Founder, Alternative Routes for Architecture (ARFA), Deputy Editor, The Architectural Review
‘To be premature is to be perfect’ said Oscar Wilde – and I’m taking this as my license for publishing July’s diary in late-June. The quote is from his ‘Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young’, which seems apt enough, as I’m filing early so I can plug a few of the student shows:
1. The Bartlett Show always stuns instantly with the sheer quality of its visual prowess; and – on closer reading – many of the projects are deeply thoughtful and provocative. In the diploma school, Niall McLaughlin and Yeoryia Manolopoulou’s Unit 17 and Mark and Laura Allen’s Unit 11 have had great years, bagging a lion’s share of distinctions. There are many projects to catch your eye, but two I particularly enjoyed were Unit 17’s Ben Hayes, who made a lyrical proposal for Kizhi Island in Northern Russia which he re-imagines as the site for the restoration and reassembly of over 200 unloved wooden churches; and Unit 11’s Farah Badaruddin, whose sci-fi-inspired hand-drawings are of such quality they take your breath away. The first year work is always good value, with its pedagogical imperative to make all architectural proposals by hand; it is amazing the level of production that Frosso Pimenides, Patrick Weber and their tutors get out of such young recruits. (The show runs from Friday 21 June till Saturday 29 June at the Slade Galleries. You enter through the main UCL quadrangle off Gower Street).
2. For architecture at the RCA this is the first full year under the leadership of the new Dean, Alex de Rijke (of dRMM), and Head of Programme, Charles Walker. Despite major changes to the first year, the second year retains its well-established thesis model. However three out of the six design units are completely new, and two others have changed half their staff: so the show should give our first proper glimpse into the direction the school is charting. Two projects to look out for are by students Anthony Engi-Meacock, who presents a politically-charged university-cum-factory in the Isle of Dogs where education is paid for by free labour, and James Crawford, whose multi-coloured PoMo stylings are a bravura performance. (NB. The architecture show has moved to the Battersea campus, so don’t go the the South Kensington galleries by mistake. The exhibition runs from Thursday 20 June and closes Sunday 30.)
3. Last year saw major changes at London Met as the art and architecture faculties merged with the long-time leader of architecture, Robert Mull, being put in charge of both. The new school is moving incrementally into a building in Whitechapel, which is being remodelled by Florian Beigel and Philip Christou with Architecture PLB. However don’t expect to see art and architecture side by side at the exhibition quite yet, as architecture will for a final year be at Spring House, its old home on Holloway Road. There has been quite a bit of change in the diploma school – it is the AOC’s first year teaching at that level (they’ve moved up from undergrad); David Kohn and Deborah Saunt have rejoined after a year’s sabbatical; and – after a much longer break – Peter St John has made a triumphant return with a strong set of student projects looking at the densification plans for Hampstead Garden Suburb. (The show opens on Wednesday 26 June and runs till 5 July.)
And in other events:
The Royal Academy has two shows of architectural interest. This year the Summer Exhibition’s architecture room has thinned out its ‘academy hang’ – a decision to show the work more elegantly, I guess, rather than a reflection of a wider slump in architectural output. As always, it is a pretty mixed bag, with the creative finesse of young talents sitting alongside models of some fairly alarming commercial proposals. The curator, Eva Jiřičná, has sought to create a link being architecture and sculpture, placing some work by sculptors in the room, and asking architects for more conceptual submissions. On this theme, one of the most successful works by an architect is the walnut and brass piece ‘Component Three, Series Two’, by Zoe Fudge, part-sculpture, part-architectural experiment, simply conceived, yet beautiful in its complexity. The other offering at the RA is excellent and small and focuses on the work of Sir Hugh Casson, a former President of the Royal Academy, who is perhaps most known to the public as Director of Architecture for the 1951 Festival of Britain. Well worth the visit to the RA for this little show alone.
There will be a free debate ‘British Architecture Now’ Tuesday 25 June at 630 p.m. at the RIBA, which promises to be a lively discussion. Hosted by The Architects’ Journal, the panel will include, among others, Edwin Heathcote, from the Financial Times, and architect Sarah Featherstone. They will be reflecting on the recent RIBA awards, while also tackling the larger issues that are currently animating the profession.
And finally, do drop in to see this year’s Serpentine Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto. It is meant to be like a cloud, and on the summer evening of the opening it lifted everyone’s spirits with its shimmering simplicity. It slightly reminds of a 1980s Top of the Pops set – you half-imagine Cyndi Lauper and a smoke machine to come bellowing out – but in the most charming and understated way that Japanese architecture can pull off. Counterintuitively, I suspect the pavilion, though lovely in the sunshine, might be even better in torrential rain where the water and light will make a wonderful spectacle and noise against the delicate metal structure and transparent canopies. Although my hunch may be catastrophically wrong, so best to check the weather forecast before you go...