Thursday, 28 June 2012

Speculating with Architecture – Architecture Graduate Shows 2012

I was prompted to write this blog posting in response a friend’s comments on the recent architectural graduate shows that are currently on around London and the rest of country. Needless to say he was less than impressed with the work he viewed, dismissing the majority of it as ‘utter crap’ which is having a detrimental effect to the profession as a whole. Worryingly, this ill informed and distressing perception is too common; you only need to look at the BD website comments about the recent Bartlett show to see a number of opinions claiming the work as non-architecturally relevant.

These comments are usually inarticulate and unsubstantiated. One reader even proudly claims that he has never visited any of these shows, but can tell enough from the thumbnail images that they were not ‘architecture’. The absence of any analytical critique and his lack of viewing the work only serve to undermine the validity of his opinion.

Fortunately however these comments are outnumbered by well thought out responses, critique and praise for the creative fervour of these young architects. These responses coming from a place of deeper understanding of the life long process of architectural education. For example:

The Bartlett School of Architecture has historically very often been criticised of its imaginative approach to architecture. From my experience in this school during the past two years, I believe that students and staff see criticism as an essential method for the evolution of creativity and innovative thinking and thus take it very seriously.

I have learnt that "criticism" can lead to the production of knowledge when it is very specific and open to thoughtful discussion, rather than when it is being purely emotional and generic. The way I understand "criticism" in its most dynamic form, is when it is questioning itself.

The variety and depth of analysis on historical, social, political, religious, technical, economical and philosophical questions of the students projects, is articulated in their "portfolios" and "technical reports", where the so called "reality" is the driving force and presupposition for the breeding of their imaginative thoughts and creations.

The show, is exactly a "show", where in most cases, the students present more of a minimum of their creations and research and less of a process. But, I believe that this is exactly the point of a show: To walk through a space where creativity and passion for innovative thinking prevail. If this is crudely called "art", then it is a compliment.'

These shows (and I mean all shows around the country not just the Bartlett) are indeed a celebration of the potential of architecture, stretching its periphery and how it’s defined. The results often leave you feeling invigorated, refreshed, uplifted and inspired! And that’s exactly what these shows should do. As mentioned above we only get to catch a glimpse of the intense and rigorous processes that go behind the work on show but the purpose of the show is to share a small piece of their infectious creative energy.

I hope that these shows remind us that Architecture is not only a profession, nor is it only built work…it’s a discipline, a concept, an event, an act, a process, a time based phenomena... – all the ingredients that make it such a rich and diverse subject. Architecture is primarily a way of doing things and as such it will always seep out and merge into other disciplines.

An integral part of being an architect/ designer is to be able to broach new topics and subjects quickly with a powerful analytical outlook. This is what we’re seeing developing here. The fact that a school like the Bartlett produces students who don’t just enter the world of architecture but go into other disciplines such as film, art, product design, fashion, music etc or become pioneers in, for example, emerging worlds of interactive space and augmented realities is incredibly exciting and illustrates how powerful this creative training is. And for those who do remain in the more ‘traditional’ architecture roles, they tend to be better rounded and successful architects. Why is it that these types of students are so highly sought after by majority the architectural profession?

It’s wonderful to see and to be a student experimenting and speculating about what architecture is and can be, these are very real skills that are imperative to the practicing architect who wants to raise the aspirations of his clients and other stakeholders, find inventive solutions to a brief, help facilitate a conversation with communities about creating unified vision, refine a concept down to the working detail etc. Just looking through a technical report that accompanies a project and you quickly realise the depth of analytical thought and research that has gone into each project...these are not just whimsical ideas floating around in a world of fantasy.

On show at our architectural schools are the early stages of a long process that lasts a lifetime and beyond. Schooling offers a unique opportunity to explore and develop creative faculties, an architectural mindset and rigorous approach. It doesn’t always work or suite everyone although the profession as a whole is looking at widening the ways you can train to be an ‘architect’ (and the way the profession self critiques itself is greatly assisted by the analytical tools you see being demonstrated in our schools).

I hope to be working with some of these young talented architects very soon as they enter back into practice. I am looking forward to their enthusiasm, inventiveness and creativity enriching and challenging my own working practices.

Here are some examples of student work from the Bartlett work featured in the current show. (Apologies for focusing on the Bartlett primarily, I hope to feature work from other schools in the near future. Also apologies if I haven't credited your work for some of the photos I took at the show - contact me and I will)

Ayaka Suzuki - Place Making

BSc Arch Year 1 Library Bed Brass

BSc Arch Year 1 Small Drawing Room Chest Lead

Chimera RC2 Group Project

Fergus Knox Pearl - River Gardens Regeneration Project

Ifigeneia Liangi - Nostalgia of the Future 2013

Katherine Hegab - Gaming monastery, Tokyo

Lewis James - A Catylytic Architecture

Luke Royffee - Macys Balloon assembly of Kermit

Man Fai (Martin) Tang - Eternal Autumnal Micro-climates of Kyoto

Michelle F C Lam - The Tanka Archipelago

Ming Deng - Urban carnival

Tom Smith - Simulating a car crash architecture

Yeung Piu So - Karl Marx Allee Monument

Yolanda Leung  - Refuge and floating research platform

Unit 23

Unit 9


  1. I think you have made an unfair assumption that all Architecture schools work with the same aims and aspirations as the Bartlett.

    No one would criticize the quality of the image making and imagination. But there is no evidence of human, habitable spaces where people would like to live, work, play, eat, drink.

    It is entirely Utopian, beautiful, imaginative, but we need architects to build for people, and families and real futures.

    I do personally love the creativity and imagination of Bartlett students. I just hope that these students will go on and apply this undoubted skill to deal with real problems in real situations that can better real peoples lives.

    Apologise if I come across as an uneducated, ill informed.

  2. Thanks for your comment. You do not come across uneducated or ill informed, quite the opposite, and you've drawn my attention to the shortcomings of this post. I certainly ended up making this post Bartlett centric when I had initially intended it to be about architecture schools in general, this is no doubt a result of myself having been through the Bartlett myself. Having visited many different schools around the country and abroad I am aware that the approach is different from school to school, and the emphasise on different strengths, though the results are no less impressive. All in some way explore push boundaries with in the academic environment. The shows are to celebrate this.

    The vast majority of all architecture students go on to apply these talents to deal with real problems in real situations...that's what they've been trained to do...though the education doesn't stop after uni, it's only just begun.

    thanks again for your comment, all the best.

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