What are students thinking about? Students represent a barometer which predicts, admittedly somewhat erratically, possible concerns that may become more central to practice in the future. Students in the past have concerned themselves with environmental issues as well as a community action, long before practising architects began to take these issues seriously.
There has been much talk recently about the relevance of the education that schools of architecture are offering today, much of which, I fear, is related to focusing on a more effective method of producing office fodder as opposed to allowing students the opportunity to expand their understanding of the world, architecture and themselves.
I recently sat in on some student diploma presentations in Vienna and this is what I saw.
The first boy had worked with a former concentration camp in the former East Germany. It was the site where many of the V bombs were made and, for camouflage and security, this production was done underground in what used to be a mine.The prisoners were not only working, but also living without natural light. They were undernourished and inadequately clothed.Of the 5,000 workers, none survived. Today, the tunnels are still there, but all the support buildings on the surface have disappeared with the exception of the crematorium. The project illustrated a series of boxes on plan that celebrated the collision of a number of the original routes from the original camp layout.The museum has no exhibits and no windows.
Another student had spent three months photographing the trajectories of coloured water being dropped into clear water. Having digitised these elements, he traced their external form as structured nets and subjected the result to structural analysis.The biggest issue here is how do you choose a particular image over another when, almost without exception, they are all beautiful?
There is no answer beyond a purely subjective choice.
Student three attempted to show how a moon-based observatory could create comfortable and psychologically appropriate spaces for extended stays. Although the project was not wholly successful, she did some interesting work on defining elements of space that would create a sense of well-being.
Two students attempted to animate a roof space for a student housing project in Japan.
The roof is excellent but, sadly, it was done at the expense of the ground level.The idea of an interesting building being sandwiched between two landscapes could have been extraordinary.
The final student presented a study of the university campus in Mexico City.The campus has a population of 160,000 and is separated from the city by former excavation pits and fences.Originally the campus was on the edge of town but due to expansion it is now in the middle.The project was beautiful as it fractured the barriers and made connections into a living area called the Canterra, as well as finding new public functions for the old quarry as another device for breaking down barriers.
If the RIBA educational watchdogs get their way, many of these projects would not have seen the light of day, because the students would have been buried in a melange of seminars and courses about elements of practice that will be out of date before they are practised by them. All the students spent time in these different cultures and all learnt from their experiences. They have the rest of their lives to learn the other bits.
WA on a train from Doncaster to King's Cross