Thursday, July 01, 2010

School shows: London Metropolitan University


Under the thoughtful leadership of Robert Mull, the London Metropolitan University Department of Architecture has risen to prominence as one of the most grounded schools in the capital, consistently producing students with both robust pragmatism and acute sensitivity to the complexities of the city. The department is home to a broad church of approaches, with diploma units ranging from the humanitarian development agenda of Maurice Mitchell’s Architecture of Rapid Change and Scarce Resources (Unit 6), to the ‘phenomenological’ world of sensory experience in Patrick Lynch’s Unit 2, with an equally diverse range amongst the seven undergraduate studios.


As usual, this year’s show gave you lots to chew on, although sometimes little to help wash down the ascetic diet of muted tones and equally muted forms. It often seemed there was such reverence for context that students’ own creative agendas were less developed than their analytical faculties, the rigour of endless precedent studies frequently absent in their own work.

Refreshingly, there was an emphasis on live projects and a true engagement with reality outside the school, with several units building permanent structures, including David Grandorge’s Unit 7 Belvedere on the Hadspen Estate and Public Works’ Studio 3 performance space in Germany. An overarching preoccupation with the way things are put together was also evident across the show, with a strong emphasis on hand drawing and the manual craft of model-making – shown particularly elegantly by the structural inquiries of Studio 5.


The Free Unit is perhaps the most interesting part of London Met’s progressive programme, unique in architecture schools in giving students their own autonomy to develop a ‘contract’ for the year and choose a series of tutors – or ‘friends’ – to guide them through. Although exhibited in a deadening and limited form, time spent with the work revealed a series of very individual passions, from participatory approaches for community buildings, to mapping church spires through the routes of peregrine falcons.


Crystal Whitaker stood out in the Free Unit for her work in the Kosovan town of Pritzren, which developed techniques to enable local craftsmen to play a part in the regeneration of three public spaces and provide systems of vocational training. Meanwhile, Sam Potts’ playful and energetic response to the recession, in the form of the Redundant Architects Recreation Association, provided an alternative to trawling the jobs section by building a collaborative project space in Clapton – complete with in-house brewery to drown the sorrows of redundancy.

Originally published in The Architects' Journal, 22 July 2010