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Student shows 2014: The Bartlett

Top ten architecture schools: Sam Jacob reviews the Bartlett’s end of year show

Every school has a ‘thing’ that is both its millstone and its engine room. A thing made out of reputation, expectation, habit and, most of all, myth. There’s the RCA’s shallow irony-as-critique, London Met’s hair-shirt earnestness, and then there’s the Bartlett. More than most schools, it’s a place that respawns itself. Tutors beget students who become tutors begetting more students in the biblical manner.

It’s a gene pool originally spawned from Peter Cook’s Rolodex. Most of these ex-Bartlett names won’t even mean anything to the current crop of students: Wes Jones, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Neil Denari, Morphosis and other denizens of that strange Vienna-LA axis of mutual admiration.

Like Galapagos Islands species, the Bartlett has evolved in isolation and has developed a distinct form. It is a school about making things and images rather than disciplinary architecture.

It has an almost aggressive lack of history and theory in its studio programme, preferring to privilege cinematographic, poetic and fantasist experiment. Special mention should go to long-standing U12 honcho Jonathan Hill with Matthew Butcher and Elizabeth Dow for continuing to defend their republic of historico-mash-ups). What it does have is another kind of discipline. It’s a finely honed machine that produces things of stunning surface quality. There are in the show drawings of exquisite precision and models of delicate craft.

Standout unit & students

The first year seems great. The drawings (by hand for the most part) are both beautiful and technically rich. Work in Unit 1 (Holly Lewis and Sabine Storp) injects beach-hut Aldo Rossi into the space-framey infrastructure that seems a school-wide stalwart. Unit 12 explored brick/tiled baroque with great effect: some smashingly complex odd things drawn with clear-eyed vision. Unit 10 (CJ Lim and Bernd Felsinger) have a unit festooned with distinctions and prizes. And the drawings here are immense - especially those by Anja Kempa and Nick Elias.

Strolling Geisha, one of a series of intricate drawings by Anja Kempa, Unit 10

Strolling Geisha, one of a series of intricate drawings by Anja Kempa, Unit 10

Overall the show (and the work) could do with an edit, but that’s the flip side of obsession: the inability to see the wood for the (laser-cut) trees. It could lose some of its stylistic tics (massive infrastructural frames just serve to obscure the best moments). And it would be great not to fear architecture itself. Marrying the schools amazing small ‘d’ discipline with big ‘D’ architectural discipline could, ironically, produce something altogether more experimental.

Sam Jacob, co-founder of FAT, writer and critic

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