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Leicester School of Architecture

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The once-troubled school’s fortunes are on the up, as shown by this well-edited show

Leicester School of Architecture, De Montfort University  13 – 18 June

In some towns, when the local football team has taken a beating, the mood in the town remains dour for a while. Football in the East Midlands has taken a dive in recent years, with frequent changes in management and unsettled teams that have yet to recover to halcyon times let alone glory days. As if reflecting football fortunes, in the earlier half of this decade, architectural schools in the East Midlands also went through troubled times, unable to organise settled teaching and research teams. Amongst them, the Leicester School of Architecture, one of the oldest in the UK, lost her accreditation status in that troubled era.

This status has been recovered in the last few years, and the school achieved some stability. With the recent appointment of a new Head, the LSA now sees herself on the path toward recovery of an esteemed reputation she enjoyed for many years.

The effort is collective: this is the first impression of the LSA’s exhibition – there are no schemes displayed in full as if for assessment, no distinction between undergraduate and postgraduate work on display, no privilege of place or attention given to senior or graduating students.  As declared at the exhibition: “LSA will be like a school ‘without walls’: integrated into the city, and open to the local and regional profession.”

It was a highly edited show for a school without walls. The merit of sampling pieces of student work to display is a strategic ploy; no one will be able to argue about the quality of design work based on disparate visual fragments. With the myriad of small artefacts placed in a huge hung skeletal structure (designed & built by Sam Brown, Charles Fisher and Matt Graydon, see image), any effort toward speculation on design quality would resemble paleontological reconstruction.

The attention is cleverly deflected towards LSA’s intent that the viewer must only take the exhibition as an ensemble of work. Fortuitously, the collective sense is a strong; showing clear embrace of modern fabrication techniques, with evidence that the school has managed to wrestle time from industrial and product design students who traditionally hog the CNC lathes.

The corollary is that the object, fabricated under parametric controls, is given pre-eminence, and with considerations of space possibly relegated in the architectural discourse. Prof. David Dernie, Head of the LSA, has recognised this and has made plans to introduce an MA with phenomenological emphasis taught by Prof. Dalibor Vesely, as a counter to this. Should one have to undertake postgraduate education to correct a bias inculcated at the undergraduate level?

Nevertheless, the positive buzz about the school is a sure indicator that the LSA is rightly upbeat about its chosen trajectory. Here’s hoping the future is as bright for the other East Midlands teams: Leicester City, Derby County, and Nottingham Forest.

Raymond Quek is Programme Leader, Architecture at Nottingham Trent University

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