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Degree show review: The Bartlett

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The Bartlett’s end-of-year show has work that displays both imagination running wild but also ideas convincingly hitting the ground

Contemplating the Bartlett’s show, the thought of trying to take in, let alone draw together threads through, the work of nearly 700 students spread across four degree programmes, 30 design units and seven floors appears quite a task.  

In fact as you go around it proves easier than anticipated, not least on account of the arrangement in manageable chunks of three design units per floor. Deft curation presents the work in a digestible, focused way, giving it a level of accessibility that has not always been the case with Bartlett shows.

2018 bartlett summer show press shots 006

2018 bartlett summer show press shots 006

Where in the past shows were sometimes stuffed to the gills with each student’s year’s-worth of work, there now appears a clear awareness of the audience outside the ivory tower, not least, of course, employers. This is reflected in the catalogue, a chunky orange doorstop: well-illustrated, clearly laid-out and cutting a clearly signposted and detailed path through the different units’ work.

This is still a show, for all its professional packaging, that bursts with an exuberance of ideas, bolstered by the straight architecture degree courses being joined by hybrid design courses such as the new Engineering and Architectural Design BSc. 

 The confidence and control of ideas and media up to and through to Part 2 is impressive, the work of students skilled-up and ready to ease into practice.

The downside is that occasionally in the tightly curated presentations of the diploma units one misses the visceral mess of process. Access to so many representational techniques offers so much ability to complete and finish that the excitement of experimentation and the happenstance of imperfect control of a medium is often lost. Messiness of form does not necessarily equate to imprecision of thinking or idea. 

Still, a strong dose of this still confronts you as you enter, with the work of BSc Year 1 (directed by Frosso Pimenides) – composed of 140 students – whose main project focuses on designing live-work spaces in Spitalfields. The energy here fairly pops off the walls.

2018 bartlett summer show press shots 007

2018 bartlett summer show press shots 007

In BSc Years 2 and 3 the focus is more on the development of specific design skills, methods of representation and narration. Recurring themes relate to landscape and time but also to an investigation of materials, so displays are both thought-provoking but still often haptic and visceral.

UG0 picks as its focus the materials of London, explored through work such as Alys Hargreaves’ slip-cast models, incised with water channels to line a public baths in Docklands. Maria De Salvador’s scheme in UG10, where the unit’s site is the city of Athens, explores re-use in the city’s fabric with recycled 3D-printed plastic walls. 

Material resources and their impact on nature also recur thematically. In UG5’s Dreamland Alps we have light-footprint projects such as Yee (Enoch) Liang’s inflatable conference centre. Others propose whole new eras, such as UG11’s future landscapes. Projects here include Paul Brooke’s dystopian Glitched Network, an Icelandic refuge in an ozone-less world. 

The change, flux and imperfections of the contemporary world and its problems are extrapolated to provide rich fodder for students, in particular movement and migration, with UG1 looking at architecture in flux in Giselle Thong’s constantly decaying and renewing rammed-earth monastery in Lyon. UG12 has focused more on architecture of disruption and migration, with projects including Jake William’s interim housing prototype for Chicago’s homeless. 

2018 bartlett summer show press shots 002

2018 bartlett summer show press shots 002

‘In education we believe in taking risks’ states the introduction to the MArch Part 2 work. Simon Dickens and CJ Lim’s Unit 10 shows immersive propaganda-type posters – turbo-charged mini-manifestos that echo early 20th century utopias from Ebenezer Howard to Sant’Elia.

Meanwhile Brexit looms in the background to Unit 11’s National Reserve project, which touches on issues of identity wittily and with sophistication in work such as Emma Colthurst’s alphabet-shaped civic structures for a suburban town. In Unit 12 the focus on ‘intimate megastructures’ seems to have unleashed one of the strongest yet most diverse ranges of student work in one unit that I’ve seen in years, from intricately drawn new timber architecture in the work of Elin Soderberg to the surreal filmic paintings of Boon Yik Chung’s A Portrait of London. 

Unit 19 looks at ideas of prefabricated housing but in fresh ways – such as Ossama Elkholy’s kit of moulds to give self-build permanence to squatters’ rights on vacant sites. Things get more political still with Unit 22’s Campaigning! theme with projects as calls to action, the work refreshingly colourful among otherwise relatively monochrome presentations. 

2018 bartlett summer show press shots 010

2018 bartlett summer show press shots 010

An interesting take on reversing the marginalisation of architects features large in Unit 17, which has explored ways for architects to restore their relevance, indeed to take back control (in a good way) as a unique player in the making of the city. In a series of projects on sites around London finely presented work includes Sam Tan’s new vision of commuting in The Euston Ravine. 

2018 bartlett summer show press shots 009

2018 bartlett summer show press shots 009

Overall, this show has work that displays both imagination running wild but also ideas convincingly hitting the ground. Skill, careful thought, control of medium and handling of ideas underline the breadth of the education enjoyed at the Bartlett. This is not a school resting on its laurels. You get the feeling that Bartlett students are pretty well prepared at the end of their studies to deal with the exigencies of practice or, indeed, whatever else they might choose to do. 

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