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At University of Bath the best projects are responses to place and time

University of Bath
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Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios’ Andy Theobald takes a look around the University of Bath’s end-of-year show

The end of year show at the University of Bath is for the first time being exhibited at The Edge, a new arts building at the university, designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBS). This is complemented by a London exhibition at the Candid Arts Trust.

I focused on the sixth year’s work, which consisted of a series of A0 summary boards of each student’s individual project accompanied by a board with information on the masterplan of the group’s selected city.

Bath’s architecture school is led by alumnus Alex Wright (who happened to be in my year) together with an array of tutors, many of whom have close associations with FCBS.

On approaching the exhibition, I can’t help but reflect on equivalent walls of hand-hatched, coloured projects by the likes of Steve Tompkins and Keith Bradley, which had a lasting impact on my years at Bath. Inspired by the gravitas of Michael Brawne, Patrick Hodgkinson and Ted Happold, and combined with the presence of Alison and Peter Smithson, these schemes had a certain heroic character depicted in a handmade yet strikingly bold way. Attending the 2016 show I was intrigued to think how current tutors and the course leader have influenced students’ thinking and design work.

It’s clear that for presentation purposes the boards are unified. While instantly impressive and professional, maybe owing to the printed computer-generated graphics, the immediacy of the individual’s hand felt somewhat neutralised.

However, on further inspection, each of the selected cities and their particular masterplans become apparent in a series of highly professional and well-crafted images supported by impressive group masterplan documents, biblical in length and which any national architecture practice would be proud to have produced. In looking through the selected project locations it becomes clear that almost all (with the exception of a town in Poland) were in warm southern climates – cities such as Valencia, Athens and Palermo, which have issues to be solved through challenging masterplans brought into focus by individual projects.

Eventually the individual student’s project comes into focus and it’s clear that this is a high-level summary of a huge amount of unseen work, available through a series of beautifully produced books, reports and models.

University of Bath

University of Bath

Luke Macnab’s television and radio station

Certain projects stand out, such as the school of construction by Michael Lewis, and Luke Macnab’s television and radio station. However I have to admit to bias here as we have now employed both of these at FCBS. It’s clear that the huge challenge is finding time for individual expression within the confines of the layers and deadlines of submissions and course requirements. As has always been the case, the best projects are those that are astute responses to place, time and cultural observations.

University of Bath

University of Bath

The Apiarium by Sophie Beagles

The Apiarium by Sophie Beagles is a research facility in Palermo and is memorable for its composition of a simple yet intricate form within a site bounded by ancient walls and ruins. The city cemetery of Athens – the Sacred Way to Eleusis, by Hyun-Kyu Kim, reinvents the burial in a space-hungry city with tall cambers above for long-term storage of ashes, and deep wells of space for short-term storage. As a complete contrast, the 20s-style graphics of the Lazzaretto Lido by Sean Riddington capture the heat and character of Valencia with a bold simple arcaded form offset by a pencil-thin diving board and lookout tower.

University of Bath

University of Bath

Lazzaretto Lido by Sean Riddington

In these warm climates, environmental response seems critical and I searched for how this may have affected the forms and architecture. Various fascinating covered and shaded spaces were visible in some and integrated into others. I felt that environmental criteria could have guided some projects more overtly. However searching for detail is maybe not the point of this type of exhibition as it’s about presenting a summary of many projects that celebrate a year’s very hard work, and the standard seemed well above average with some particular highs and almost no lows.

There is hope that following such a focus on these individual places, the entrepreneurial student may take it upon themselves to return to that city and share an academic year of intense work in the hope that it might open new possibilities for the place, and maybe themselves?

Overall the work appears very considered, logical and professionally presented. Lack of space makes it hard to fully understand each individual scheme but you’re left with a sense that these students have been very well prepared for professional life and many seem highly employable. Indeed, this has underpinned the course’s successful reputation in recent years. I am pleased to say there were still a few heroic humanist projects on the wall, and even more pleased to say some of those authors are already in our studio in Bath.

Andy Theobald, partner, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

student banner wide

student banner wide

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