Architecture students at London Metropolitan University approached projects with particular attentiveness to buildability and relationship to the site
A central challenge for architects is to create buildings that relate to their site and its context. The inspiration drawn from a site often results in abstract ideas, which are difficult to communicate visually – many architects are therefore accused of lacking sensitivity when it comes to responding to the surroundings. Many buildings look like they’ve simply been plopped into the site without much regard to how this affects the neighbouring area, because many ideas were lost in translation. Students from the Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design at London Metropolitan University seem particularly interested in this issue – the graduate exhibition almost exclusively features drawings and live sketches pertaining to site analysis.
In a world where architects so often lose track of reality and get carried away when elaborating guiding concepts for their projects, concentrating on the more pragmatic aspect of architecture is important. Along with each project are watercolour and ink sketches, which indicate careful site observation; diagrams tracking rainfall or the socioeconomic evolution of the region are another testament to the exhibitors’ attention to detail. Students are assigned a specific area of London, and then test methodologies of engaging with the neighbourhood – the aim is to create architecture as a miniature component of the city as opposed to an ‘object building’.
Understanding the site is the basis for any student project – but beyond analysing the urban background in depth, the Cass emphasises the importance of practicing architecture hands on. During the course of their undergraduate career, students are encouraged to live-test their ideas. Working directly with users and clients is an innovative approach to education – even in the professional world, architects are rarely involved in actual construction and mostly centralise their efforts on concept development. However, giving the students the opportunity to build their projects themselves leads them to design more thoughtfully and better grasp the realms of possibility.
The section of the exhibition displaying these life-size architecture samples highlights the students’ precise knowledge of joinery systems and other detailed constituents of construction – students from other institutions often rely on a hazy awareness about the workings of architecture at this scale. The Cass is preoccupied by its duty of care to wider society, the environment, and production – the school claims it often reassesses itself and continually re-examines its approach to architecture so as to avoid straying away from its humble goals.
However noble these ideals are, all architecture schools aim to achieve this respectful relationship between buildings and their environment. Other students may not be as familiar with the inner dynamics of construction and would certainly benefit from bringing their projects to life – but architecture revolves around more than just functionality, so there’s something to be said about combining practicality with aesthetic to provide useful and pleasing spaces.
Emma Le Leslé