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Ranked no #5 for employability 

Degree show review: University of Nottingham

05 nottingham2
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The department combines the development of a wide spectrum of skills with increasing collaboration with local and national practices, developing a virtuous triangle of academic, student and practitioner, says Hugh Avison

This year, the sun shone on the Department of Architecture and the Built Environment (DABE) show at the University of Nottingham, as the official opening of the end-of-year exhibition was held outside on the quadrangle lawns. Those that remember last year’s torrential downpour and flash floods will know that the event is not always so blessed.

The weather was far from the only pleasant surprise. The prize-giving formalities were interwoven by eclectic and spellbinding performances by Master’s students in the university’s creative writing and music departments - they have been collaborating with third-year students on projects at the Welbeck Estate in the Dukeries of North Nottinghamshire. Contributions included spoken word, poetry, and a layered musical piece that collided live performance with a recorded industrial soundscape to striking effect, and provided evidence of a rich vein of creative cross-collaboration and cultural adventure within the architectural studios.

Broad jack nott urban mediations y6 aerial

Broad jack nott urban mediations y6 aerial

Jack Broad, MArch, Makers House in St Vincent’s, Sheffield

Robert Evans, from RIBA Award-winning practice Evans Vettori Architects, gave a personal and thought-provoking keynote speech, highlighting the problems the profession increasingly faces with depression and related health issues, and promoting a new remedy requiring only pen and paper: drawing therapy. Auspiciously, the exhibition presented the strongest evidence in recent years that today’s Nottingham graduates will be able to fulfil Evans’s vision for artistic self-medication. The exhibition included a vibrant and often awe-inspiring display of hand-drawing, from exploratory free-hand sketching, through rich technical drawings, to evocative 3D imagery. Of course, the computer remains an ever-present influence, in which students are undoubtedly skilled, but much of the work was developed around hand drawings, with digital processes used as a tool for additional sampling and layering.

Also eye-catching was the array of models, ranging from the intricate to the exuberant. Again, these used a wide range of techniques from the latest 3D printing to traditionally crafted artefacts in concrete and timber. 

Special mention must go to a quartet of fantastically talented nominees for the RIBA medals, including – incredibly – a Year 2 nominee for the bronze medal: Ross Burns, with his proposals for a musical retreat. Also nominated for the bronze medal was Kangli Zeng (Year 3), with a study to investigate densification of housing in urban areas; and for the silver medal, Chloe Thirkell and Josh Sharp (both Year 6), with projects for an arts space commandeering an elevated highway in Sydney, and an archaeological centre in Chester, respectively.

Negrea andrei nott 3situations y6 media&public

Negrea andrei nott 3situations y6 media&public

Andrei Negrea, Year 6, MArch, Civic Centre proposal, Leicester

As a potential employer, I found the spectrum of skills evidenced by the majority of University of Nottingham graduates reassuring. The undergraduate and postgraduate courses each offer a variety of design units, but critically combine an inquisitive creativity with a sense of place, the world around us, and technology. The university has pioneered industry-focused courses for a number of years, which have not always resulted in exemplary studio work. This year, however, witnessed a total blurring of boundaries between the portfolios of traditional architecture students and those on the Architecture & Environmental Design (MEng) CIBSE and RIBA-accredited course. This achievement bodes well for the forthcoming introduction of a further innovative course option: the Research in Practice Part II course, which launches next year, and will see some Year 5 students blending part-time employment with a research project. The research agenda will be jointly curated by the host practice, and will feed into the practice’s activities, as well as pursuing legitimate academic credentials. 

The department’s increasing focus on collaboration with local and national practices is evidenced through two further initiatives which ran alongside the end of year show. Firstly, the Seeding Research in Architectural Practice conference explored collaborations between academic research and commercial practice. Secondly, employability events saw practising architects invited to present on the role of graduates in their studios, and hold workshops on improving students’ applications. These initiatives seek to create a virtuous triangle of academic, student, and practitioner, in which each increases their understanding of the others. Coupled with the strength of teaching and the undeniable talent of the students, the University of Nottingham seems set to provide its Architecture and Built Environment graduates with enviable opportunities for employment. 

Hugh Avison is design/project director, CPMG Architects

Thirkell chloe nott urban mediations y6 massing iso

Thirkell chloe nott urban mediations y6 massing iso

Chloë Thirkell, MArch, Knowledge Quarter proposal, London

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