Season to celebrate students’ successes

It’s a week of celebration in the colleges. With the degree shows in full swing and New Designers showing some of the best graduate work from the UK’s 3D courses at London’s Business Design Centre, it’s a good time to reflect on the successes of the system rather than yet again bemoan growing student numbers and dwindling resources.

And what a success Nigel Coates appears to be making of the Royal College of Art architecture course (see Profile, page 14). Anyone who visited the show – sadly now over – couldn’t fail to be impressed by exhibits such as those by the students calling themselves the London Architectural Design Studio and Samantha Moffat’s plan to enhance street-life around London’s Golborne Road.

The presentations were more dynamic than the usual “card model plus drawings” approach we’d come to expect of a course seeking a direction – and starting to get one thanks to Dinah Casson and the team. But the content of the work smacks heavily of Coates’ tendency to take context rather than edifice as a starting point with students.

The next 12 months will be critical to measuring Coates’ true success as the students he picked last autumn go through their final year. But the results so far throw up a couple of thoughts.

First, there’s the energy you get when students, particularly post grads, are encouraged to cross subject boundaries to get to the heart of design. All-rounders such as James Dyson talk glowingly of the Sixties, when the edges were more blurred in design colleges and a US-style modular system wasn’t the way things were run.

Second, there’s the impact a determined personality can make – quickly, and against the odds. The RCA last experienced this in 1991, when Daniel Weil took over industrial design. Four glorious years ensued and foundations were laid for others to build on.

The best thing is to see a teacher giving his all to encouraging thoughtful work in his students, and not being obviously obsessed with number crunching.

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