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Kester Rattenbury reviews the Royal College of Art student exhibition

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RCA Summer exhibition, 21 June - 5 July at the Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU

The Royal College of Art is such a teeny, luxurious course – it's forty-odd students just swimming in staffing and amenities, its 191-page catalogue an overkill – that it seems unfair to give it the same weight as its ten-times-busier competitors. Still, that's life.

Sitting amongst the country's cutting edge of product and furniture design, textiles and art, the architecture programme can look like the country cousin, but it learns from its relatives – though there are units in less glamorous circumstances which do the same. The work is smart, on the money, clever. It avoids a homogenous language of building form in favour of tactics and creative invention of programme – our latter-day way of taking a polemical interest in social issues.

Somehow, the RCA manages to squeeze four design units out of forty-odd students (one unit, ADS2, only had one second year student, which seems to be taking luxury to the point of extreme discomfort). Most units take a site and a theme and get the students to develop their own brief. Tactics differ: ADS4 did future studies; ADS3 has a great range of cakes and byzantine composite drawings – but the styles of architecture, the usual contemporary range of laser cut decorations, spiralling towers, etc. – tend to spread cross-unit rather than centre on them.

There is definitely a star unit, ADS1 (which had about half of the school's second years) certainly delivers the most meaty and intriguing projects, including the undoubted star of the show, Jonathan Pugh, with his marvellous, bonkers, utterly coherent proposal to reintegrate Battersea Power Station with Battersea Dogs home and major social housing, offering dogs on demand to teenagers and pensioners, as well as a pet cemetery in the upside-down head of the Power Station – a Staffie Bull Terrier lying on its back.

Though the architecture can look dowdy in comparison with its cunning, streetwise, right-on-the-industry neighbours, both they and it manifest a lateral, often socially-concerned opportunism which all seems rather encouraging in these days of power by consumer, and far more interesting than a formal style. Refreshing.

Resume: Jonathan Pugh thumbs his nose at Vinoly with his Battersea doggie design

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