Will Hurst takes a look at the Lincoln School of Architecture’s end-of-year show
Ranked 41 out of 47 in The Guardian’s 2016 league table of architecture schools
Is ‘post-apocalyptic’ the default subject for architectural summer shows? Visiting the Lincoln School of Architecture, I have to confess my heart sank when I heard this was one of the major themes of students’ work. Dystopian visions of the future seem such a staple of architectural education and indeed of popular culture. Couldn’t they have thought of something a bit more original?
During my visit, there were only a few people milling about the school, which is housed in a 2003 white rendered Rick Mather building on the university campus, but the atmosphere was more end of term than end of the world.
The atmosphere darkened considerably, however, as I was shown around the departing Masters students’ work, and viewed projects such as Liam Mottishaw’s chilling ‘Survival Arc’. The structure, built into the icy slopes of a mountain in Selfoss in southern Iceland, resembles an Ernö Goldfinger tower lost in a snowdrift. It is a shelter for humanity crossed with an archive crossed with a research centre intended ‘to aid investigations into cryonic freezing’.
While Mottishaw’s work is post-apocalyptic, it’s clear he has thought deeply about his scheme. Weighing up the relative risks to humanity, he has identified nuclear war as being the biggie over the next century ‘with the resulting conditions being a nuclear winter which would span decades, rendering the world dark and unbearably cold.’
Iceland, hundreds of miles from anywhere else and boasting an abundance of geothermal energy, is clearly the place for the remnants of our species to keep warm, recover and attempt to reboot civilisation. Not exactly a cheery project then, but one that stood out for its level of research and (potential) practicality. Perhaps my initial misgivings were unfair.
Sticking with the nuclear theme, Lee Riches’ work looks at the abandoned Ukrainian town of Pripyat, which was evacuated in 1986 following the nearby Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The project examines ideas connected to the borders and controls that govern such environments and the sense of a place frozen in time.
Irene Cheng explored ‘post-human’ environments. Her project featured great drawings of a sinuous and apparently semi-organic form located in Helsinki harbour and reminiscent of the sets of the Alien film franchise.
Moving into dark territories of a different type, Nicholas Sharpe’s project ‘The Sin of Soho’ explores the theme of the area’s sex industry subculture. This reached its ultimate commercial expression through the £600 million empire of the late ‘King of Soho’ Paul Raymond. Sharpe is interested in how event and architecture interact, and his black and yellow drawings, inspired by the now-defunct Raymond Revuebar – as well as the movement patterns of the trenchcoated character Marv from the comic book and film Sin City – are some of the most striking images in Lincoln’s show. That said, I found it near impossible to follow Sharpe’s explanatory text which, like so much academic literature, was too crammed with theoretical jargon.
The favelas of Rio De Janeiro, and the Brazilian authorities’ attempt to ‘pacify’ them before the 2014 World Cup, is the subject of Divesh Haurheeram’s final thesis project ‘Control and Territory’. Featuring swirling three-dimensional drawings and models, the work investigates and celebrates the cultural and social qualities of these shanty towns, examining what divides them from the rest of Rio, what makes these ‘informal’ places successful, and whether they could ever be integrated back into the ‘formal’ city.
By this point I was in need of light relief and found it (sort of) in ‘Hedonistic Pleasurescapes; Blackpool, the People’s Playground’ by Daniel Orford. His project seeks to reconnect the seaside town to its once adoring public through renewed fun and frivolity. This involves architectural features such as a seawater lido and a new pier and tower boasting a dance club at its pinnacle. His colourful drawings evoke the playful and jaunty forms of FAT or Will Alsop but the project is slightly let down by yet more gobbledegook attempting to explain why this archetypal seaside town requires reinvention.
‘These liminal spaces once at the heart of the Victorian pleasurescape have become increasingly dissected and sanitised by the Orwellian modern culture.’ Oh, OK then.
Despite such grumbles, I was inspired by much of what I saw and heard at Lincoln – there is most certainly talent and worthwhile experimentation here. My host, the school’s MArch programme leader Trevor Elvin recommended I pay a visit to the city’s magnificent Cathedral before I left, and I did.
As I gazed at the cathedral, described by John Ruskin as the finest piece of architecture in the British Isles, I was struck by the thought that architectural students tend to be fixated on the future. Without wishing to sound like Prince Charles, should they not look a little more to the past?