An exhibition at London’s Cass reveals the influence of celebrated architects on their students, says Peter Smisek
A short-lived exhibition at the Cass (London Metropolitan university), entitled School/Work: Architectural Conversations between Pedagogy and Practice explores the relationship between architectural practice and academia, by focusing on the meeting point of the two worlds: the studio where tutors pass on knowledge to their students.
It is a small show that gives a snapshot of the work being produced by studios led by some of the Cass’s most celebrated teachers (Assemble, Caruso St John, Cottrell + Vermeulen, Takero Shimazaki and Feilden Fowles) and their most promising students. The large variety of modes of representation on both the students’ and the architects’ sides – models, digital collages, axonometrics, as well as more ordinary plans, sections and elevations – demonstrate a continuity between the work of the two generations, as well as a shared aesthetic sensitivity.
Although the tutors are showcasing actual built work, it is all rather idealised – models, drawings and professionally-taken images that do not necessarily fully depict the material, financial and legal realities of construction. To show this would require many more metres of shelf-space of correspondence, detailed drawings, budget calculation and material samples.
In reality, both the teachers and their students are operating in the realm of imagination. Indeed, the initial design (which, despite what students might think, is what they produce) is always a mirage that is meant to seduce a commissioner to finance its further development and the planners to grant it permission. The built dimension of architecture can get lost in academia. It’s easy to forget the grime of a run-down Liverpool terrace when faced with a balsa wood model of a Turner Prize-winning project, just as it’s easy to draw a window in Autocad without specifying it and detailing the almost inevitable external window sill.
And yet this is not to be faulted. Hopefully the students are realistic enough to understand that only a very small portion of their time as architects will be spent designing, and their mentors are sensible enough to break the news to them. Indeed, the central message of the show is that young aspiring architects at the Cass are following in the footsteps of their mentors in dreaming of a nicer-looking world – if not always an explicitly better one.