Carl Turner reviews the AA’s end-of-year show
Walking through the front door at 36 Bedford Square is like entering a schizophrenic giant architectural brain in the process of computing and analysing the problems of the world and simultaneously testing solutions.
It helps to grab a copy of the free exhibition guide as you enter to navigate your way around a fairly incomprehensible, jumbled layout.
It was heartening to see an extremely diverse spread of themes and working methodologies played out through both the intermediate and diploma courses. These range from issues of food production and effects of climate change, through to the challenges of sink estates such as Thamesmead (Diploma 1). I was drawn to Helene Solvay’s ‘The Quest For Jersualem’s Chamber: An Unofficial Appendix of Delight to the London Housing Guide (it really needs one). Diploma 11, meanwhile, has produced beautiful exploratory models and a huge compendium book on the theme of City as Playground, a re-reading of the hinterland between Farringdon and King’s Cross.
Diploma 10 explores alternative and provocative anti-masterplan strategies for Nine Elms, nicely presented as a body of work. A compelling video by Diploma 18 captivated me along with a crunchy floor texture (reminding me of home as a perpetual building site) although I was still bemused by the unit even after reading the explanatory text entitled ‘Atmospheric Architecture of Particles’.
For me, the standout unit was Diploma 14, demonstrating superbly how to edit and present a body of work for a show in a compelling, breathtaking set of square-format images and large-format unit books (opposite the bar if you go looking for it). The ‘Domestic Project’ looks at the room, the street and the block.
Intermediate 9 (Super Tasters) presented joyful, optimistic work (or so I thought – but darker on closer inspection) around food. Intermediate 10 and 7 were both strong, the former bringing ideas garnered on a study tour of Tokyo back to London (Addendums) the latter looking at Sites of Exchange in Berlin, including excellent individual books and some standout drawings such as Dream-City of Morphologies by Alessandro Magliani.
Overall this is a collection of inspiring and thoughtful explorations with a strong emergent theme of evolving cities. Architecture schools though (like architects generally) need to figure out who their audience is, and how to communicate with them. If it’s other architects, fine; but if it’s the rest of the world then maybe ask Unit 14 to curate the next show. Oh, and £25 for the book of the show is, dare I say it ‘elitist’.
Carl Turner, founder, Carl Turner Architects