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Degree show review: London School of Architecture

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The LSA’s end-of-year show is a closely curated exhibition of presentation drawings and models – largely practical proposals – along with a handful of manifestos

It’s a pivotal moment for the upstart London School of Architecture (LSA). This experimental Part 2-only architecture school, founded by Will Hunter in 2015 as a reaction to skyrocketing tuition fees, was initially hamstrung by its lack of recognition from the gatekeepers of academia. Now with ARB and RIBA accreditation, plus access (from October 2018) to the state package of financial support, this small, independent diploma programme is expecting to welcome its first full cohort of 40 students this coming September. 

The LSA’s laudable ambition is to widen access to architecture by offering work placements alongside learning, making graduates more employable and the course more affordable. As it lacks a Tier-4 Visa licence, the school can only accept students eligible to study and work in the UK (suggesting Brexit will further impact its intake).

As it stands, the end-of-year show at Somerset House features just 26 students: not your typical exhibition; there is no clutter, nothing of the creative chaos of the architecture school. It’s a closely curated show of presentation drawings and models, along with a handful of manifestos for future practice penned by the students, and a very slick catalogue edited by Hunter and Vicky Richardson (both professional editors), designed by Studio Mathias Clottu and with a foreword by Norman Foster.

The London School of Architecture show at Somerset House

The London School of Architecture show at Somerset House

Source: Valerie Bennett

The London School of Architecture show at Somerset House

As tutor James Soane writes in the catalogue: ‘At the LSA we are suspicious of form over content and gymnastics over programme, and this emphasis is evident in the final projects shown, where the programme is consistently more elaborate than the design.’ These students are evidently effective communicators; the text contains little archi-jargon, the presentation drawings are lovely and the models are competition standard.

As for the architecture, it’s a bit prosaic. There is a love of mixed-use programmes in cheap light industrial structures, with the flavour of Hawkins\Brown’s Here East and dot-com corporate campus architecture. But the students are evidently taught to consider the big picture and how the city works, and there are bright ideas, such as Elisabeth Day’s Blue Light District, combining emergency services. 

The London School of Architecture show at Somerset House

The London School of Architecture show at Somerset House

Source: Valerie Bennett

The London School of Architecture show at Somerset House

The best work is less binary in its preference of programme over form, seeking the synergies that provoke architecture. This tends to be in micro-interventions, where the proposals are less likely to scrimp on the plan.

I like Claire Seager’s collective rear extension, which unlocks terraced housing in London to form co-housing blocks. Also enjoyable is Alice Moxley’s urban acupuncture for Hatton Garden to create a more vibrant, unified and permeable district. Charlotte Hurley’s beautiful sketches and drawings for Cite Rooms are a highlight while Charlotte Madgwick’s supported housing for women contains moments of joy.

Robin Chatwin: Public Luxury

Robin Chatwin: Public Luxury

Robin Chatwin: Public Luxury

As for the manifestos, they make for depressing reading and show a student population bogged down by the troubles of today: fake news, climate change and a capitalist property market. There is a desperate call for architects to turn to activism and heal society’s ills, but there is seemingly not much confidence in this optimistic view, which is served cold au plat du jour.

An additional room features a selection of models from the LSA Practice Network, comprising the firms that offer placements to LSA students, model-making facilities or space for lectures. An odd assemblage of random projects, there is no obvious explanation as to why the models are there; it is perhaps something to do with sponsorship.

Hannah Bowers: Heritage Hack

Hannah Bowers: Heritage Hack

Hannah Bowers: Heritage Hack

The heavy manifestos, combined with the overall practicality of the proposals, suggests the LSA will produce a cohort of oven-ready employees with strong communication and presentation skills and a firm grip on the socio-political struggle of the architect. This, especially when coupled with its mandatory work placement, does point to a value-for-money diploma.

That said, I miss the raw pleasures of a more freewheeling design curriculum and an idealism unburdened by the pressures of practice. Given the rise of automation, I hope the school will rebalance its emphasis towards craft and creative play. Robots can design mixed-use sheds, but they can’t play jazz. The trick to employability in the future will be to dream up solutions to questions we haven’t yet asked.

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  • 2 Comments

Readers' comments (2)

  • My response to this review is not to disagree but to suggest that there is a critical difference between architecture engaging in the world and that which delights through escapism. And why is being employable seen as such a problem? It’s binary thinking that wears its paranoia on its sleeve.
    James Soane

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  • Christine Murray

    Employability is certainly not a problem, it’s an asset and the best thing about the LSA.

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