Lianne Russ reviews the Welsh School of Architecture’s end of year show
Nestled on a Shoreditch side-street, I was pleased to come across something very familiar in the form of this year’s Welsh School of Architecture Master’s degree show. As a former student of the WSA, it was immediately apparent that the well-established ethos of the school based on teaching a pragmatic and considered approach to architecture is still very much ingrained within the work of this year’s graduates.
For the previous four years, the WSA has presented only a bite-sized London show intended to give a flavour of the students’work. This year, however, for the first time the school exhibited the complete degree show at the Londonewcastle Project Space off Brick Lane, allowing the work produced from this consistently high ranking yet modest school to reach a broader audience.
Upon entering the show, which was carefully curated around seven diverse thesis units, I was immediately presented with 1:1 timber prototypes of jointing systems and rows of mixed-media development models demonstrating a desire to understand materials, craft and construction. This was the work of the established Tectonics unit, which formed a striking and appropriate introduction to the show as a discourse that traditionally epitomises the WSA. The work of Gemma Wheeler and Rico Cacciatore emerged as most successfully capturing the theme of material language resulting in some attention-grabbing visuals.
Other engaging units evolving from established WSA themes (both run by deputy head and cornerstone of the WSA, Wayne Forster) included ‘On the Level’, in which students responded critically to the real proposition of an M4 relief road cutting across local historic landscapes; and Northern Light, in which students explored concepts related to environment and place. In this studio, the work of Lydia Forster and George Soare stood out, both displaying an array of subtly executed, evocative and atmospheric pencil studies, which was refreshing to see within the context of some other degree shows, where the computer is king and images are often undecipherable.
Sitting alongside the established units, a new and relatively contrasting unit has emerged simply entitled Politics. Dealing with political and philosophical questions surrounding unemployment, urban density and social wellbeing, the final projects from this unit occupied a completely different scale and resulted in strategic answers as opposed to tangible building forms.
My overall impression was that of a school which promotes an architectural education that is grounded but not creatively stifled; one that allows students to explore, speculate and aspire whilst keeping one foot firmly in the camp of realism.
Lianne Russ, co-founder of design collaborative russ + henshaw