Work-In-Progress Student Architecture Show @ Royal College of Art

Yesterday we went to the Royal College of Art’s Work-In-Progress Architecture Show. Having been to many end-of-year student architecture shows, but never a work-in-progress one, we were interested to see what this celebration of the unfinished would behold. Here is a quick before, during, and after of our thoughts on the show.

Before

End-of-year shows always seem a bit self serving. Student work is displayed to give the impression that everyone has simultaneously brought their architectural thinking to nice tidy conclusions, just in time for the big event. The feeling of relief coupled with accomplishment can be overwhelming. Months of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion are manifest in drawings, models, writing and videos for the world to come and see (or not, if you go to an unfashionable northern uni). The opening night celebrates the work on show, banishing the recent memories of UHU induced tears at sunrise to a rose tinted closet of nostalgia. Our point being, that they only celebrate the shiny surface, the tip of the iceberg, the clip-on facade. The amount of work that goes into student architecture projects is unlike anything we’ve seen from any other subject, and while the end-of-year exhibitions deliver beautiful, often spectacular results, they rarely do justice to the entire process.

We were hoping the RCA’s work-in-progress show would open the back door and reveal the gritty, messy, self-doubting process that lies behind some of the strongest student work in the country. It seems obvious, really, that the constantly re-evaluative, creative process of design should be given some attention, not least because it’s incredibly informative for other students. Regardless of what we were about to see, we were already impressed by the RCA’s willingness to put on this show and to highlight that there is in fact a work-in-progress stage behind the finished work we’ll all be marvelling over in June. Well done RCA.

During

When we arrived were instantly dazzled by the prettiness and enviable aesthetic quality of the work around us. To us it’s refreshing to see work riding free from the shackles of ‘where’s your fire escape stairwell?’, but to the less architecturally frustrated member of the public it would be hard to tell that you were in a architecture exhibition at all. This is a quality that we really enjoy. The meshing of art, craft, making, technology, philosophy, politics, and even a bit of old fashioned building, is what architecture needs to be if it is to have any hope of remaining relevant to our, or any, society.

In line with RIBA President Jane Duncan’s comments at the student crit on Wednesday, there was a notable focus on the role architecture can and is playing to aid and amend the social injustice and inequalities taking place in the UK. Such political issues are dynamic and architecture always needs to keep up. It’s reassuring to see that many have switched their attention and creative energies to these very real problems.

There was clearly some thought put into the curatorship of the exhibition, and it was certainly leaning towards the end-of-year exhibition look with its purpose made plinths and tables, raised corners and installations. It was all very tidy, undoubtedly a lot tidier than the studios and bedrooms in which the projects are worked on and progressed.

As for the project themselves, it’s probably best to let the work speak for itself. Most was interesting and promising, but seeing only the exhibitions friendly fragments of the developing projects makes it hard to make any real judgement. Here are some photos of a few favourite pieces.

After

We left the show feeling excited about architecture, design and making in general. So to that end we consider the show a success. The attention paid to creating work of beauty throughout a project is something we’d definitely like to learn from. While we still definitely believe that making architecture should be a messy, unselfconscious process, there is definitely room to allow things of beauty to emerge. For a work-in-progress show we feel there was too much of an emphasis on the complete, individual artefact. It’s the raw, scruffy sketches and all that surrounds them that are so rarely seen and that we’d like to see more of. While a work-in-progress show is most certainly a step in the right direction, a more confident opening up of behind the scenes would be an even bigger one. Nonetheless, RCA need to be commended for opening their doors and letting people take inspiration from their work-in-progress, even though they could do with really loosening up and letting the ugly but essential processes of architecture show.

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