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Student Shows 2015: University of East London

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Russell Curtis reviews UEL’s end-of-year show

To my shame this visit was my first to Cyprus DLR station and the cluster of jaunty-hatted silos that lie at the eastern end of Ronan Point’s burial ground. Given its location on the fringes of the city, nestled within the post-industrial landscape of the Thames, it is perhaps intriguing that UEL’s school of architecture is so utterly engaged with unpicking what it is to live in a modern metropolis. A comprehensive investigation into a wide range of conditions, both urban and rural, reveals a depth of thought and understanding that will no doubt provide a good grounding for these students as they move into practice.

As with most end-of-year shows there is a prodigious – and occasionally overwhelming – volume of work on display. It is encouraging to see a large number of hand drawings scattered throughout, providing a welcome counterpoint to the slick but soulless CGIs that have become a staple of many other shows. This approach hints at a heightened understanding of the urban condition, and it is encouraging to witness the parallels with many of the issues those of us in practice tackle on a daily basis.

While this lacked the whizz-bang slickness of other London shows I’ve visited, there is a sensitivity apparent in much of the work that belies the youth of those responsible. Although it’s unfair to single out particular modules for praise, notable installations include a wall of exquisite etchings from Unit 11, which present a serene and enigmatic backdrop to the other work on show – although if I had a criticism it was that a little explanation would have helped the casual visitor unveil their meaning.

Upstairs on the mezzanine, undergraduates in Unit C present a range of beautifully made cast tiles, the product of a close relationship with local glassmaker Nazeing Glass Works, which explores the potential of this material at 1:1 scale.

Elsewhere, Unit 4’s robust analysis of play space within the housing estates of Hackney and Marseilles contemplates the relationship between public realm and incidental inhabitation – a key consideration absent from much modern housing, and one worthy of continuing investigation.

It’s said that UEL’s school of architecture has the highest proportion of students from the local area of any university in the UK. The willingness to tackle familiar, contemporary and contextual issues is perhaps a product of this unusual demographic profile. But far from revelling in the mundane, there clearly exists within the school a profound appreciation of beauty – but in this case, beauty revealed through opportunities in the everyday.

Russell Curtis, director, RCKa

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