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Mackintosh students present warm descriptions of studio life

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Reiach and Hall’s Rowan Mackinnon-Pryde takes a look around the Mackintosh School of Architecture’s end-of-year show

Entering the foyer of the Bourdon Building at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, I read head of school, Christopher Platt’s introduction to the show: ‘We place the activity of design and culture and place of the studio at the heart of all that we think and make. We see the studio as the place where our research and teaching are synthesised in creative endeavour.’ These words set the tone for the exhibition.

We often romanticise thoughts of ‘studio’ (stemming from studium ‘study’ or ‘pursuit’) over the reality of ‘office’ (from officium ‘duty’ or ‘service’). I wonder to what extent our choice of noun affects the manner in which we work and the way in which we think about what we make and why we make it?

Year one and two work is shown at entrance level where walls are plastered with drawings and models. It is evident from the work on display that hand drawing and modelling are strongly encouraged across the first two years. I’m taken back to my own college days where ‘creative clutter’ accumulated over the course of the year and the studio became home, often by choice, and sometimes through what, at least, felt like necessity.

Year-one students present warm descriptions of studio life in their A 4,851 Hour Introduction to Architecture – scribbling pens, scalpel blades scratching on tracing paper, cries of despair as another ink blot splatters across the page. An installation of crumpled detail paper and take-away coffee cups is accompanied by an audio recording of studio goings-on. I imagine the equivalent collage of office life: calls of ‘can you sync the Revit model?’, raised voices in frustration at some conflict with a contractor, gripes about procurement models, and another CPD on damp-proof membranes…

Proceeding to the exhibition of years three and four, the creative mess and frenzied making of studio life are again apparent, and the importance of this is reinforced in the year-four guide: ‘The studio is at the heart of architectural activity. It is the forum for teaching, discussion and debate.’

Mackintosh School of Architecture

Mackintosh School of Architecture

Jerome Wren’s Athenaeum for Glasgow

The principal year-four project on show is an athenaeum for Glasgow. This is a clever programme, sufficiently loose to allow individual interpretation. There is a spatial problem to solve, but what is called for is an intellectual investigation into how architecture can provide space for culture to occur.

Projects that draw the eye are those that use the architectural problem as a vehicle for spatial and theoretical exploration

A number of competent schemes are on display. Drawings display sensitivity and demonstrate a development of the ‘handmade’ processes encouraged in earlier years. Projects that draw the eye are those that use the architectural problem as a vehicle for spatial and theoretical exploration. Jerome Wren’s Athenaeum of Philosophy displays a thoughtful process of observation, analysis and interpretation in relation to architectural space and its representation. Atmospheric drawings describe inhabited walls, and satisfying black poché depicts robust solidity. The scheme achieves a convincing balance between urban formality and the intimate scale of human interaction.

Year five is professionally presented. A reassuring scattering of congratulatory notes on business cards have been left by potential employers – ‘great work, get in touch’. But, perhaps in preparation for the shift from studium to officium, has the atmosphere of the studio been ‘curated out’ of this section?

There is a significant concentration on process-led and systems-based projects whereby design propositions tackle large infrastructure or manufacturing processes. Many of these schemes produce stunningly seductive drawings and intricate models but operate at a level with which it is difficult to engage on a human scale. Consequently the depth of investigation into what one might call ‘architectural space’ is at times unclear.

Mackintosh School of Architecture

Mackintosh School of Architecture

Kirsty Anna Shankland

Kirsty Anna Shankland reimagines the production of paper in the digital world. The project proposes the sequential development of a landscape for paper production, whereby excess paper is transformed into a building material to generate an architecture that is rooted in its site.

Mackintosh School of Architecture

Mackintosh School of Architecture

Ian Gaffney’s A Void for Berlin

A more tactile approach is demonstrated in Ian Gaffney’s A Void for Berlin, which is rich in spatial exploration. The project proposes a morgue in Berlin where a spherical void is a vessel for memory and is, in some way, a reminder of the permanence of loss. Architecture is space, rather than object – or as Kengo Kuma calls it: anti-object. This idea could have been further reinforced had the proposal denied the building an external form. An array of intricate drawings conveys the essence of the idea through to the technical detail and even construction phasing. The accumulation of plaster-cast models alludes to a compulsive maker and gives me that sense again of a studio environment where thinking occurs through making.

Leaving the show, I ponder on the thought that these architects-in-the-making will now tread the path from this ‘studio of ideas’ into ‘offices of real world things’. Perhaps the distinction between these two realms could become a little less defined and some space for studio should be made in the office.

Rowan Mackinnon-Pryde, architect, Reiach and Hall Architects, part-time studio tutor, Robert Gordon University

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