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The Diary of an Anonymous Academic #12

The twelfth in a series about the unreported trials and tribulations from the front line of architectural education. This week: The Reviewer

It feels like they don’t show the feeling of space in their work. Can’t they just pick up a pencil and do it by hand?’ – guest reviewer

‘Not if they can’t draw’ - lecturer

Almost all schools have exhibited their end of year degree shows by now. The media outlets are collating their usual musing on the current state of architectural education as we speak. Who’s going to review us this year? Probably one of our friends - at least they will try to find something nice to write about us.

Architecture school exhibitions are very good examples of bad curatorial practice; where do you start with this image overload/ I don’t know where to look/ oh now my eyes hurt/this text is a load of bull (and far too small)…

There are always a few token schools which are reviewed from ‘the provinces’. I feel there would be a more balanced and truer perception of the academic environment if there weren’t such a focus on just the usual suspects. But when they do visit the provinces, the reviewers are somehow disappointed it is not what they expect, or more accurately, desire to see.

When reviewers visit the provinces they are somehow disappointed

Can this be pinned down to the misunderstanding of what the exhibition is for?

It is one of mainly celebration, and celebration in the sense of ‘phew, what a relief, wow I can do this’, rather then ‘look how well I have done.’ Students are looking for employment - not another review. They’ve had several of those already this year.

It is quite noticeable what kind of school you are visiting by what is emphasized on the final display. Should it be selective in rather ambiguous or seductive imagery, then clearly it is posturing to oneself, and to others. However, if you see something which resembles more like the graphical diarrhoea of a student’s hard drive, then you can safely assume that the student is desperately trying to say ‘hey, see what I can do? Give me a job.’

These kinds of shows have a different emphasis because it is aimed towards potential employers. And we all know what employers want - CAD, not brains. They may end up regretting that though (see my #11 post).

Although in recent months, I have heard on the academic grapevine (yes, there is one - visible mainly at conferences) that bosses now want to take on more graduates with hand drawing skills. ‘They can just send them on a CAD course’ mentions one.

They just want to see some pretty pictures. They told me so.

So maybe the reviewer of the opening line knows something we don’t. Maybe they have a real concerned about the student’s employability at heart? Let me read the review again…nope, nothing about jobs. They just want to see some pretty pictures. They told me so.

The exhibition is only the final hurdle that students jump over; there are several others they have overcome prior to showcasing their work - none of which is easy to convey in an exhibition format and therefore are not celebrated. Plus there is only so much you can say in just a 500-word press clipping.

So therefore, we all tend to sacrifice a true reflection of what goes on in the school to a very considered view of what how we want to be perceived as. This is important from a marketing perspective, but considering the market too much may leads to fashion statements. Instead, good curatorial practice can ask all staff and students to reflect on what the past year was about.

Not to get too serious, but it can provide insight into the current state of architectural landscape.

Sadly, none of us are curators. We just know what looks good.

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