The Bartlett’s show is sometimes in danger of only being about graphic storytelling
Typically, the Bartlett show consists of an overwhelming, almost-dystopian mix of laboured and intricate work, distractingly overridden by crammed curation attempting to showcase more than 600 students’ work across seven floors of crit space and stair core of the school’s 22 Gordon Street home.
Upon reviewing it, one can get overwhelming flashbacks to previous portfolio hand-in, understanding how much time, stress and sweat went into their creation, but this time with an almost nostalgic reflection on the time and satisfaction spent in making such detailed, beautiful work.
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One can always be critical of the Bartlett show: there’s ethical issues with it for sure. The way the work is presented, the amount of printing and expensive techniques utilised, the study trips abroad as part of each unit’s narrative and research always highlight the amount of time and money that goes into the making of the Bartlett’s annual ‘wow factor’. There is an unfairness in in resource when comparing it with other architecture schools, which just don’t stand a chance in comparison when putting together their own degree shows.
The other issue that this show always highlights is the disjunction between architectural education and practice – just how relevant to current architectural discourse is this fascinating spectacle of a drawing collection?
None of the units feel like they are aiming to ‘save our communities’
There’s no denying that the drawings presented are utterly beautiful, graphically enthralling and demonstrate a great skillset and attention to detail but, in contrast with the live projects of Sheffield or CSM, for example, none of the units feel like they are aiming to ‘save our communities’. It is very much a ‘parallel world’ that they are portraying instead. Though it is understandable that every student goes through the dilemma of how realistic a project should be, the work therefore feels indulgent.
As there should be, this year there is a slight nod to our global political climate and current affairs. For example, Postgraduate Unit 10’s Vilius Vizgaudis relates an interpretation of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Conjurer to the Paris Climate Agreement. The whole unit, Virtues of Urban Resilience, stands out for its uniform, striking A0-sized statement posters, placed alongside bibles of fabrication manuals, immaculately put together with attention to detail which convinces and reassures that perhaps such an unworldly scheme would actually work.
Vilius Vizgaudis, PG Unit 10
Strangely, time and time again, the work of the Bartlett is a distorted mix of the organic bespoke versus rigidly standardised components, emphasising process and making much more than the building and function itself. The colourful models of Postgraduate Unit 13, Hidden Spectacle, look at ‘fabrication as a spectacle’ – seemingly a continuous theme throughout the show. Undergraduate Unit 4, Great Expectations, run by Office S&M, however, attempts to confront the ‘generic’ forms of the ‘brick-chic’ and ‘biscuit architecture’ of London’s landscape, also through the medium of brightly coloured, fun models.
Hand-drawn perspectives and photoshopped axonometric views are often much more intriguing, inviting more imagination and evoking a greater sense of escapism than a CGI visual or rendered section. Undergraduate Unit 10’s Megan King’s The Lijnbaan Seam suggests an alternative structure for environmental fashion, the hand-drawn, layered sections utterly beautiful.
Despite a large proportion of visually dystopian drawings, as always, there seems to be a continuous theme of hope throughout the show.
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Postgraduate Unit 16, Quasi-Agency, Material Wonder and Explorations on the Edge of the World, explores architecture that re-emphasises our relationship with the environments we choose to inhabit. Cameron Overy’s project The Policy of Space questions environmental policy relating to forestry cultivation in Sweden in an overarching discussion of rewilding.
Postgraduate Unit 15 Lost Architectures & New Tribes is particularly joyful for how it demonstrates the interdisciplinary aspects of art and architecture – their corner of the show creating more of a mini-museum, rather than an exhibition: a mix of drawings, objects and, weirdly, T-shirts.
Finally, Postgraduate Unit 12 student Francesca Savvides’ project Building a Case for a New Practitioner is inspired by the current movement of architects to local authorities, such as is the case with Public Practice, but this time revisiting the unrealised work of post-war London. The drawings have just the right amount of dystopic monotone to evoke a feeling of Brutalism in abstract images of projects. The unit’s introduction quotes: ‘The architect is a ‘physical novelist’ as well as a “physical historian’’’. One feels that this perhaps sums up what the Bartlett’s show is sometimes in danger of only being about: graphic storytelling.
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Degree show review 2019: The Bartlett