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Student Shows 2015: University of Bath

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Nicola du Pisanie takes a look at University of Bath’s end-of-year show

In both The Times’ Good University Guide and the Complete University Guide, the University of Bath is ranked as the top Architecture School in the UK, so I entered the end of year show with high expectations.

I was not let down at any point during the opening evening. It was, as usual, well attended by students, their tutors, families, the wider architectural faculty at both Bath and other universities and also prospective employers on the prowl for the hottest and most talented students!

There was a general excited vibe around the iconic architecture department designed so beautifully by the Smithsons way back when. The work displayed stretched across the two years of the MArch and the final year of the Undergraduate degree [at Bath this is the 4th Year due to the sandwich course which expects students to mix the academic training with time working in architectural practices].

The evening culminated in some rather lovely, human and amusing speeches from various tutors / heads of year and some well-deserved ‘prizes’ for various aspects of both 4th and 6th year work. The sea of students were buzzing and you could really tell that their time at the University of Bath had been a special one. I had a 6th yr student tell me he had mixed emotions about the exhibition - proud but there was also a tinge of sadness as this amazing experience had come to an end.

Both 4th and 6th year students had set their own brief - with a wide variety of programmes from brandy distilleries to equestrian centres, from a hot air balloon factory to a chocolate museum. The University of Bath do not run units like many courses - but its more about the individual and how their develop their interests and passions. What endlessly impresses is the amount of research that is undertaken around the brief they have created - not just the superficial research needed to create a space diagram, but more detail about the origins, the development through history, the technical aspects, and chemical breakdown, the social context etc…we could go on forever - the students really do become mini-specialists in their chosen field. But its not only research and fact - it is poetry and emotional response and beauty layered on top of this.

The 4th year structure is divided into two major projects - the first being a group project with other architects and both structural and environmental engineers. The brief is a bit more structured, but with each group’s interpretation being the key to variety. This design brief is known as the ‘Basil Spence Competition’ which is a long-held tradition at the University (I remember doing this when I was a student in the90’s, being tutored by Max Fordham). It’s a real example of how multi-disciplinary teams can produce some exemplary work. The 4th years then develop an individual brief for the next project. This year’s brief was “Betwixt and Between’ set in Weston Super Mare where the students were encouraged to tackle both the physical site in its wider locale, but also the social context in which its embedded. This social side really stands out from other courses - and it makes the projects really sing!

The 6th years start the project as a group - they work together out on location in their chosen city and back in the studios to get under the skin of the place - understanding what makes it tick and what the issues are. The group then develop a clear urban design for the city which identifies certain sites for development. The general theme is set around sustainable cities and the students are challenged to understand what that means in their chosen city and then in particular their chosen site. The next stage of the project is the individual tackling of each of these sites.

This combination gives the students valuable experience of how to work effectively and positively as a team, whilst covering much ground to produce some really good quality documents with the most stunning site models that any architectural practice would be proud to have on the wall of their meeting room!

The intellectual rigour and background research required for 6th year was both impressive but also perhaps held the students back a little with their final presentation of the design. Don’t get me wrong - it was all very competent and of a good standard, but it felt like it lacked that freedom perhaps that the 4th year students seemed to capture.

Overall the presentation methods were a lovely mix of sketches, renders, 2D drawings and some physical modelling [more physical models than in recent years which was very encouraging] The general feel of the renders had a lot more grit and personality than the photo-realistic images that we often see in the architectural press - some more like a piece of art than an architectural elevation. I was tempted to buy some drawings for my living room.

Once the Bath exhibition had ended the now-rejuvenated but still committed student base took their work to London towards the end of June to hold an exhibition at the Candid Arts Trust in Angel. This is a wise move for the students themselves, as the combination of both the excellent standard of work and the fact that the students have combined their academic life with time out in practice makes Bath students highly desirable in the workplace and highly employable. The high levels of attendance in London showed how popular the work of the University of Bath is.

Overall the standard of the concept, design, research and presentation was exceptionally high which well-reflected the high rating that the University of Bath Architecture Department richly deserves.

I wish all the students all the best as they take what they have learnt into practice now - go and make a difference.

Nicola du Pisanie is a Partner at Stonewood Design

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