Samuel Penn takes a look at University of Dundee’s end-of-year show
Architect James (Jimmy) Paul, who late founded James Paul Associates, won the competition to build the Matthew Building in 1969. It’s an unashamed concrete building. Light-wells sink down into the section and provide relief and variety in an otherwise strictly functional plan. On level six there is a room longer than a football pitch - sixteen meters wide with north facing roof-lights; the studios. There are no scenic views of the river Tay, no windows at all in fact. He was an ‘Architect’. We were taught in this school. We knew we were part of something serious. So it’s odd to see this space filled with somewhat ‘fey’ models and drawings. Don’t get me wrong, the work this year is well executed and there are real moments of insight and inspiration. Overall Dundee attracts talented students.
But the school used to be gutsy and tough. It stood out. Now go to Dundee, the Mac, Strathclyde, and a number of London schools and you’ll see the same product: polite, conservative, repentant and often over indulgent.
There are four units in the Masters programme exploring themes set by staff. Dundee is unique in that it tries to comply with the ARB/RIBA criteria in year four leaving final year for deeper exploration. But what are they exploring? One of the units is looking at the Dundee waterfront again. Unfortunately it isn’t a challenging critique of the development, but a pragmatic neo-rationalist vision of the city. Another unit set in Porto is more imaginative, mostly deriving its inspiration from 1970’s avant-garde city projects. And the Material and Form unit has some beautiful models. What struck me this time round is the similarity of the work - the homogeneity. It’s a worrying tendency. There used to be the odd renegade - students that bucked the system. But they must be elsewhere now.
Samuel Penn, co-founder of the AE Foundation