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University of Sheffield - School of Architecture

Sheffield takes on ‘global environmental issues’ in its best show in years

After 43 years’ residence in the Arts Tower, the University of Sheffield School of Architecture has temporarily moved to a new building while its Grade II*-listed permanent home is being refurbished. This has meant that this year’s exhibition benefits from much more breathing space than in previous years and, on the whole, it works much better.

It is largely an exhibition of drawings, many of which are framed, some ironically, some not, confirming their status as artwork. Each year is represented, although the lion’s share of space goes to the 11 MArch units, the pick of which is studio leader Renata Tyszczuk’s Unit 6, looking at ‘uncertainty’, or ‘global environment issues’.

Sheffield’s Part 2 would like to define architecture as ‘alternative practice’, asking serious questions of society and the norm, solving its problems with a dose of design. ‘Now is a good time to be a designer,’ claims Unit 6. My unemployed architect neighbour with three young children might disagree.

University of Sheffield's Naomi Taylor 3

University of Sheffield’s Naomi Taylor’s Primark Disected

‘Alternative practice’ aside, the RIBA/ARB validation boards have different ideas about what architecture is, and demand a building, which each student dutifully provides. But it is impossible to construct these buildings in your head from the two or three sheets that each student exhibits, and so you’re forced to take the artwork at face value. A very pretty face it is too, but the work doesn’t seem to rise to the rigour or refinement demanded by the questions and suffers from tension between studio ambition and the RIBA’s require­ments. Ticking the validation board’s boxes often means that the resulting buildings seem contrived or forced, particularly when a response to the brief may more fittingly be – in the spirit of Cedric Price – a pair of headphones, rather than a building.

University of Sheffield's Naomi Taylor 2

Sheffield University’s Naomi Taylor’s Renewal Cycles

There is no shortage of fascinating polemic or innovative ideas, presented in lively infographics that US statistician Edward Tufte would be proud of. There are few models, zero CAD funk and most drawings are seductive sections. Yet it is, without doubt, the best Sheffield show for many a year.

Steve Parnell is a contributing editor to the AJ

Resume: A seductive show overcomes tensions between box-ticking and exploration

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