Winterschool: whose career is it anyway?
Winterschool, one of the most important events in the academic calendar, was organised this year by an enterprising bunch of Newcastle students led by Dave Watson. Its theme was 'The Line' - a brilliant, provocative, yet oh-so-simple title.
Asked to chair the final session, I gained a vivid insight into the week's activities which had again attracted students from across the uk and from as far afield as Belgrade and Barcelona.
Among issues considered in a series of workshops and seminars, Gerry Bareham, Alan Simpson, and Peter Fauset led discussions on rejuvenation of place, connecting urban spaces and economic regeneration; aa graduates Sandra Denicke and Torange Konsari explored the impact of invisible 'lines', such as postcodes and municipal boundaries, on place and architecture; and Sheffield student Susi Winstanley focused on the way 'lines of movement' define space.
Newcastle students Nick Henderson and Ed Buxton prompted memories of Brian Anson's aa projects in Covent Garden, Bootle and Belfast during the 1970s where similar concerns about the poetics of space were pursued. Henderson spoke bravely of his desire to reject both line and drawing as a record of place in preference for a more revealing grasp of its human dimension - who lives, works, or plays there? What is the social history of space?
This also reminded me of the installations of artist Delores Haydon in Los Angeles where, in response to over-rapid redevelopment which has disrupted and dislocated communities and obliterated their collective memories, she has been active in researching the local history of sites and, quite literally, recording it through symbol and narrative sculpted into the plinths of new buildings.
Leonie Milliner, riba director of education, noted an intensity and seriousness about the week - coming 20 years after that first Winterschool which asked 'whose education is it anyway?'
Some students wanted to strengthen the social purpose in their work, others to broaden their skills for what they perceive as the widening territory of architectural involvement, and this produced a dichotomy: architects, through their education, must be equipped to gain trust and opportunity in today's market place, both with employers and clients. But their field of activity is widening way beyond the scope of traditional architectural training, and this places new demands on choice and content within courses, and on riba/arb course validation processes.
This latter aspect is the territory of the Stansfield-Smith review which, now nearing completion, proffers a challenging debate for the schools and the profession regarding the future of architectural education.
If Newcastle offers any single lesson it is that our students are again forcing the pace of change. Talks by Paul Bell (job architect for Terry Farrell's Centre for Life), Jason Green (responsible for Ellis Williams' Baltic Flour Mills project), Richard Murphy and fat generated much controversy about the accountability and appropriateness of architectural work. This led in the final session to a fascinating exploration of the nature of professionalism in this post-Thatcher era. Bill Tavernor, head of Newcastle's diploma school, and veteran attendee David Eccleston were quick to pose a series of provocative questions on architectural responsibility and morality in this age of the lottery.
And next year's Winterschool? I hear it may be at Liverpool, or perhaps Herriot Watt.