Kingston End of Year Show Review

Published in the Architects Journal 2008

Architecture at Kingston took to the coast with its Degree students this year, settling in Margate with the undulating fortunes of the proposed Turner Gallery ever-looming alongside the economic and environmental realities threatening to crash down on the town. In doing so, an interesting counterpoint was established to the student work which was, in its social intentions, form and tectonic sensibility, far from the aspirationally iconic and indulgently capricious designs of many of their peers exhibiting in many of the London schools of architecture.

While the explanatory texts and notional briefs that accompany end-of-year shows can often be obtuse and imprecise, I was relieved to read a set of instructions from their tutors which, at the very least, provided a specific site and brief for the student's attention and in places, allowed for work to develop that would exceed one's expectations of a degree student.

Each student selected for exhibition has work displayed on a single strip of four A1's. An impressive collection of large scale sectional models rest on adjacent palettes, thereby allowing for a minimum of detective work and a comprehensive understanding of each project. This attitude to presentation was reinforced by plans and sections and details for every project.

Moneo, in a series of lectures to his students published in "Theoretical Anxiety and Design Strategies", tells them that "Architecture need neither depend on externalities (function/program) nor find personal expression (language/style)". Few of the projects on display relied on convoluted programs or aimed to express any uniquely individual formal style.

"Dignified grouping of masses........ornamental rather than disfigurements to their neighbourhoods" (as quoted by one student from the London School Boards' 19th Century manifesto), are the most successful projects here.  If we accept ornament's etymological root of "equipment, embellishment", this 19th Century intention emerges as a desire to equip building for its diverse roles; from public ceremony to  private reflection, communal development to personal shelter, while recognising the need to embellish or 'make beautiful'.

While highlighting a single 'star'-chitecture student would understandably go against the dialectic and collective nature of Kingston's admirable studio-based approach to design, perhaps one example might answer both Moneo's instruction and the Victorian call. A community building designed by Craig Balance is one of a number of mature and sensitive projects. Its 'embellishment' arriving, not by an accoutrement of fashionable graphics or formal gymnastics but by the simple offsetting of a sports hall (displaying a humility in its acknowledgment of the predetermined nature of the sports hall type) against ancillary spaces, themselves sited in rational response to the particular lie of the land. A series of beautifully proportioned open spaces for secure play, rest and other unprescribed collective activity comfortably sit between these two conditions.  

Unfortunately the show could not end on such a high note as the Diploma school is bizarrely only represented by four students. Is this down to a lack of quality or an deliberate intention on putting on a particular and consistent formal face? If a student is deemed worthy of their Diploma, why can they not display alongside their peers? With space at a premium perhaps they should exchange spaces with the Interior Architecture unit which, with less students, is putting on an elaborately laid out exhibition in the much larger neighbouring space. Kingston has shown itself to be strong in encouraging their students to acknowledge the realities of building. I hope that in future years a more responsible approach is taken to their exhibitions with a confidence to display the rough with the smooth.

Douglas Carson, London 2008

Top Image: Factory by Aleksandrina Rizona, Part I