BDP director Neil Sansum takes a look around Oxford Brookes University’s end-of-year show
BDP is an occasional sponsor of Oxford Brookes University’s architecture department. We have also taken students at Part 1 level and this year we sponsored the student OSA Magazine (worth a review in itself). I received an invitation to the degree and diploma show in the impressive space created by Design Engine, which the School of Architecture now occupies. Motives were purely selfish – we are looking to recruit both graduates and postgraduate students into BDP’s Bristol office and, although we get to see the schools at the University of Bath and the University of the West of England on a regular basis, it’s good to go a little further afield.
Divided around the central atrium, the exhibition was vigorous with centrally displayed models and other fantastic creations, although the size of the eventual crowd on the opening night made these displays something of a hazard. The undergraduate offering was creatively laid out, albeit with precious little space per student. Being overwhelmed by the intensity of imagery and sketch models would have been easy had I not taken several passes around the exhibition.
The joy of the craft of architecture was clearly on show with some deliciously formed hand drawings and crafty sketch models in abundance
During two hours I spent a disproportionate amount of time looking at the undergraduate work, but only because the numbers of students together with proud (and occasionally bemused) parents and friends made it difficult to move around quickly; one was forced to dwell. Many students had business cards on display, some of which I took; the design of these, too, was of a very high standard – it’s interesting to see which image is chosen to represent not just a body of work but also the person behind it. One undergraduate has already been to my office to interview for a Part 1 position on the back of her displayed work.
To paraphrase Lloyd Cole, the biggest shock was the cost of a Peroni but, apart from that, the experience was thoroughly enjoyable. I was reminded of the joy of the craft of architecture throughout the exhibition, and this was clearly on show with some deliciously formed hand drawings and crafty sketch models in abundance. There is a clear emphasis on hand drawing and model-making in the first two years, which could also be seen as a trend through degree and diploma work, to which, unfortunately, I did not pay enough attention.
Oxford Brookes University
What was interesting for me, an architect who ‘grew up’ with the non-unit based system of education, was the combining of second and third year students within the same unit. Mostly, it was difficult to tell which work was from either year group, which is testament to the quality of teaching and the degree of progress students now need to make during their first year. The fact that these young people work very hard was clearly in evidence across degree and diploma.
There were speeches by head of school Matt Gaskin and numerous prizes awarded. I took notes but couldn’t always find the work, which was a shame – perhaps a special awards zone would have been an idea? Prizes were sponsored by Scott Brownrigg and Make among others, so the school clearly has good connections, and it was obvious I was not the only scout from the profession looking out for new talent.
There was so much on display that was of a high standard and inventiveness. My eye was caught by some lovely Stirlingesque axonometric drawings and I was engaged in sparkling conversation by associate lecturer Charlotte Grace (Diploma Studio 3), who was clearly very proud of what her students had produced. Grace was herself at Oxford Brookes only a few years ago – it’s encouraging to see home-grown talent (and enthusiasm) being employed by the school.
Oxford Brookes University
Who stood out? Molly Hiatt produced some beautifully evocative images of her Cantagalo Learning Lab as part of her diploma display, and Alexander Cooper’s work was also impressive. From within the undergraduate exhibition, Emily Dudman’s work for a theatre space in Valencia resulted in well-executed drawings, demonstrating a simple sensitivity, which I appreciate. Will Conway-Smith’s work stood out by virtue of its vivid Dante-like vision of an urban forge (again in Valencia) and Alex Fordham produced a modestly appropriate solution for his Valencian Culinary School. It’s always interesting to see varied approaches to the same site and Unit E (undergraduate) produced variation in spades.
I came away with an impression of a school on the rise and confident in the body of work being produced. The students I met were self-assured and spoke with passion about their work; it was a pleasure to see.
Neil Sansum, architect director, BDP