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At University of Edinburgh you will find committed and serious future architects

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Cameron McEwan takes a look around Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture’s end-of-year show

The Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA) degree show is presented in two buildings. Part 1 occupies two floors at Adam House with work organised in parallel rows. Projects look neat and organised, although tend toward the safe side. At Minto House, where Part 2 is exhibited, there is a dramatic shift. ESALA has cultivated an ethos of speculative inquiry into the formal, spatial and intellectual character of architecture.

Part 2 projects are developed in a thinking-through-making process and produced in a variety of media and formats – large and small-scale hand and computer drawings, mixed-media models, found objects and films – with an emphasis on model-making. The result is spatially intricate individual projects and an exhibition that is itself an intense spatial experience, creating (intentional or unintentional) dialogues between aspects of projects or separate student works.

The Part 2 MArch programme is structured in two ways. Students can take a modular pathway (two independent year-long design studios); or an integrated pathway (one design studio over two years), meaning studios are mixed with MArch first and second-year students. The modular offers different architectural themes, research methods and design approaches, emphasising the singular architecture-object. The integrated focuses on a single city and engages students in a range of architectural scales, from urban strategies to detailed designs, within research-led teaching studios.

The school has cultured an ethos of speculative inquiry into the formal, spatial and intellectual character of architecture

There are five thematically focused studios, each anchored to a city and framed by particular theoretical positions. Liam Ross’s studio, Tokyo Hauntology on the modular route, is framed by Jacques Derrida’s concept of ‘hauntology’ to put forward architecture as a spectral practice communicated through traces of absence. The studio exhibits in the Matthew Gallery under subdued lighting and flickering films commensurate with the unit theme and content of the projects. These investigated how architecture is haunted by catastrophe, and how disasters – including floods, earthquakes, fires and economic crashes – produce urban form and act as a point of departure for formal language.

Also representing the modular route is Dorian Wiszniewski’s studio, PARA-Situation. PARA refers to Michel Foucault’s notion of ‘paradigm’, making clear the commitment to architecture as a singular and immanent form of knowledge. The studio, focused on Wroclaw in Poland, demonstrates an energetic process-oriented ethos with drawings and models constructed from various materials – coal, inks, paint, resin, timber, metal, plastics – producing an assemblage of surfaces and objects parasitically attached to all parts of the room.

Andrea Faed’s North Studio: Earth and Ocean (another modular unit) develops proposals for Bodø in Norway, and is quiet and atmospheric. Sharing the space is Mark Dorrian’s studio, Athens: Salvaging Urbanism, which is midway through its two-year integrated pathway, and takes up a city on the edge of the global economic crisis as a site for investigation. Projects look rational and I look forward to seeing how they develop next year.

Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture

Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture

Jonathan Lynn and Suzanne Priestly

The standout studio is Adrian Hawker and Vicky Bernie’s Island Territories, focused on Nicosia, which exhibits the conclusion of an integrated pathway. Projects are critical ruminations on architectural and urban ideas. Works integrate modes of representation – a drawing is given relief and becomes a model, a model merges with a drawing. There are subtle challenges to conventional architectural scales; in the project by Jonathan Lynn and Suzanne Priestly a plaster-cast arm is placed into their exquisite model. In particular the project by Sarah Comfort and Chiara Fingland – an archipelago of fragments – represents deep thinking and a concentrated engagement with the city. Time is taken to hand-draw individual rooms within the urban fabric around the ramparts of the historic city, delineating routes and surfaces on a huge site plan. The plan is then reproduced and transformed into a composite model with particular parts extruded to hover above the surface and critique the concept of ground. Mirrors, magnifying glasses and other objects are positioned in the model, producing duplications, reflections, spatial exaggerations and estranging a unitary reading of scale and sense of the whole.

Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture

Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture

Sarah Comfort and Chiara Fingland

It is clear that architectural experimentation is encouraged at ESALA. The work is inquiring and often difficult. It shows imagination and conviction. I’m sure students will graduate as confident individuals with strong portfolios. However, I found it hard to orientate myself in individual work; it was also unclear where one project ended and the next began, or which work was MArch year one and which was stage two.

Yet almost all the projects that were displayed represented critical tools for thinking through fundamental issues of architecture: problems of space and form; ideas about scale, figure, ground; relations between concept and representation; architecture’s object value and the urban situation. Such a theoretically informed, authorial and spatially investigative ethos is important today because, in recent years – and in the last decade in particular – architectural and urban discourse has been marked by an unclear sense of who the architect is and which principles underpin architecture as a discipline. Architects looking at the work presented here will find imaginative, committed and serious future architects.

Cameron McEwan, tutor, University of Dundee, associate, Foundation for Architecture and Education

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