Top ten architecture schools: Felix Mara reviews the Welsh School of Architecture’s end of year show
Leaving aside RIBA head of awards Tony Chapman’s recent comment on the quality of Welsh architecture, which should be seen in the context of funding availability, you could nonetheless venture that Wales’ design culture doesn’t stand comparison with Milan’s, Tokyo’s or London’s. But this does not preclude an architectural culture and a different approach to design that is, at heart, deductive and thoughtful. This year’s Welsh School of Architecture BSc and MArch degree shows weren’t easy on the eye, with few colourists and much work falling between the stools of atmospheric haze and clear, punchy graphics, requiring an aptitude for tonal contrast that many students lacked. There was abundant, murky industry, but little swagger.
On the other hand, students avoided pastiche, and in a profession where, in Britain anyway, many are effectively apprenticed after graduating, there’s much to be said for process-driven approaches, a luxury in architectural practice. But deputy head Wayne Forster denies Cardiff is a rarefied environment. Students are urged to design buildable projects, he explains, although many, for example in his Weather:Coast MArch unit, have lyrical settings, featured in atmospheric renderings by Guylee Simmonds, David Schnabel and William Swithinbank. Some projects seemed buildable by default because they lacked technical audacity, but with half-hearted detailed design exploration, commonplace in academia. Cardiff’s awkward basement loos are hardly practical design exemplars.
‘The Welsh School’ is a misnomer: Machynlleth’s Centre for Alternative Technology has a Part 2 course. There are also plans to open a school in Swansea, broadening opportunities for Welsh students who are under-represented at the highly-ranked Cardiff, where competition for places is stiff.
Standout unit & students
Kristian Hyde’s ‘Nant’ BSc unit was in lyrical territory, with input from local practitioners such as Chris Loyn and RSAW president Dan Benham: students are hardly under-stimulated. The inspirational Richard Weston has left, but Peter Salter’s MArch students, including Josephine Dand and Joanne Edmunds, are doing imaginative, tectonically grounded work. Dand proposed a cable car structure, injecting public realm into the affluent ghetto-state of Monaco.
Felix Mara, AJ technical editor