The five winners of BD’s awards for the UK’s best diploma students may be the last generation for which the certainties of the current architectural education system remain
With last week’s news that Arb is considering a review of the rules governing prospective architects’ admission to the register, a further step has been taken in the slow but seemingly inexorable journey towards the overhaul of a system of architectural education that has seen little structural change in over 50 years. There is good reason to believe that the five recent graduates who our jury has selected as the best diploma students of 2013 are among the last of a breed.
All have jumped through the hoops of part I and II in the tried and tested manner and, luckily for them, managed to embark on their education early enough so as not to be lumbered by the recent hike in student fees. Their successors won’t be so fortunate. It is projected that by the time the current generation of first and second year students pay off their debts, interest will have seen them accrue to a daunting £280,000.
Whether many of them will earn enough to be required to pay back the full amount is another matter. When the 260% fee hike was introduced in 2010, the Treasury estimated that the level of student debt in the UK would stand at £154 billion by 2031 but that the government was likely to be forced to write off 30% of that sum. Current projections now put that figure as high as 50%, prompting calls for students to pay back their loans earlier or on the basis of a reduced threshold. Undertaking higher education in the UK is not going to get cheaper any time soon.
Arb’s move is in line with a growing consensus that the current 3+2 structure of architectural education needs to be revisited in order to allow students greater flexibility in their journey to registration and to allow part I students a greater range of career options on graduation. That double-headed agenda is encapsulated by the title of a report that was produced by the UK Architectural Education Review Group in April: Pathways and Gateways.
There is, however, a potential block in the road to achieving this liberalisation in the form of the forthcoming Professional Qualifications Directive now being prepared by the European Union. This legislation is intended to ensure a greater level of commonality between the systems of higher education operated by the EU’s member states — the danger being that it will result in the current route to registration being fixed in stone. However, the exact wording of the document is still under negotiation and a delegation from Schosa and the British Council recently travelled to Brussels to lobby for greater freedom in the way architectural education is provided.
Other countries have different views — more than 8,000 draft amendments to the directive have now been submitted — and so there remains much uncertainty as to what the document will stipulate when it is presented to the European Parliament this autumn.
Three questions remain of particular concern to the British delegation: whether non-EU trained architects will remain, as is currently the case, ineligible for registration in the UK; whether periods of professional experience in related disciplines such as engineering and landscape architecture can count towards the process of securing registration; and whether degree programmes that allow students to combine activities in college and practice will be permitted.
One alternative route to qualification whose future does look certain to survive whatever regulations the EU imposes is the RIBA’s office-based part II course which is administered by Oxford Brookes University. Offering the opportunity for students to qualify while earning and requiring an outlay of as little as £1,500 per year, it looks certain to attract growing support in the new climate.
Meanwhile, debate continues to rage about the “trout farms on Mars” culture that dominates many of the UK’s architecture schools. In response to an aggressive article recently written on the subject by the Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright, the dean of the Bartlett, Alan Penn, wrote to assure the paper’s readers that “the fanciful and visionary landscapes that adorn the walls of student summer shows are a part of the process used to train people in team problem-solving in areas of great uncertainty and complexity.”
The Class of 2013 judges — Roz Barr, the RIBA’s incoming vice-president for education; Holly Lewis of We Made That; and Juan Lago-Novás Domingo of the award sponsor, the IE School of Architecture — were less convinced. Their selection of students represents a vote of confidence in the values of an architectural education grounded in real problems and a commitment to communicability.
The range of stylistic approaches — from Amy Perkins’ neo-Arts and Crafts housing in Hampstead Garden Suburb to Carl Harper’s restorative aquaculture of Silt Island — is wide but all five projects are united by a serious engagement with the character of their sites, the means of their construction and the way that they would operate in use.
Our Class of 2013 offers ample evidence that for all the problems that British architectural education faces, it is still capable of producing architects of extraordinary sensitivity and invention. There is much worth fighting for in the battles that lie ahead.
The individual route: office-based study
The RIBA and Oxford Brookes offer an alternative part II course that allows graduates to carry on working
For architecture students anxious about the financial burdens incurred by pursuing a conventional educational route, there is at least one viable alternative in the form of the RIBA’s part-II office based course.
Administered by Oxford Brookes’ University, this allows part I graduates who have subsequently achieved a minimum of three years professional experience to continue their studies while remaining in practice.
Having taken her part I at Cambridge and spent three years working for Sanaa in Tokyo and Paris, this is the route that Lucy Styles chose to follow.
Costing only £1,500 for each of the three years that she was enrolled on the course prior to her recent graduation and allowing her to earn a salary throughout, that choice presented major financial benefits but also gelled with Styles’ sense of how she wanted to learn.
“It is a course suitable for students who do not depend on the collaborative atmosphere of the studio environment and who are prepared to establish their own study structures by choosing personal tutors from outside the school and mentors at their place of employment,” she says.
Tom Emerson of 6a Architects served as her supervisor, generously waiving the fee that is ordinarily paid for those duties. Styles had studied under Emerson in her final year at Cambridge and she credits his knowledge of her interests and personality for the ease with which she was able to adapt to the looser structure of the part II course.
The course programme — which can be undertaken in two years — requires students to undertake between two and four design projects in their first year on the basis of briefs of their own choosing followed by a single project in the second year on the basis of their selection of one of three prescribed briefs.
Cultural, professional and technological modules are undertaken in parallel. Working long hours in the run-up to Sanaa’s completion of the Louvre Lens, Styles concentrated her studies into weekends and holidays.
However, keen to dispense with her studies as quickly as possible, she decided to commence her part III course at the AA in the final months that she was working towards the hand-in of her part II thesis project — an art gallery in rural Kent.
Juggling all this might be more than most students could comfortably take on but, aided only by a three- week break from work, Styles succeeded — securing her part II and part III qualifications within a week of each other.
Mackintosh School of Architecture, The Glasgow School of Art
Tutor: Charlie Hussey
Katie Burrell’s The Perfumer’s District in Marseille was driven by an investigation into architecture and the senses. “By taking a stand on our ocularcentric society, the thesis questions why the sense of sight has become so predominant in architectural culture when there are four others.
A hybrid programme of a boutique soap and essential oil production was developed alongside an experiential purpose for the public, to seduce and manipulate the senses,” she explains.
The building itself, situated in a leftover fragment of old industrial Marseille, is carved from the landscape. Two routes are formed, connecting the upper and lower levels of the site; one meandering through the landscape, the other driven by experience through the building. Burrell proposed “an introverted space to tune the senses” by using natural light to form light and dark spaces.
The judges were impressed by Burrell’s sensitive and evocative drawings as well as the building’s relationship to the landscape. BD’s Ellis Woodman said: “It’s very much a public building in a European city with a strong topography — a good example of a theme which has been running through the Mac’s work for a long time.”
Tutor: Jonathan Woolf
Elli Farrant was first inspired by a photo she found of a wooden shack atop a nondescript Venetian housing building, which turned out to be a synagogue inside the city’s original Jewish ghetto.
She proposed to conceptually enlarge the footprint of the former ghetto — in Cannaregio in the north-west of the city — beyond its original strict limits and create a new courtyard of buildings for metalworking activities. “Campos are social spaces that allow Venetians to gather. By reintroducing workshops and residential accommodation, the project is focused on rebuilding the working city,” writes Farrant.
The proposal links a busy working street to the canal via a working courtyard composed of three brick buildings. The buildings are linked by a continuous roof that begins high at the point of the busy street, gradually sloping down around the courtyard until it reaches single-storey height at the canal.
Within the courtyard, the window shutters have been placed on the outer face of the brickwork to create an interaction with the communal space, while on the outer facade, the window shutters are concealed within the depth of the monolithic brick walls.
The judges praised Farrant’s project for its clarity and refreshing presentation. “It felt like one of the most precisely judged projects in relation to an actual condition. It was believable both in its construction and in urbanistic terms,” said Ellis Woodman.
London Metropolitan University
Tutors: Peter St John and Rod Heyes
Amy Perkins’s reassessment of the suburban situation in Hampstead Garden Suburb was unique among the submissions as an extremely relevant study into housing in London today.
“Hampstead Garden Suburb is stuck in time at a low density in a borough tasked with providing 31,000 new homes in the next 10 years,” writes Perkins. “My project asks whether Barnet could address this while recovering Henrietta Barnett’s vision of a green and spacious suburb, designed for all, without pastiche or brutal shifts of scale.”
Perkins proposes that large shared houses containing between three and six apartments with shared gardens replace single-family homes to increase density.
The proposal would allow the suburb to change organically over time, accepting new ways of living without building on valuable shared green spaces. Perkins studied the form of Arts & Crafts houses in Hampstead and designed simplified new housing forms to place among the existing homes.
The jury was wowed by the visual production of the project and the thoroughness of her design process.
“What was good is that she’s chosen something that is so topical, and that’s housing. It’s a very clear response to the culture of Arts & Crafts housing,” said judge Roz Barr.
Holly Lewis of We Made That added: “It was strong on a number of accounts. It was dealing with real issues and planning, but visually the production was amazing as well.”
Tutor: Paul Jones
Intended to address the adverse environmental impact of the shipping industry, Carl Harper’s project proposes a seaweed farm and fish processing facility in the estuary of the River Tees.
He writes: “The scheme proposes growing a controlled harvest of seaweed in a number of farms. The species of laminaria digitata is particularly effective as a phytoremediator.
The pollution is extracted and collected within the structure of the plant and then disposed of through incineration. The top half of the seaweed is used in a number of different industries including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and as a health food.”
Emerging out of the landscape at Silt Island, the principal facility features two sheer walls, each with a different programme. One elevation is used to dry the seaweed, while the other is used to wash and cure fish and mussels.
These two walls eventually intersect in the central atrium to produce a range of by-products to help sustain fishing community skills.
Harper’s project, depicted with compelling visuals and investigations into the functions of seaweed, impressed the judges with its rigorous and pragmatic approach.
“I like when students are able to push boundaries in a very mundane way, like with fishing. He’s been able to innovate in the building and even in the technique, and I think that’s fantastic,” said judge Juan Lago-Novás Domingo.
Jamie Kinghorn & Louisa Butler
University of Edinburgh
Tutor: Dorian Wiszniewski
Sited in Olbia, northeastern Sardinia, Jamie Kinghorn and Louisa Butler’s shared project presents a series of five “enzymatic territories” that are used as testing grounds to re-establish the link between temporary and permanent interventions in the city.
“Olbia appears to endure in the contemporary tourist economy; however the city risks being ruined by successive temporal interventions. The project is necessary to understand the city’s textures and thicknesses, making explicit that which is currently implicit,” the duo explain.
Moving away from the focus on the centre of the city, Kinghorn and Butler looked at ways of developing the edges of the port of Olbia. Their proposal, entitled Filo Fragment Fictions, includes a tour boat and temporary fishing residence, a station for the caretaker and lighthouse operator and a boat builders’ academy. Located on a derelict scrapyard in the city’s industrial area, the academy features boat-stripping facilities, a workshop and rowing club.
The judges described the project as “delicate and sensitive”, and were impressed by the number of detailed drawings and numerous well-presented models.
“There was a very nice narrative between the resident and the tourist. I liked all the scenarios and the way it was presented,” said Roz Barr.
IE Class of 2013 scholarship
The five chosen graduates will be invited to compete for a fully funded year-long scholarship for the master’s architectural management and design programme at the IE School of Architecture & Design in Madrid.
Following a series of interviews, the winner will be announced at the Architect of the Year Awards on December 4 at The Brewery, London.
Programme director Juan Lago-Novás Domingo said: “Considering that all five students are outstanding, I add a second layer, which is how that person fits within academic culture. We want to give this scholarship not only to an outstanding project, but someone who will benefit from this very specific education.”
The course addresses the design implications of business decisions and attracts a wide range of international students. Three weeks are spent in Madrid in February 2014, followed by three weeks in London in July 2014 and one week in Madrid in February 2015.
A series of lectures are given by architects from OMA, Foster & Partners and Zaha Hadid Architects among others, while the rest of the course is carried out with live videoconferences and online forums.
Commenting on her experience, Class of 2011 winner Cara Shields said: “The master’s is a platform for me to really push myself in the industry.
I think it’s very important for architects to have business management skills these days.
“We see many design firms falling short and I think this programme addresses the challenges that architecture firms face. It’s essential for these skills to be involved within the business strategy because it enables you to react and adapt to the changing markets.”
Class of 2012 winner Emma Flynn from the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, will be starting the course this autumn.
For more information on the IE Class of 2013 scholarship see www.ie.edu