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Student Shows 2015: Arts University Bournemouth

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James McLachlan takes a look at the Arts University Bournemouth’s end-of-year show

Ranked 42 out of 47 in The Guardian’s 2016 league table of architecture schools

A black rectilinear block is the first thing visitors arriving at the Arts University Bournemouth campus see. Designed by Winchester-based higher education specialists Design Engine, its bold form draws attention away from the cluster of pitched roofed buildings that form the bulk of the campus.

The pseudo-vernacular style of these tight-knit buildings sits well with the surrounding redbrick housing estates and slithers of green space, creating intimate streets, but it cannot camouflage their limitations. Design Engine’s aforementioned new photography and IT block is the first stage of a masterplan that could see the campus extended significantly.

AUB has just 3,000 students, from a variety of creative disciplines. That said, many of its courses – filmmaking and graphic design in particular – punch above their weight. So too, until recently, did its architecture programme, which, despite only being five years’ old life, was rated in the The Guardian’s top 20 courses for architecture. However, the most recent figures reveal AUB has slipped to 42nd place.

The numbers don’t paint a rounded picture. AUB offers Part 1 and, as of this year, Part 2 courses as well. Both are RIBA-accredited, with most of the 132 students taking Part 1. Ed Frith of practice Moving Architecture heads up the Masters course and over the past year Studio Weave, Reiach and Hall, We Made That and others have delivered guest lectures. It is also worth noting AUB has a 92 per cent course satisfaction rate among students, according to The Guardian.

The location means AUB competes for students with main rivals Brighton, Southampton, Portsmouth and, to a lesser extent, UWE in Bristol. There is a significant intake from overseas – about a quarter of its students. AUB’s strength is in its diversity, with filmmaking, art, design, fashion, graphic design, photography and model-making students working in close proximity and encouraged to collaborate.

The imminent completion of a new drawing studio is much anticipated. It will be the first building in the UK designed by CRAB, of which Peter Cook, an honorary fellow of the university, is a founding partner. Archigram founder Cook studied at Bournemouth in the 1950s and his return has faculty dean Oren Lieberman brimming with excitement. The design, a low-slung, pebble-shaped building with roof accents curving towards the sunlight, is symbolic of the school’s focus on analogue skills.

‘Some very deep stuff happens at the body level when you design with a 6B pencil as opposed to when you design with a mouse,’ says Lieberman. Lieberman places great value on the power physical objects have in helping gain an understanding of the world.

Accordingly, there is a strong ‘maker’ culture at AUB. First-year students, for example, will begin the year constructing models before expanding their ideas with pen and paper. The four full-time members of staff, headed up by Simon Beeson, have also proved successful in fostering a collegiate culture on campus, taking advantage of its creative, village-like feel. Architecture students pair up with other disciplines to develop or execute concepts or simply to broaden their creative thinking.

These principles manifest themselves in the disparate collection of materials and approaches in the final-year show. The students responded to a theoretical site – a wasteland overlooking Poole harbour where a grain silo once stood – with welding, 3D printing, textiles, joinery, photography, you name it. Evidencing the complementary relationship with the model-making course, almost all the displayed work is accompanied by a scaled model of some type. Many students have adopted the hands-on approach wholeheartedly, engaging with industry, for example, in designing a new HQ for luxury yacht builder Sunseeker International and working with local craftsmen. Beeson says AUB has good relations with local employers such as Brightspace Architects, Design Engine, Terence O’Rourke, RB Studio, and Western Design.

Other work tackles social ills: obesity and provenance of food, sustainability and gentrification. Standout MArch student Abdul Hasnath, who teamed up with a model-making student, designed a women’s refuge sealed off from its Dhaka context by a tiered pool of water. At times the work veers into the realms of fine art. Beeson is quick to point out that the crossover between courses is a two-way street: ‘We have lost a few, but gained a few.’ More concerning is the lack of focus on computer-aided design skills, especially at a time when commercial practices are bemoaning students’ inexperience in CAD and BIM. Lieberman believes, though, that one shouldn’t get too hung up on individual software packages: ‘There is a real need for students to understand what it means to use this piece of software and what it does to the making process. This idea that it is just a tool is problematic. The tool is part of an apparatus which develops architecture.’

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