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Leeds Metropolitan University

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[STUDENT SHOWS 2011] The school has continued to follow the sustainabilty theme of former years, this time taking on climate change and energy shortages under the umbrella of ‘post-industrial urbanism’, writes Richard Waite

It underpins almost everything at graduate and Part 2 level. Leeds has travelled some distance from its roots as a factory for draughtsmen. As one tutor says: ‘It is a sea change from simply pumping out oven-ready chickens.’

Leeds’ re-invention began in 2008 under Gary Hornsby and Bridget Hansford. But it was the arrival in 2009 of professor of sustainable architecture Greg Keeffe, who worked with Manchester School of Architecture’s head Tom Jefferies on the Whitefield Nelson RIBA competition win, that proved to be a driving force.

Last year, the message didn’t seem to have permeated through all the studios, especially the output at Part 2. But the 2010-11 students have grasped the overarching ethos of ‘integrated sustainability’ and delivered thoughtful responses. Divided into three studios, the postgraduate work grappled with global and regional concerns about the ecology and the redevelopment of cities scarred by lost industries. Projects ranged from a reappraisal of ship-breaking, through to the creation of huge algae farms, to an investigation into planning policy on former coalmining land. Part 1 was split into four studios: Urban Studio, Venice/Cambridge, Plane Zero/Future Cities and Change.

Curation-wise, the show itself was safe and unsurprising. However, tutors Dennis Burr and Sarah Mill’s highly competent Venice/Cambridge module, which focused on the ‘ordinary within the extraordinary’, boasted mounds of raw, hand-hewn models.

Part 1 student Vahagn Mkrtchyan is clearly one to watch. His rugged Map Library and Depository, set in a flood plane in Cambridge, was mature and convincing. Part 2 student Alex McCann produced an OMA-ish Wakefield Craft Brewery, also shortlisted for the 3DReid student prize, and Will Inglis took local policy material and created ‘Libertarian Globalised Space’ over a motorway.

In Part 2, the display on parchment-like paper of The Grange, an energy production co-operative in the Aire Valley based on medieval farming practices by Adam Leigh-Brown was both delightful and apt.

There is clearly a long way to go for Leeds, but this show suggests the rebirth of the school is at the end of its beginning.

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