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Degree show review 2019: Queen’s University Belfast

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At its best, the work at Queen’s is on a par with many of the top schools in the UK

Soft northern light seeps deep into the work at this year’s Queen’s University Belfast end-of-year show.

As you enter the Stage 1 exhibition in the labyrinthine David Kier Building, you are faced with a long, low table of architectural delight. Stretching the full length of the space and brimming with sketchbooks, hand-drawings, hand-cut models and enthusiasm, this first impression is a hopeful promise for the future. 

Moving up, and after some course restructuring, Stages 2 and 3 have now been paired in six distinct vertical studios, each exploring a different brief and design ethos.

A first-semester trip to Helsinki and a subsequent project in Finland have clearly left a lasting imprint on the minds of the students. An exploration of light in Finnish ecclesiastical architecture, through both physical and digital modelling, is reflected deeply in the final project work. 

As in other universities with similar sensibilities, studying through making large-scale texturally realistic models seems to have enabled students to engage beyond pure surface. In this increasingly Instagram-ready world of visual abundance, such inquiry is to be celebrated. 

Film-making as a design tool has been skilfully used in the Cinematic Architecture Studio brief for a new home for Theatre NI. Ferghal Rooney’s considerate proposal set in the dense urban fabric of Belfast’s historic Cathedral Quarter and incorporating a new urban passage is particularly successful.

Students in the Architecture in Diverse Cultural Landscapes studio were invited to explore the contested physical and cultural landscapes of Lough Neagh and Lough Beg and collate an atlas of research and proposals for a new independent Environmental Protection Agency headquarters. This is exemplified in the rich and beautifully drawn work of Karthic Vivehanathan, and in the wonderfully spatial models of Iris Wong’s walkway structure. 

Karthic Vivehanathan

Karthic Vivehanathan

Source: Karthic Vivehanathan

Karthic Vivehanathan: Lough render

Sophia Dias-Hudspith’s quiet and skilfully crafted courtyard nursery project, imagined as the last of the walled gardens surrounding Armagh Cathedral, was a sensitive and thoughtful proposal embedded in place and in the rich theme and ethos of the Continuing Tradition studio. 

In the nearby No.15 Chlorine Gardens, the MArch show explore an equally broad range of ideas and ways of thinking. Students were split into five studios, whose interests range from live project work with Armagh City Council, through Architettura Superleggera’s inquiry into the relationship between architecture and the complex flows of globalisation versus the stasis of traditional ideas of place, to studio Streetspace’s public, social and community-engaged research and proposals for the development of Belfast’s historic centre. 

Students working in the In Time studio, were asked to challenge the conventional idea of a building’s completeness and to investigate notions of temporality, permanence and renewal.

Chapel models

Chapel models

Lastly, studio Aperture play with the idea of aperture as an architectural device implying at least two sides: inside and outside, light and dark, private and public. Students from Aperture produced and collated a book of finely drawn precedent studies, reminiscent of the now sadly stopped series of publications by Queen’s Architectural Press. 

Like many other schools, the balance between research and project development can sometimes be easily tipped. The most successful projects manage to tread this fine line skilfully and with clarity of purpose. Highlights include: Laura Haslett’s poetic and beautifully drawn project which follows the journey and embodies the legend of The Trail to Libuse’s Bath along a forest path outside Prague. 

Roslyn Blackburn’s maze-like Social Courts of Public Opinion in the court of law district of Helsinki present a dense urban labyrinth with overlapping routes, ‘social’ courts and programme. 

Naomi Faulkner’s study of Castelvecchio and a Scarpa-esque School of Trades intervention on Suomenlinna Island. 

Naomi Faulkner: Castelvecchio

Naomi Faulkner: Castelvecchio

Naomi Faulkner: Castelvecchio

Niall Quinn’s elegantly resolved and illustrated swimming pool on the edge of an island in Finland and Jack Knight’s carefully scaled and detailed bookshop in Edinburgh.

Overall, Queen’s long-held tradition of embedding technology and embracing both poetics and practice, continues to produce rigorous and thoughtful work at all stages. When at its best, the work is on a par with many of the top schools in the UK, and I for one would urge more people to come and see it for themselves. 

Julian Manev is a Part 2 architectural assistant at Hall McKnight Architects

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