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Degree show review: The Bartlett

08 bartlett3
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A radically remodelled home provided an impressive backdrop to a show where political and technological change provided the most rewarding themes, says Jeremy Young 

The 2017 show at the Bartlett marks the return of the school to its (radically) remodelled home, and this forms a calm and handsome backdrop to the exhibition. Whether the new building has raised the game of the exhibition design or not, it must be said that the standard of display and content is impressively high; it looks like it’s had the production budget of a minor Hollywood blockbuster. This year, there also seems to be an editorial tightening within each unit’s display, which helps with the focus, but with 28 units on show it is still a daunting task to wander around and fully make sense of it all, perhaps not aided by the deliberate jumbling of undergrad and diploma units. 

I was told there was an informal thematic organisation involved, but this is subtle and could be strengthened, if only as an aid to orientation and memory recall. The diversity in the approach of all the units is also notable, from parametrics all the way to sociological ‘people based’ approaches, making it an excellent show to visit if one is after a one-stop summary of current teaching strategies.

03 agostino nickl march unit 11

03 agostino nickl march unit 11

Agostino Nickl, MArch, Unit 11

Two common themes particularly interested me, those of flux and change – especially in the context of the current political landscape, but also technological and temporal – and those of craft, process and production. Both have obvious parallels to the world of practice, but they also seemed common threads throughout a lot of the work. I have mixed feelings about the latter. For a long time now the creation of extremely well-crafted models and artefacts in schools has been presented partially as an analogue of the production processes involved in designing and creating a building. While I think this is a valid position, the end results on show often err more towards the precision products and prototypes of industrial and consumer design than the processes of building, which, in my experience, are much more fluid and, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit messy. Perhaps it’s a churlish comment but it would be great to see some hair let down a little with the odd rough sketch or card study model to illustrate process.

It was good to see so many units adopting the second theme, as properly observing and responding to social changes and transformations is so central to the proper, meaningful, practice of architecture. As an employer/practitioner, I feel it really helps if new architects understand the place of architecture in society, but also develop a responsive and flexible attitude about what’s expected of them. CJ Lim’s unit looked thoughtfully and wittily at the subjects of displacement and relocation against a deliberately political and utopian context, with reference to contextual realities such as Brexit, HS2 and small-town urban regeneration. 

02 claire hawes march unit 12

02 claire hawes march unit 12

Claire Hawes, MArch, Unit 12

UG6 looked more literally at the social issues of migration and how cities can respond, while other units took more contextual and site-specific approaches, such as UG1 which looked at collective memory and placemaking with reference to Tilbury. I liked U11’s take on transformations of ‘frozen’ heritage locations (accompanied by some beautiful visuals) as well as UG9’s examination of how architecture can respond to physical, elemental flux. 

Finally, Unit 12, run by Jonathan Hill, reminded us that being in the thrall of major technological and political change isn’t anything new, examining the very concept of newness itself, partly within the context of the ‘shock of the new’ avant-garde agenda from early in the 20th century. This led to some amusing and witty proposals such as Clare Hawes’ pink UN Headquarters in Berlin, accompanied by some stunning drawings and models.

Jeremy Young is director at Featherstone Young Architects

04 nathan fairbrother march unit 10

04 nathan fairbrother march unit 10

Nathan Fairbrother, MArch, Unit 10

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