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Student Shows 2015: Central Saint Martins

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Brad Yendle reviews CSM’s end-of-year show

Ranked 44 out of 47 in The Guardian’s 2016 league table of architecture schools

Each time I visit the now settled campus for the new Central Saint Martins (CSM), I find the size of the purpose-built space overwhelming. Lewis Cubbitt’s Granary – with its Stanton Williams retrofit – is huge. So when MArch course leader Melanie Dodd says there’s not enough student workshop space or lockers, it makes me grin – it feels so typically Saint Martins to me. Wherever it is located, be it Covent Garden or Argent’s King’s Cross development, there’s never enough space. But somehow the students make it work, and just get on with it, like the many thousands of us who have done so since 1854.

And judging by the number of prospective CSM students who were asking Dodd questions on the college walkthrough I attended, there never will be a comfortable or easy solution to this perennial problem. Dodd’s students, however, don’t have the luxury of this insider’s view because architecture at Saint Martins is relatively new. The BA, which sees around 80 students graduate each year, is just five years old. But with the MArch course, accredited in May, CSM can now offer five years of architectural education – Parts 1 and 2 – for the first time.

Dodd, a Cambridge graduate and practitioner with architect muf, has a diverse teaching background: six years as head of architecture at the RMIT in Melbourne until 2013, as well as diploma head at London Met in the early noughties. The first cohort of her Part 2-accredited students  – six in total – graduate this year. Their final projects betray Dodd’s influence; what she calls ‘an interest in cities and things’.

The issues tackled are diverse: women on the Edgware Road, the lack of life in masterplanning, the maintenance of estates, the live/work unit, woodland cemeteries and meanwhile use.

Standing out for me were ‘Industrious Neighbourhoods’ by Carlotta Novella and ‘Artefacts in the Landscape’ by Mary Katherine Spence. The former’s extensive research into where one can work concludes with a cute Joe Colombo-type plywood unit complete with serving flap, four wheels and tow bar. Spence’s study had cast-concrete test burial stones and a beautifully designed priest’s chasuble with a map of London’s cemeteries digitally printed on it. There’s an emphasis here on making, and the 1:1 scale.  

As for the details of the MArch course? It’s part time, two days per week. There’s an industry placement for one term – embedded in the first year of study – allowing students to experience diverse forms of practice, and find mentors in the process too. It culminates in a year-long independent final design project, which must be real or made ‘live’ in some way, and which can be supported by students’ practice mentors. These mentors could be Liza Fior (muf architecture), Takeshi Hayatsu (6a Architects), Maria Lisogorskaya, Mat Leung, or Fran Edgerley (of this year’s Turner Prize nominated Assemble). Other potential mentors include Dominic Cullinan (Studio Cullinan and Buck), Andreas Lang (Public Works) and Finn Williams (GLA).

With a team like this working alongside her, Dodd seems unfazed by CSM’s lowly Guardian rating – the fourth lowest in the UK. ‘We can’t compete with the big London architecture schools’ she say. ‘And why should we?’ There are more important things to worry about anyway. Like space, and the neverending need for more if it.

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