GSA Degree Show 2016: Architecture

Wondering what to expect from the Architecture department at this year's degree show? Allow yourself to be swept up in the romance of this most misunderstood of disciplines

Article by Martin Zizka | 16 Jun 2016
  • Architecture: The Glasgow Gastronomy Athenaeum, Ewan Hooper

What makes good architecture? Bereft of pretence and lofty discussion, a good building might have a wide and immediate appeal. Sometimes a building will just feel right – its effect is immediate and decisive. The variables of use, shape and size are infinite. A passionate school recognizes this and gives its students the freedom and guidance to develop a personal style imbued with an individually and diligently crafted epistemology, moulded through rigorous, often interdisciplinary and contextual discourse and critique.

The world renowned Mackintosh School of Architecture (or just MAC for short), needless to say, is a passionate school and the degree show manifests its conscientious attempts to facilitate the self-driven process of its students. Each year is a stage in coming to terms with the many facets of a structure of study which in the end, should elegantly and seamlessly fuse into a whole.

So what’s been cookin’ at the MAC in the last year? Look forward, as always, to a talented student entourage tackling head on the possibilities of architecture. No doubt the fifth year students, led by Robert Mantho, intend to match the work of last year’s student Finn Wilkie. The studios are still buzzing from his highly refined, RIBA silver medal award winning work entitled The Heteroglossic City (It's as complicated as it sounds).

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More from our 2016 degree show reviews:

GSA 2016: Fine Art - Charlie Cook GSA: School of Fine Art

GSA: Mackintosh Campus Appeal GSA: Mackintosh Campus Appeal


As always, the complexity of the work intensifies from the bottom up. On the ground floor you will find proposals for landscape painting studios, kayak clubs and market places by a free-format, curated exhibition of first and second years. For those of you who are new to the business of degree shows at architecture schools, here’s a tip: check out the work of the fifth and first years first. It's a bit of a counterintuitive order to go in, but illustrates well the development of the school’s signature style and the direction it moves as a whole.

Significantly, the MAC is the only department at GSA which shows the work of every year, for the very reason that the school takes pride in working its students hard from the beginning to the end of a 6-year tour-de-force of academic, technical and artistic scrutiny. Every year plays a massive part in learning outcomes, and arguably none is less interesting than the other, in brief as well as outcome.

The brief is the mode of work at the crux of a student’s growth in the MAC, in distinction to the freer and looser style of working in the Fine Art departments. In Architecture, assignment begins with a given theme, delimiting the depth, breadth and scope of how far students are encouraged to go with their work. Briefs can be pieces of art themselves. Carefully crafted by a dedicated staff, they're often poetic. It's with a penchant for lyricism that intentionally opaque-sounding names are given to briefs, eg Solid Void, Percipio, or Athenaeum. So it is that the student must develop drive and motivation to formulate a creative reading of the brief that will lend to the most effective practical response.

GSA: Architecture - Brigit Luffingham
Brigit Luffingham

First year stage leader Tilo Einenhart thinks of one brief as necessarily equivalent to 80 outcomes – or the number of students in a given year. Significantly, fifth year students essentially develop their own brief. Given a city as a palette to work on, they develop a personal thesis; a manifesto of sorts. Towards the end of the year, a highly informed and researched design proposal begins to emerge. Often experimental and on the wild side, it’s perhaps the last chance these aspiring professionals will have to play and explore without the constraints and realities of the industry.

With the realities of climate change, migration and war, is there any chance of saving the world while designing sexy buildings? Let the fifth year Thesis project be conclusive to that regard. Especially in later years, students are encouraged to tackle issues of personal or social relevance – thus fifth year projects include geodesic nets over the lakes in Zurich which harness energy through hydraulic mechanisms; urban savannas and urban wetlands which clean water in Berlin; and landscaping projects which encourage sociability. In effect, proposals can include everything from master-plans to bus shelters, but are advanced through an emphasis on originality and a thorough research and design program.

So if you feel like delving into the intricate world of sensitive and thoughtful technical sophistication that is good architectural design, or want to witness how students attempt to learn to make functional spaces beautiful, head on to the Bourdon Building (Let's face it, buildings are everywhere. It's a relatable kind of artwork). The degree show of the department of architecture at the Glasgow School of Art will be running from the 18-25 June on the brutalist Bourdon's three floors and will be the culmination of the blood, sweat and tears of, for some, a six-year journey.


GSA 2016: Product Design - Will Brown
Product Design – Will Brown

Want to know more about this year’s GSA degree shows? Read our guide: