to run those AI bots.

A former prime minister (Ava just couldn’t remember his name now…he had been in office for only a short time, but had left an insurmountable mess), had implemented the ‘Advanced British Standard’, although there was nothing advanced about it. More maths, more English, less choice. Only, the ‘more’ in teachers that was needed to implement this plan just wasn’t available. No one wanted to be a teacher (hard to believe now, Ava thought – it’s one of the most desirable jobs there is today!). AI bots were claimed to be better anyways. Never tired, always right, always fair. ‘Ha, how wrong they were!’ Ava thought and giggled to herself. Not enough budget for enough bots meant more students crammed into one space, learning from the bot.

Now, with the teenagers’ support, The ‘Advanced British Learning Centres’, the ‘halls of horror’ will finally become what they had been intended to be all along – a space for learning. Learning as Ava and those teenagers know it today.

As she puts her red sunglasses on, continuing her walk past the green areas at the bottom of ‘Modern Two Gallery Learning Space’, Ava is suddenly pulled away from her thoughts. “The beta beetroots are beautiful this year!”, a voice whose owner she could now see, since she was no longer squinting into the low hanging, blinding November sun. It was Ruby, surrounded by her phase 2 students, a phase 6 gardener and a few phase 7 retired farmers. “Look how big they are!” a girl who must be about 8 years old beams with pride as she holds up an admittedly unusually large beta beetroot. Even though beta beets are resilient to the hot climate, they do best after a bit of summer rain, which Scotland was lucky enough to see this summer. “Almost like back in the days”, Ava’s mother would say, followed by anecdotes of what, to Ava, sound like alien recollections of summers spent wearing wellies and jumping in puddles.

“Sorry, we took a bit longer out here, we’ll meet you inside in 15 minutes!”, Ruby says, stopping Ava in her thoughts again, then shifting her own attentions back to the gardener and one of the farmers engaged in conversation with a 9 year old boy about why a very old technique to retain moisture in the soil for longer by adding clay, is still widely used.

Ava continues to make her way up the hill. Even without her sunglasses, even if she had still been squinting, she would blindly find her way up this hill, up the steps and into ‘Modern Two Gallery Learning Space’. It has been one of her favourites since she was about 6 years old, since phase 2 of her learning life. She had chosen to spend a good chunk of her time there during those years and since then, even since becoming a politician.

Ava swings the large entry doors open and is greeted by Glinda, an artist working on what looks like a child sized spade with patterns of long-lost plants covering its metal surface. “Here to see old Ed again?”, Glinda smiles, immediately returning to her work – she doesn’t need a reply to know the answer. Indeed, that is what brings Ava here, time and time again, for the past 50 years. She makes a right, walking through the narrow, dark hallway, to turn right again, and into the space that has been modelled after Eduardo Paolozzi’s studio.

Ava takes her red sunglasses off and leaves them on a pile of magazines that inspired Eduardo and hundreds of people, young and old, since then. She pulls the blinds open, and light floods the room, reflecting off the dozens of busts created by Paolozzi that are stacked on tables and shelves from floor to ceiling, rows and rows of heads, staring at Ava. Or so it feels, and has felt since her earliest memories of this room. At a time when this studio had been closed off, only to look at. A space frozen in time, worshipped for its previous life, one filled with messy creating, making, constant change. Preserved in one state, one of the million states of motion Paolozzis’s studio had seen. Worshiped not particularly for the creations themselves, but for what had happened in this place. Inspiration, imagination. To be dissected by the viewer, now that the unruly studio had been converted to a museum, a display. To look at the tools, the magazines and books, the cups of tea, the toys. To look at the pottery knives and drills and wires that helped create Paolozzi’s work. The busts, heads of people from politics to arts, to his close friends to robotic, unidentifiable creatures – staring at us while we try to peek in from the outside, into the space where they have been birthed, thought of and created by the artist.

There was a human desire to preserve this state for eternity, just like so many places and spaces before it. Places of religious significance, that holy spirits inhabited or have come to visit, places of historical significance, where political decisions, the big ones have been made. And artists’ spaces, like this one, where creators of works we deemed significant, have lived, and made art.

Paolozzi’s studio was such a place. Still is. Eduardo Paolozzi, an artist, significant to the people of Edinburgh, one of their own. Capturing society in ways that felt truer to life than any photograph or digital work could have achieved.

It was here where Ava decided to go into politics. Once the space had opened up, those last boundaries that had been upheld by critics of the ‘Life Learning Spaces’, people who had held on to the idea of our young generation to be educated for society, not through it, and for our lives to be kept separate from learning institutions once we left them for good.

Ava remembers how she held on to the banisters that were meant to separate us from this sacred studio space, so we don’t interfere, so we don’t leave our own traces behind. She remembers how she thought how stupid this was. A space so clearly designed for creation, forever taking up space on this planet – now designated to a space where no one was ever to create again. Oddly, weirdly freezing it in a state of infinite lethargy.

“I want to use the big saw today!” Ava turns around to see that Ruby and the kids have returned from the gardens, Glinda in tow, already deep in discussions with a kid about what sounds like plans for designs on the heat deflecting fabrics he started to create with his grandmother and her retired friends from the ‘Tech University Learning Space’. A dark-haired girl darts around the corner and comes to a halt in front of Paolozzi’s one-metre-long saw. “What do you think Paolozzi used it for anyway?”, a slightly shorter boy who came to stand next to the girl asked, seemingly disappointed he didn’t get there first. “I’m going to make something with clay and test if Paolozzi used it to make those split lines through his faces!”, the girl squeals with excitement. Ava, standing next to the pair, reaches for the saw that is hung on the wall. It looks rusty, but smells of the chemicals used to preserve the exact shape and state this artefact was last left in by Paolozzi. “I have to return to City Hall Learning Space by lunchtime, let’s get this started”, Ava says, friendly, but urgent. She herself is eager to continue work on the bust of the group of young people, the activists who first demanded for learning to infiltrate all cracks and crevices of life. Who demanded the opening of all those monuments and semi-public spaces.

As the little girl carries the saw back under Paolozzi’s high bed, into a corner where she started to prepare her clay work, she asks Ava, without letting it stop her in her work: “What made you want to become a politician?”. Letting her eyes wander across the little busts of politicians, Ava responds, with a sense of pride in her voice: “This space”. “Oh, you mean because Paolozzi made all this politician heads? That makes sense!” Ava’s mind wanders to one specific night, she must have been the girls’ age. She convinced her teacher and parents that she could stay the night up on the high bed, with her friends. She felt the stares of the busts, as she had so often, but being immersed in this space, for the first time, she stared back at them and saw them differently. She saw what Paolozzi must have seen in them. People who want to shape society, like he shaped his clay. Ava wanted to be one of those people. “I think I want to be a politician too one day. My mind is buzzing with ideas. I’ve chosen ‘City Hall Learning Space’ so many times, but sometimes people there argue SO much. I’m not sure I want to do THAT. I even heard someone call someone else a f* idiot”. Ava’s attention is swiftly pulled back to the room as she hears the girl utter those words. “Oh…I know. We’re working on it.” For a second, Ava wonders whether it was easier back then. When it was just the politicians. No kids, no retired people, no people from all stages and places of life. Not those extremely involved and strong willed teenagers, who still organise themselves to form activist movements, just like she did when she was young.

It would be easier. But less exciting. Less fair. Participation is the foundation of how they got themselves out of this technocratic misery. That capitalist, never ending chase for the next best thing, the next best skill that would unlock the next exploitative job. No, it was all worth it.

Ava goes to pull her hand-held 3D scanner out of her bag. She moves her eyes across the display, making images flick by. She chooses the scans of the teenagers who are working on the “Green House Farm Learning Space”. She wants to add their faces to the sculpture of the group of activists she was working on. Ava feels they belong there, carrying their ideas on, but pushing them further. The original “Learning Space” activists opened ‘sacred’, protected spaces to everyone, to turn them upside down and inside out and make them what they are today. But those teenagers, they found a way to turn an ill-fated, hated, deserted space into one we can cherish again, give it a new meaning. In a world where inhabitable space has become scarce, we need this, Ava thinks to herself. She puts her red sunglasses back on and steps out into the beaming November sun. ‘There will be no miracles here’, the big, billboard letters that have been at ‘Modern Two’ for a century would blind her, but through her sunglasses, Ava sees them clearly.