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Redefining Boundaries: Architecture Work-in-progress 2018

This emphasis of this year’s School of Architecture Work-in-progress Show is very much on the ‘in progress’. The work being presented captures the current state of research, concept development and design iterations happening across the School. From initial experiments with materials, to models, drawing and speculative films, the Work-in-progress Show offers students an opportunity to test modes of representation and gain vital feedback that will inform the shape of their final projects.

For viewers it is a chance to see work that engages with vital global issues and challenges, demonstrating architecture to be a varied discipline shaping the future of how we live, work, play and survive. Collaborations with industry partners across the School enable students to form vital links within professional practice but also gain insights into the disruptive potential of architecture in its most expanded forms.

Two new MA programmes – City Design and Environmental Architecture – are debuting at the Work-in-progress Show this year. Both demonstrate an engagement with the social, political and environmental challenges of today and are arming students with the tools to both speculate on future solutions and bring about change through influencing environmental and social policy.

In their first term, City Design students have been focused on Canada Water in South London. Working with stakeholders – including the NHS, Southwark Council and British Land – they have been considering the disruptive and productive potential of architecture to inform new neighbourhoods, based on logics of common interest, care and intimacy. Grounded in confronting the wider issue of ageing populations, students have been considering how institutions such as the NHS can take a broader stance on issues of care in the community, as well as the provision of housing and life long learning for key care workers.

Similarly, Environmental Architecture students are presenting their research and early propositions responding to the challenges posed by the Lithium Triangle: an area in Argentina, Chile and Bolivia where lithium extraction takes place. Lithium is the key element in electric batteries that are a predominant feature of ‘green’ energy; yet paradoxically the extraction process has damaging consequences to the physical and social environments where it takes place. In the WIP show students are presenting initial work with key organisations on the ground in Chile, researching the impact of lithium extraction on water levels.

Through working collaboratively and engaging with disciplines beyond architecture, from anthropology to social sciences, Environmental Architecture places environmental concerns at the start of the architectural process. The programme deals not just with climate change the broader challenges witnessed in the anthropocene – our current era in which the most dominant factor shaping the earth’s environment is the human being.

The diverse, holistic and provocative approach encouraged on the Architecture programme is reflected in the presentation of the work in this year’s WIP show. Each Architecture Design Studios (ADS) has created a dynamic collaborative display that demonstrates the students’ ideas, research and proposals responding to specific contexts and case studies, but more broadly striving to reposition the boundaries of architecture.

This year ADS2 have been considering conservation and policy. Their playful display features plinths appropriated from Sir John Soane's Museum, questioning hierarchies of museum display, what is valued and what is considered worth conserving. Another vibrant display comes from ADS9 – Sleeping with Strangers – where a large pink lounge area invites visitors to consider what openness might mean. The students are also exhibiting iterative models that demonstrate their process exploring the relationship between architecture, communities and the ways we choose to live together.

The possibilities of new technologies are explored across the programme, but stand out in the work of ADS5, who have combined the traditional architectural methodologies of drawing and model making with new forms of visualisation, using virtual reality to test ideas about the relationship between space and human occupancy. Whereas students on ADS6, which focuses on craft and making, are showcasing experiments testing ways that digital technologies and craft making processes can be combined and compliment each other.

Architecture’s potential to impact on social and political issues is at the heart of many of the projects in the Work-in-progress Show. ADS8 have been working with Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, one of the curators of Manifesta 12, which is taking place in Palermo this year, to consider ways that architecture can respond to the unique social challenges of the city. They are presenting toolkits and guidelines that offer proposed ways to tackle the city’s unique combination of issues. ADS7 have been working with Barcelona en Comú to consider how architecture can impact on new societal movements, looking at social care and drug addiction, home care for an elderly population, precarity and social exclusion.

A core focus of the Interior Design programme at the RCA is addressing the built environment, responding to existing buildings and spaces to imagine new or alternative uses for them. This approach is demonstrated through first-year projects on display that respond to the histories of Denmark Street, London, with designs for an exhibition space.

Second year projects are organised in five thematic platforms – Interior Urbanism, Detail, Display, Reuse and Matter – which provide specific contexts for student’s individual final research projects. The urbanism platform has been considering new and future uses for the Olympic site and Lea Valley. Annabelle Ruddell is investigating introducing artisanship to the area through the activity of chocolate making, incorporating unexpected locally sourced ingredients: algae and eel. Joy Matashi is considering the economics of hair braiding and textile design – two adjacent market industries. 

The former Guy's Hospital, now owned by King's College is the focus of the Interior Reuse platform. They are thinking about the histories of this site, with a focus on the relationship between people living, working, learning and studying in an area. Daniel Nikolovski has approached the site through leisure, designing a bathhouse for workers, while Stefanie Misch has designed a co-living space for older people and students to inhabit, sharing skills between generations and combating loneliness and isolation.

The Interior Matter platform focuses on devising new materials and understanding how they can be applied. James Watts has tackled the issue of plastic waste, designing a dining experience composed entirely from plastic. Whereas the old lido at Margate is the focus of Louise Nissen’s project, which uses local resources to create a hospice based on holistic treatments.

A showcase of MRes, MPhil and PhD research offers a glimpse into the academic ambition and problem-based approaches of researchers within the School of Architecture. The projects presented engage with international discourse, addressing persistent issues across regions while remaining relevant and contributing to industry. Ageliki Sakellariou is considering the impact of the financial crisis on public services in Athens, with a focus on public space, from soup kitchens and haircuts for the homeless, to the cultural sector inhabiting public space through performance. Ageliki's research considers how architects can strategise and intervene.

The projects demand engagement with technological, social and economic challenges, encouraging discipline reach as well as interdisciplinary along with the need to look beyond the disciplines of art and design to take an integrated STEAM approach to research. Such interdicisplinarity is demonstrated in the work of Kelly Spanou – who is an Information Experience Design graduate, with a background in architecture. Her research considers exhibition design from the point of view of the museum object; researching how emerging technologies can enable new narratives of display from the object’s perspective. MRes student Angiet Fang Chen is looking at social media and online content in relationship to architecture, considering how social media can initiate dialogue and shape the early stages of the design process.

The Royal College of Art School of Architecture Work-in-progress Show
RCA Kensington Campus
Open to the public Friday 19, Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 January, 12 midday to 6pm 

Find out more about programmes in the School of Architecture and how to apply