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Degree show review 2019: London South Bank University

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It is clear that London South Bank University is providing a supportive environment in which good work can flourish 

An architecture school is a community that thrives on the support that it provides to students and the sense of a collective endeavour to achieve shared goals. 

The message coming loud and clear from the end-of-year London South Bank University (LSBU) show is that, beneath the wide range of projects on display, there is a shared aim to tackle the urgent problems of the 21st century and a belief that architecture should use all the tools of modern technology to find solutions.

Ba[hons] yr 1 model photo

Ba[hons] yr 1 model photo

The LSBU Architecture School also appears fully aware of the supportive environment needed to cope with the financial stress of a long course of education. A variety of different options are offered for full-time, part-time and apprenticeship study at both degree and diploma level.

These different approaches seem well integrated and there is little discernable difference in output and quality between full and part-time students. Students are provided with studio desk space at the faculty, and have use of new digital and model making studios, as well as the use of free modelling materials. The investment in these studios is apparent in the technical quality of drawings and models on display at this show.

The first thing that hits a visitor to the show at the Keyworth Building is a dazzling display of light bouncing off laser-cut drawings hanging in the windows. The four Diploma units are grouped together around the entrance with a series of transparent models and drawings. 

The projects of Diploma Studio 24 concentrate on issues of migration and integration as key themes with which to order proposals for new housing typologies on vacant sites in east London, with some complex and believable drawn results.

Klaudia Szawan, Studio 2

Klaudia Szawan, Studio 2

Klaudia Szawan, Studio 2

Diploma Studio 23 took briefs that focused on the protection of the environment and how clues from the natural world might provide models of a future relationship with nature. A topical, if disturbing subject for the start of the fourth-year programme was to design and make body armour that each student might wear as a protective shell, before translating some of these strategies to a larger design project.

Some stand-out work by Mima Pasic in Diploma Studio 20 shows a remarkable drawing ability and concern for detail with designs for a paper factory in Soho, London. A study of natural lichen that is transformed into a lichen filter lining within the building is beautifully depicted in a series of drawings and cabinets. 

The LSBU has a studio structure similar to other schools of architecture, with a single first-year studio, followed by vertical units for the remainder of degree and diploma, taught by a mixture of practising architects and academics.

The result at degree level is a wide diversity of work in response to similar themes.

Studio 2 focused on the role of symbiosis in architecture, proposing new elements of architecture that have a strong relationship with existing structures and situations. This approach has led to projects that develop complex architectural form, demonstrated by a remarkable set of models by Iona Rus and a beautiful collage by Klaudia Szawan.

Projects by Studio 1 also demonstrate a well-researched and grounded approach, with projects set on sites in the River Lea valley, with a densely packed project display and a series of exacting models by Patrick Kaczmarczyk.

Studio 3 developed a playful relationship between a brief for space related to film and the design potential of VR, with one of the reviews held in the virtual space of the presented projects. A cinematic concern was apparent across other studios, with students in Diploma Unit 24 encouraged by a film producer to invent fictional characters that are then consulted as clients and inhabitants of their projects. 

The first year focused on skills for drawing and model-making with a series of drawing classes running alongside design projects for the inhabitation of nearby railway arches and St Katherine Pier at Tower Bridge. This approach resulted in interesting proposals and a good level of drawing skill, evident in the final projects. 

Ioana Rus, Studio 2

Ioana Rus, Studio 2

Ioana Rus, Studio 2

The questions raised by the students at the LSBU that relate to the contemporary crisis of the environment and community seem relevant and right to be asking at this moment in time. The harder part for a visitor to this show to discern is whether meaningful answers are proposed (or at least credible routes in how architecture might contribute to solutions) to these difficult and complex questions.

There is sense in some of the work on display that, despite an accompanying narrative of engagement in context and history, the students become overly distracted by the process of drawing and the possibilities of computer programmes to generate complex form.

The results demonstrate an ability to produce work that relates to an established aesthetic of parametric curves and complex structural components, but remains immaterial and, ultimately, self-referential.

This is not true of all of the units, in which students have playfully engaged with the messier problems of day-to-day life and propose a more convincing, if less visually complex architectural form. I would hope that, as the school progresses, it has the courage to further develop its own voice and build on some of the unique strands that are emerging from the work of these units. 

It is clear, though, that the LSBU is providing a supportive environment in which good work can flourish and that difficult and relevant questions are being asked by the students. If the answers were easy, then maybe the architecture course would be much shorter.  

Edmund Wilson is a partner at Foster Wilson Architects and a Design Fellow of Cambridge University

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