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Student Shows 2015: University of Cambridge

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Nicholas Jewell takes a look at the University of Cambridge’s end-of-year show

Filling the cavernous Truman Brewery is an architectural conundrum in itself.  The understated aplomb with which the University of Cambridge occupies this space underlines the strength and depth of the school’s contextual underpinnings.

On entry, Alex Schweder’s installation ‘Push Me Pull You’ conveys the anxiety-inducing blur between studio and bedroom that overtakes the final months of architectural study. Its presence establishes a visceral connection to the endeavour behind the third-year degree projects occupying centre stage. Unit 1’s Limehouse Cut is home to a collaborative masterplan created by 14 students. Kate Altmann’s Empson Library and Emmy Bacharach’s Bow Canal Centre combine a pleasing tectonic purism with urban sensitivity, while Humza Hamid Naliyawala’s vertical sports centre is a stimulating typological experiment. Conversely, Unit 2 occupies Mount Pleasant’s contested Royal Mail site with individually authored housing masterplans. If the fine line between heroism and megalomania is more evident here, its counterpoint is a particularly thoughtful investigation into the forgotten corners and edges that these sites can generate.

Mixed modes of representation inform the design process throughout, emphasising craft and careful analysis to find the right vehicle for conveying each project. Beautiful physical models find their most enjoyable outlet in an interactive second-year project, which recycles plastic water bottles as percussive instruments within a large-scale light and sound installation.

What comes through at all levels is a desire to understand the relationship between architecture and a wider whole. This is particularly evident in an exhibition of work in progress from the MPhil programme in Architecture and Urban Design, which experiments with design research at a global level to inform new understandings of what the Part 2 architectural course might be. The fact that this work in progress left me hungry for more is a fitting testament to the potential this programme now offers.

Memorable Unit: MPhil in Architecture and Urban Design

Memorable student: Kate Altmann

In a word: context

Nicholas Jewell is associate director, Ben Adams Architects


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