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Degree show review: University of Strathclyde

01 strathclyde3
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The architecture department promotes a ‘can-do’ culture that has led to a large number of award-winning practices emerging from among its students, says Lee Ivett

Do Architecture, BARD Ailteir, Inch Architecture, Roots Architecture, McGinlay Bell, Graeme Nicholls, Ann Nisbet, Lateral North, Dress For the Weather, Pidgin Perfect, Ice Cream Architecture and GRAS are all award-winning practices that have been established in Scotland by former Strathclyde Architecture students since I graduated. A quite remarkable return given these practices have often been formed by students still at university and during a particularly hostile economic climate. 

Over the past 10 to 15 years a progressive culture of ‘can do’ and ‘will do’ has emerged within Strathclyde’s architecture department. It appreciates there is no single route into employment or even that working for a practice within the profession of architecture will be the best or only use of the skills, knowledge and insight gained from an architectural education. This culture is apparent as early as the first year, where students are provided with an opportunity to make and prototype small-scale live build projects. While modest in scale, the language and complexity of some of these interventions displays formidable ambition and usefully introduces architectural education and architectural output to fresh young minds.

Rosscameronmakinghallview crop

Rosscameronmakinghallview crop

Ross Cameron, MArch/PgDip in Advanced Architectural Design, Studio 1: EARTH

A focus on live build and live clients during the first year develops formative skills and knowledge alongside the concept of practice. The second year develops the architectural conversation with projects that force the student to employ the craft and articulation of tectonics, volume, language and spatial experience through the consideration of contemplative space, spiritual space and a library. Year 3 then develops a space for the agency of ideas and creative and intellectual autonomy. 

Urban housing is considered in the first semester of Year 3 before introducing the student to the idea of thesis within the title ‘To Play’, which gives the student an opportunity to learn how to generate, test and apply one’s own ideas about people and place. Stand-out students who really embraced this opportunity were Daniel Tihanyi, whose exceptional drawings helped convince me that the Govan Graving docks needs a concert hall, and Zavia Ivanova with the project ‘Beyond the Shed’. 

The question of ‘need’ is addressed within Year 4, and year leader David Reat has continued to develop the programme by allowing the students to develop their own brief out of a considered and rigorous analysis of the social, cultural and economic condition of context of Govan. This helpfully develops the skills of analysis and critique introduced within the Year 3 thesis project and gives the student a robust platform from which to begin their final year diploma. 

A fairly consistent style of presentation across Year 4 is executed most competently by Nada Shehab with the project ‘Reconnecting Govan’ and Alastair Kent who manages to avoid cultural and visual cliché with his most Scottish of projects ‘The Govan Distillery and Ceilidh House’ – evocatively drawn and convincingly applied to his chosen site.

The final year at Strathclyde has always had a vibrancy and eclecticism that gives students real agency over the pursuit and development of their own ideas. This ethos is retained but developed through a unit system; just don’t call it a unit system. ‘Unit’ seems to be an extremely dirty word within Glasgow and Scottish architectural education, but here they get around this by using a different word: ‘studio’. 

03 marc hillis studio 4  community and live projects march:pgdip in architectural design

03 marc hillis studio 4 community and live projects march:pgdip in architectural design

Marc Hillis, Studio 4: Community and Live Projects, MArch/PgDip in Architectural Design

It is refreshing to see the input of artist Rachel Mimiec alongside practitioners Collective, Page\Park, Graeme Nicholls and also the well-established Strathclyde University Urban Design team leading the five core studios; a sixth studio led by John Barr engages with those students that have been on exchange in Semester 1. The overarching title for the year, set by year leader Uli Enslein, is ‘Make No Little Plans’, with five core studios developing a particular line of enquiry. Projects across the year range from occupation of outer space in the Tomorrow Worlds studio to well-crafted and completed market stalls in Glasgow by Fraser Yardley and Gina Colley within the Community and Live Projects studio.

Across the year I was drawn to projects that break the tyranny of uber-rational, littered with bricks that push in, bricks that push out, and polite, moody Modernism. Colour, life, joy, fun, positivity and a clarity of purpose surely have a role in contemporary architecture, and the work of Marah Ramadan, Megan Grierson and Barbara Vecchione all display these characteristics while exploring different themes and agendas. 

I was also impressed by the work of Ross Grier, who creates housing, amenity and infrastructure that speculates on how a functional, progressive and self-sustaining community for waste-pickers within Mumbai could emerge. An intelligent response to a rigorously researched issue that is beautifully drawn and presented.

I genuinely loved my own time as a student at Strathcyde, and I was pleased to see that a culture of agency and a studied awareness of the impact of architecture are still embedded in the school; not as dogma, but as themes to be constantly critiqued, evaluated and evolved. As a student, you will leave the department not only confident in your ability to gain employment but also equipped to create your own job and find your own unique space within the world of architecture.

Lee Ivett is founder of Baxendale

05 annabelle brading and sean fitzpatrick march:pgdip in advanced architectural design studio 2 provocation, art and political space

05 annabelle brading and sean fitzpatrick march:pgdip in advanced architectural design studio 2 provocation, art and political space

Annabelle Brading and Sean Fitzpatrick, MArch/PgDip in Advanced Architectural Design, Studio 2: Provocation, Art and Political Space

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