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Unit 23 – Bartlett School, UCL

[Top 10 London Units: Part 2 level] Tutors: Bob Sheil, Emmanuel Vercruysse

Winner of The Openers Prize by Hitoshi Abe for best unit space in this year’s summer show

We have a very open attitude to matters such as programme, theme, aesthetics and media. Individual students forecast the general direction of their final year towards the end of the fourth year and it’s negotiated as the fifth-year progresses. This year, themes that came to the fore included architecture’s relationship with ageing, sound, earth, biosynthesis, rhythm analysis, serialism, geomorphology, self sufficiency and complex manufacturing.

As a unit we are interested in how we design, as well as what we design. We approach making as a critical methodology to challenge the conventional role of the designer and the status of what is being designed. In unit 23, everything’s a prototype, and whether it is well made or otherwise, its aim is to evolve an idea through the physical and tactile. We’ve been at this for some time now, but this year the work seemed more assured and confident than before, and more students are looking to continue the project after graduation. Over the past two to three years we have developed the opportunity to explore a number of “live” projects. The first, a mobile theatre, is now a design commission for a small group of graduates from the unit. Perhaps this is causing the shift.

Unit references: Walter Pichler, Early Lebbeus Woods, Panamarenko, Mark West (founding director of the Centre for Architectural Structures and Technology at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Architecture in Winnipeg)

Student projects

Misha Smith (winner of Andrew Taylor Prize for best technical drawings)

Prototype for a Spatialised Instrument (see is a truly remarkable project, not only for what it explores, but also the meticulous manner in which it has evolved and been executed. An enquiry into the relationship between architecture, performance and sound, its prototypes came to the attention of The Centre for Creative Collaboration, who invited Misha to install and develop his work in their studios. In that time it attracted musicians, composers and instrument makers who continue to explore with amazement the sheer brilliance of its invention.

Will Trossell

The origin and site for this project, Slow Becoming Delightful, is a pocket of space within the grid of Kielder Forest caused by a storm. Will was fascinated by the splendour of the accidental microenvironment generated by this disturbance, and developed a project that draws our attention to the magical properties of weather. The installation consists of a series of passively activated pressure vessels linked to a somewhat ominous array of humidity tanks. Over time they store energy and water, and when the ‘ideal’ circumstances are in place, they disperse a fine mist and construct a rainbow. The work is beautifully made, and a hybrid work of digital and analogue craft.

Peter Webb

Digging Out London is an extraordinarily brave and ambitious year’s work for someone known for his exquisite skills on paper. From the outset Peter was determined to get past his predominantly drawings-based history before he graduated, evolving a thoroughly original project driven from a fresh understanding of an ancient material. Through a staggering quantity of iterations, tests, and 1:1 experiments, Peter negotiated access to industrial-scaled equipment and mastered the art of extruding, firing and glazing London clay to simultaneously develop both an innovative programme and a viable building system. This project has serious legs for subsequent research.

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