There are many ways to be an architect, communicates the Kent School of Architecture and Planning (KSAP) summer show – and many qualities that could enrich the built environments of the future. The hook to architecture can be thought, drawing, writing or modelling. It could be digital, hardware, social purpose, climate change, or talent for communication and collaboration. KSAP bills itself as a culture designed to give students the confidence to discover what they can bring to the table.
The school’s principal, Gerald Adler, talks about a curriculum rooted in the humanities and designed around the warp and weft of art and science. The campus-based school is aligned with the university’s arts and humanities division and is highly rated for research intensity and quality. Graphic design, spatial and interior design, and planning programs have recently been added to the faculty.
An exhibition by Graphic Design students is indeed a sort of gateway to the fair, including a study by the American illustrator Christophe Niemann – a timely reminder that incisive visual communication is also essential in architecture. First-year students exhibit the results of a “Folio” module led by artist Tim Meacham, where new students learn about the art of communicating architectural ideas. Folios are presented alongside a ladder exercise and an introductory group activity for building portable shelters – a reflection, of course, on the fundamental function of architecture. Under the guidance of Rebecca Hobbs, meanwhile, the second years focused on housing for a Canterbury site through the specific lenses of productive landscapes and community living.
In the school’s elongated critical space, a highly engaging third-year exhibition co-ordinated by Ambrose Gillick explores the social purpose of architecture at a site in Ramsgate town centre. In consultation with community sector charities, students invented and designed new combinations of civic amenities to enliven an existing multi-storey car park structure – a combination of renovation and new construction designed to stimulate social life, cultural, ecological and economic.
In a sign of the times, food banks, hostels and fragile emotional well-being feature prominently in student proposals, with creative and clever solutions around these, as well as urban agriculture and greening of the urban landscape. Outstanding projects are ambitious in their urbanism and social enterprise as well as at the building level, with evidence of a sophisticated understanding of the art of moving people through space and how architecture can signal a civic goal.
MArch at KCAP features carefully curated proposals in an assured flow of color-coded displays on the ground floor of the school’s formal yet human-sized 1960s building. Reflecting the nuances of four vertical units, curating the postgraduate exhibition also successfully conveys a sense of collective effort and overlapping concerns. The common threads are the site-specific challenges of post-industrial Britain and architecture as an agent of social value.
Strong ties to the realities of how architecture actually happens are very evident. Unit 1 led by Michael Richards and Chloe Street Tabbard, for example, saw students working with Medway Council and a team from HTA on a live English heritage project to regenerate the community arts venue and space creation of Chatham INTRA, informing the development of wider regeneration policy and planning guidance. There is also ample evidence of lively and original reflections transformed into serious urban proposals. A regional position was also taken by Chris Jones’ Unit 5, whose students focused on a coastal study area stretching from the Hoo Peninsula to Thanet, through post-gentrified Whitstable as well as Herne Bay in trouble. Several of the programs stand out with smart proposals around the blue (marine) economy.
Looking further afield in the capital, a unit led by Michael Holms Coats exploring the values of architecture has generated a range of thoughtful and questioning designs for sites across the City of London, including a proposed renovation of the Powell and the Moya’s Museum of London, currently being demolished. Unit 4 of Yorgos Loizos, on the other hand, with its themes of resilience and transformation, studied architecture and place over time, producing socially sustainable and contextually and heritage-sensitive projects for two neighborhoods of Hackney.
It is clear that one size does not fit all at KSAP, and students at BA and MArch level are offered the option of a ‘research-by-doing’ inquiry in place of the traditional dissertations, with d excellent results presented. At MArch level, KSAP is unique in the UK in offering a pedagogy module, which also borrows from the North American teaching assistant model.
All in all, it’s great to see a school take a smart stance against the notorious limitations – and “iconic” buildings – of the architecture’s self-inflicted star system.