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Degree show review: Welsh School of Architecture

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The standard of work at Cardiff shows a good command of architecture on all levels

Two major changes have been implemented at the Welsh School of Architecture this year. Previously the self-organised student show included an entire year’s work, resulting in unedited, sprawling content. The show also had a London edition where students would advertise the skills of their school in the capital. 

This year the show has been much more carefully curated by a smaller group, with each student allocated space alongside other members of their studio. This allows visitors to firstly come to terms with overarching themes, before seeing each piece of work presented in a succinct manner.

Thematically similar units are grouped together to unify the wider themes the school is addressing. The show is still spread across the school building, which makes finding it somewhat maze-like, but ultimately worth it. 

Secondly, with the London show scrapped, students have been able to focus entirely on one show, curating a better exhibition and focusing money more effectively. This helps to establish the school as one very much grounded in Wales, proud of its work and location.

It has also brought new focus through its role in the Welsh Festival of Design and Design Circle events, enabling students to engage with children and other groups through outreach campaigns. 

The work of the school this year competently examines themes that are valid in society: the social exclusion of refugees; the demise of sites of manufacture; contingency plans for Brexit; the validity of education to student aspiration; the reinvigoration of craft; the reconsideration and deeper understanding of landscape; the need for density in housing; and the regeneration of places and buildings for a sustainable future. 

The BSc work is of a very high standard with strong conceptually led schemes, the most successful students fully embracing the theme of their studio. 

The BSc work is of a very high standard

Constructing Ambiguity, looking at a site on Ireland’s north-south border, imagines what ambiguous context with ambiguous architecture stitching the two sides together might enable. 

Bethan Hicks – Constructing Ambiguity

Bethan Hicks – Constructing Ambiguity

Bethan Hicks – Constructing Ambiguity

Inclusion explores the Old Town in Southampton addressing a dwindling identity and the effect of societal change on the area. 

Inclusion: Nadya Angelova

Inclusion: Nadya Angelova

Inclusion: Nadya Angelova

Unit 5 considers the refugee crisis and the dining table as a point of interchange of ideas and a sharing of woes and joys. 

The MArch work is well-resolved, researched and has deep intellectual backing. The competency achieved by a year in practice is evident in the work and this gives the projects a somewhat refreshing realism.

Stand-out studios include Craft Making Meaning, which explores the benefits of making by hand versus digital production. The students have each created a place for craft and they started the process by exploring these very crafts.

Materials and Place engages with the steel manufacturing industry of Leominster market town. Students began by exploring a fragment of the town in detail. This fragment then led into a project as conceptual inspiration.

Materials and Place: Ross Hartland – axonometric

Materials and Place: Ross Hartland – axonometric

Materials and Place: Ross Hartland – axonometric

Ca:Uk:In is unique, formed by a group of people who have been working on humanitarian builds and want their education to support their work. The outcome of their studio, set on a site in Fiji, will be to assimilate their projects into one that they will actually build. 

Ca.uk.in: Samantha Litherland making bricks

Ca.uk.in: Samantha Litherland making bricks

Ca.uk.in: Samantha Litherland making bricks

Emuve Sicily looks at integration of refugees into society and at dissolution of the fear of otherness. The studio wishes to connect the locals and the refugees and to reintroduce an age-old tradition of hosting newcomers. It uncovers the intangible historical layers to allow a better understanding of place. 

Emuve Sicily: Aleksandra Urbanska

Emuve Sicily: Aleksandra Urbanska

Emuve Sicily: Aleksandra Urbanska

Shadowmaking and Cultures is a fascinating studio, exploring the notion of shadow, both physical and metaphysical, concerning itself almost exclusively with atmospheric space. Each student produced a touchstone (fragment) which inspired their design thinking. The projects that resulted are evocative and the architectural moves almost monastic in nature; a refreshing heavily conceptual and tactile architecture is explored in this studio. 

Shadowmaking and Cultures: Smaranda Ciubotaru – Wonder of Shadows

Shadowmaking and Cultures: Smaranda Ciubotaru – Wonder of Shadows

Shadowmaking and Cultures: Smaranda Ciubotaru – Wonder of Shadows

Purcell has a strong interest in what is happening at WSA, as many of our employees have come from the school. We are pleased that the school continues to produce students who are competent, conceptual and curious about the mechanics of practice.

I left this show feeling very upbeat about the future architects gaining their education at WSA. The standard of work shining through in this new curated exhibition format shows a good command of architecture on all levels. 

Úna Breathnach-Hifearnáin is an architect at Purcell

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