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Degree show review: University of Bath

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Across the University of Bath end-of-year show there is a sense that these students do know how to create

Architectural degrees at The University of Bath regularly top national rankings. What is the university’s secret? We know from working with Bath students at our practice that the individuals are of a high calibre. Unlike with most other courses, Part 1-qualified undergraduates from Bath spend four semesters swapping lectures for working in an architecture practice. 

Similarly, the MArch course dedicates a semester placement to practice, whereas most other courses wait until the course is finished. However, I’ve always wondered whether this regular alternating journey through practice and theory stifles creativity.

On entering the exhibition, initial impressions at a distance are of an architectural competition where work is presented on the same sizes of board row after row: no mess; no models hanging from the ceiling; all very restrained. But this, I learn, is part of Bath’s secret. We all know in practice that if the format of the presentation is predetermined, your creative energy is concentrated on resolving the brief.

Year 4 students tackle a huge range of social, environmental and technological issues in and around Weymouth, using design as a tool for propagating change. Sites have been chosen in the town, on the coastline and at sea, resulting in a wide range of concepts and ideas working towards a healthier, more prosperous and egalitarian place in which to live.

Focusing on the town, the Psychogeographic Town Hall by Jules Kleitman looks set to reignite civic regeneration through the clever re-use of historic buildings. On the cliffs, Tsz Shek Felex Lau aims to bring the community together with The Ekklésia, a church and community centre, taking advantage of the topography and sea views. Among designs for domestic abuse, addiction and dementia care, Tiffany Cheung’s minimum security prison brings a new meaning to rehabilitation that the nearby HMP Portland is known for. The Lacuna by Stephen George Smith blurs the boundary between myth and reality in his quest to harvest the sea bed sustainably.

Katie Shaylor: l'Edificium Apapiri

Katie Shaylor: l’Edificium Apapiri

Katie Shaylor: l’Edificium Apapiri

Alongside, the Year 4 Basil Spence projects display mature architectural and engineering collaboration. The winning scheme, Bioneer, a temporary exhibition structure made from biodegradable plastic, is out to change the culture of plastic use by being wholly compostable.

In the Year 6 exhibition collaboration work attempts to address real-life problems in failing parts of foreign cities and the environment. The level of detail in the Resolver Masterplan for Havana is immense and visionary and the Genoan presentation uses simple yet effective presentation techniques. In fact all teams should be applauded for their work here.

Alice Mellor: Salucentrum

Alice Mellor: Salucentrum

Alice Mellor: Salucentrum

As individuals, the Year 6 students have responded to specific issues raised in their masterplans. From neighbourhood regeneration catalysed by fish markets to a desalination plant in South Africa, polished images are supported by intricate structural models and well-honed design statements, adding credibility to their arguments. However, I am still left searching for evidence of the initial idea, a hand-drawn sketch, perhaps, to relate back to.

Many, though, demonstrate a strong narrative, such as the vivid Casa de la Musica by Lang Jin, celebrating Cuban dance through form and colour. The subtle L’Edificium Apapiri by Katie Shaylor is presented delicately, in harmony with its role promoting paper-related industry. Projects such as the Sami Storytelling Centre by Adam Lewis in Tromsø, Norway, have fairytale-like qualities playing with light and dark, while the Salucentrum by Alice Mellor, a food hub, is sympathetic to its forested setting through an expressed structural rhythm.

Lang Jin Casa de la Musica

Lang Jin Casa de la Musica

Lang Jin Casa de la Musica

For Year 1, floating chairs kickstart a journey of collaboration and thinking about the relationship between stability, lightness and use of resources. Year 2 is represented by cheery posters of their work in practice and Year 3 by a mass of convincing structural models based on projects overseas.

Across the show there is a sense that these students do know how to create. The evidence is all too clear. Combine this with their practical skills and we will continue to look to the University of Bath for some of the brightest and most able young architects around.

Nick Vaughan is a director of Bristol-based Alec French Architects

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