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At University of Nottingham individuality is at the heart of the work

Nottingham
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Evans Vettori’s Gareth Puttock takes a look around the University of Nottingham’s end-of-year show

Leaving the chaotic dual carriageway and the city centre, you can almost feel the stress fall away from your shoulders as you pass into the University of Nottingham’s park-like campus. The department is nestled among mature trees with its buildings linked by meandering walkways. One can’t help but imagine the significance of such a setting on both the lives and work of the students.

The university values both theoretical and creative approaches as much as pragmatic ones. This is apparent in the variety of studios on offer to students. A strong relationship with working practice is borne out in the prizes awarded at the end-of-year show; 19 of the 20 are sponsored by architecture or engineering practices both local and from further afield. The school also actively seeks community engagement, highlighted in an annual live-build project in South Africa for second-year students. Within all the creativity there is still strong ‘architecture’ throughout the department, with clear plans and sections on show. Graphical representation is very strong and simple things such as line weights are considered and well executed. Unsurprisingly Nottingham students are desirable to prospective employers.

Projects have been well researched with a resultant rich social response to the brief

I also appreciated a consistently strong social brief across the department, as seen in Rebecca Smith’s integration of primary education and dementia care, and Helen McGhee’s specialist mental health unit focusing on postpartum psychosis. Projects have been well researched with a resultant rich social response to the brief.

What impressed me most was the individuality of the students and studios. Each studio offers an expressly different approach and interest. Every student’s work stands out for its creativity and style. At some shows it can be indistinguishable where one student’s work meets another, but here this was immediately clear with individuality at its heart.

In the fading light of the diploma exhibition, I enjoyed exploring the work, digging deep into each project. Playing with the idea of ‘Thomassons’ (observed instances of a building’s past, for example lintels in a solid brick facade or a staircase that leads nowhere), Luke Askwith’s work stood out for its subversive narrative, supported with seductive graphics and a detailed model. The project, The Mnemonic Exchange, focuses on a partly demolished Birmingham Central Library to create new archive and exhibition space, exploring architectural memory.

University of Nottingham

University of Nottingham

Anthony Grout

From memory to myth and old library to new, Anthony Grout’s work delves into the social problems of Sheffield. Breathed Through Steel: An Architecture of Mythopoeia for Sheffield uses the Royal Festival Hall as an architecture precedent and expression of mythopoeia. A community library of ‘free and unpredictable use’, the project exposes the site history of the building and explores the foundations of the old castle and uncovered culvert, layering a building in history, function and myth.

Back in Nottingham, Chloe Lockhart looks at the creative industry around the lace market, and tackles the demand for low-cost studio space. She develops an urban strategy to activate forgotten sites with low-cost interventions based around a simple frame and single timber joint. Leading to the development of existing socio-economic networks and more permanent solutions, the project combines an interesting narrative with clear and beautiful graphics and models.

Moving away from diploma and into the undergraduate show, I was struck by the confidence of large images conveying big projects with big ideas. The depth and breadth of the talent across the whole year is quite outstanding and to pick my highlights leaves out many projects worthy of a mention.

Bianca Latini stood out for me with her bold, bright red steel models. Her representation has a textural quality given by the Risograph-style graphics. She is a student of architecture and environmental engineering, and her work has the additional backdrop of technical strategies for her buildings. She looks at how to adapt and respond to the increased flood risk, taking it as an opportunity to create a self-sufficient agriculture hub.

University of Nottingham

University of Nottingham

Sara Lohse’s Fish City

Sticking with the theme of water, Sara Lohse’s Fish City caught my eye. Possibly too easily seduced by a great bird’s eye view, I really enjoyed the style of her presentation and little vignettes. Based in the Thames Estuary, the project looks to provide a base for locally sourced fishing and explores the ideas of amphibious architecture.

With Ghost Stories as its theme, Unit 2B takes a different tack. The subject comes across in the ethereal representation of the works. And although slightly impenetrable, I can’t help but mention the work of Clement Laurencio. His beautiful pencil drawings have a magical eerie quality of spider-spun creations.

It is a shame the exhibition is hidden away on campus with limited exposure as this is one of the most impressive end-of-year shows I’ve visited. Sadly it’s likely that swathes of this great wealth of talent will be enticed south to London, where they will invariably stay. Let’s hope some of them stick around for the future and strength of architecture in the East Midlands. 

Gareth Puttock, senior architect, Evans Vettori Architects

student banner wide

student banner wide

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