Sunday 22 December 2019


The heart is the core of education - the heart of education is the heart: all members of the Advisory Group have different things to bring; they are all important together: but the heart is the heart.” Soheil Abedian

Soheil Abedian

I had arrived a little late, believing that the promoted programme was more loose, more casually unstructured than it actually was. It had not been understood that the itinerary had a fixed starting time, with a formal opening, beginning with several presentations, followed by the revelation of the book - the ‘uncovering.’ Eight ex-Bond architectural students, alumni of the school, took turns at telling what they have done since graduating; they must have been some of the school’s first students. The aim of the presentations seemed to be promotional - a desire to show how successful Bond students were in the real world, suggesting that the school itself had relevance in this field too; that it was no esoteric, ivory tower. ‘Getting a job’ these days seems to be the basic aim of all education: enlightenment is merely an uneconomic aside, a waste of time and money. Business success prevails as an ideal in both the world of education and commerce. In this sense, all schools are business schools.

Professor Chris Knapp, Head of School

The scope of the work shown was impressive: the confidence was astonishing. The work could be criticized for being too engrossed with its delivery techniques and appearances rather than showing any interest in social or cultural issues: but this was no time for a critique. One secretly wondered about the precise role that was really played in some of these projects by the recent graduate. Could there be some exaggeration, just to excite; to grandstand? The projects all looked imposing. There was much talk about CAD programmes, approaches, processes, and procedures that seemed to take precedence over other matters of function and context, but this was a private concern. There was no discussion or debate, merely repeated praise by the professor who must have been proud of his students’ success. It seemed that this was to be a time for indulgence; for hagiography rather than for any reverie, review or analysis. There was something heroic here that everyone appeared to enjoy, even the presenters themselves.

Following these pictorial overviews of recent, practical history, the Abedian School’s Advisory Group was introduced, and further short explanatory presentations were made. The proposed question time seemed to get discarded in favour of the anticipated excitement of the launching of ‘the book’ – a glossy tome that updated the work of the school to 2019: edition 3. A large table near the entrance, mysteriously covered in a black cloth, now became the centre of attention. After some formal photographs, the cover was whipped off in a dramatic, ‘magical’ gesture to reveal the tidy piles of thick publications: everyone was invited to take one. One was reminded of the BBC programme The Repair Shop when the owner is invited back to see the rehabilitated item that is always concealed under a cloth in order to heighten the drama. Students were seen to quickly flick through the pages in an apparent search for their project, to see it with the sheen of print, in much the same way as a ‘selfie’ is reviewed.

Soheil Abedian, Prof Derek Carson, Dean, and Prof Chris Knapp

2017 Exhibition

The second part of the evening was the informal part, with drinks, nibbles, a browse through the mounted display, and a chat with colleagues. The meandering through the display that zigzagged up the sloping passage revealed work that was as equally remarkable as that in the earlier alumni presentations, exhibited here as an array of quality, shiny, hi-tech prints and various sundry models. Graphic communication these days is all digital reproduction rather than the output of any handiwork that is still, almost unfortunately, it seemed, required for the models. 3D printing has not yet reached a stage of everyday, student accessibility. The slick, superior precision of gleaming ink contrasted with the imperfections of the roughly hand-cut balsa and cardboard. The eye has come to expect digital impeccability as the norm, seeing handicrafts as rough and untidy; handwriting as inarticulate, messy scrawl.

Interior of the Abedian School

Most displays seemed to be there for their appearance only, offering preferred pieces and parts of projects that might impress rather than properly and fully inform. It was difficult to truly assess the quality of any of the piecemeal projects, with this assemblage of segments of schemes that all looked 'professionally' presented. Alas, this impressionable quality can be an eye-catching diversion that encourages one to give distracted praise to poor work; if one is not totally aware of the circumstance, one can become embroiled in misguided admiration: see - Some project drawings had matching models; others, confusingly, had models of something else not associated with the drawing placed nearby, as a shared display. The exhibition was a little baffling, with one left pondering the relevance or otherwise of the paired exhibits, with the ‘otherwise’ leaving one a little deflated as it defined the display as a collage of ‘interesting’ things. One's first impression was that the common ambition in the work on display was the making of dramatic form, extraordinary massings: the unusual theme of the designs appeared to be the development of paper thin slabs, layers weaving everywhere over huge spans linking the configurations. There was no indication of structure, or any sense of skeletal necessity in some of these dramatic planes that seemed to rely only on a cardboard cut-out fantasy for the relevance of the vision.

It was a surprise to see that some attributions for some of the projects included the tutor’s as well as the student’s name. The credit seemed odd: was there an equal involvement? A school is a place for expected student staff interaction: rarely does any staff member get formal recognition for a particular project along with the student in this way.

Might all this be recorded in the book? One would have to peruse this printed record later. The concern with the publication lies in the smart graphics, the colour and gloss, and the unique feel and smell of print that impress beyond the context of content. These reproduced images accrue,  as it were, a head start with smart, flicky graphics that transform the drawings and models, giving them another layer of completeness with a difference that isolates the viewer from the work, forcing one to see the images through a contrived ambience, that defined by the framing camera: see - One could imagine students might consider their reproduced projects to be of ‘world class’ quality, hyped in a slick publication that makes them appear like the admired buildings reproduced in creatively designed architectural magazines and books, when their work is possibly neither quality nor slick: the camera can play some cunningly persuasive tricks. The book seemed to suffer from the same general strategy of the display - appearance was critical, the most important factor in determining the selection for public presentation: see below. The primary intent seemed to that everything had to look good.

Soheil Abedian might speak of the importance of the heart, but, sadly, one sensed that the heart was the last thing for consideration here. The works appeared to be abandoned, somehow remote from anyStreet View’ context, place, allowing the projects to be seen as solitary declarations that looked to be more about the cleverness of ME rather than any inherent quality of an idea. One wondered about the future; was this all leading to more of what was seen in the first presentations of the evening? The school has an Advisory Group; hopefully it will learn to guide policy and practice so that matters can be developed, cultivated.

The ramped passage used for the exhibition

The framed system holding the project work established the atmosphere for the exhibition. While the 2017 display structure had its own interest and rigour – see: - none of this framing or its materials appeared to have been re-used. This year’s display arrangement had been designed from scratch: it was all cut from ply, braced below and screwed together. The assemblage was not a very sophisticated resolution, but it did get located across the ramp, horizontally, thus minimising the impact of the graded surface: but the framing still appeared to be vertical to the incline, like a child’s fence on a sloping boundary line, not upright. The first impression was that the benches for the models were consciously sloped as a lecturn, but the screens above also had an uneasy lean. The framing could easily have been adjusted to be vertical by analysing the geometry of the slope and the position of the bracing, but it was, apparently, an approach that seems to have been neglected, or seen to be unimportant if it was recognised at all. Things could easily have been adjusted to accommodate the variation. One only has to remember Andrew Kudless’s careful analysis and subtle installation that created a long, ocntinuous, horizontal display across the 3D Abedian concrete walls. This mathematical consideration appeared to be a refinement that meant nothing here: even the fixings were crude and ad hoc. The idea for the display structure seemed to have its limitations exposed in the final outcome. It is sad to see so much rigour from previous years get forgotten; or was this strategy discarded? Does every exposition have to be creative in a bespoke manner, no matter what? The approach is not a good start for architects if, as Abedian says, architects are an instrument for change.

Soheil Abedian

One has to note that this is student work produced by students with varying levels of experience; then one looks again: even acknowledging this scope, there are some worrying factors in the work. The plan might appear fine, competent, but sometimes there is no associated section or elevation, or anything else to assist with the reading and interpretation of the scheme, leaving one befuddled, left only with stylish appearances. Sections might be illustrated, but these are rarely located on plan, again leaving one perplexed, hoping for understanding. A section might have no necessary relationship to the adjacent plan; a model might appear without any drawings: one asks, am I looking at a whole or a part? Huge developments are on display as models, but these fail to convince beyond the initial impressive appearance when one realises that even the cardboard has difficulty in supporting itself. Are these schemes mere facades made to look good? One gets no real sense of depth either in the resolution or the understanding of the projects; they are just there in parts, bits and pieces. It seems to be left up to the tolerant reader to provide the wholeness, anticipate its satisfaction as somehow being latent, a given - perhaps a forgiven; maybe something to be worked out later: see - This approach has its own challenges and concerns.

So what can one say? The alumni all showed that they were involved in the profession as leaders or managers, being involved in major projects from day one of their office experience. Gone, it seems, are the days of making the tea, then progressing on to door and window schedules, and kitchen details, prior to doing any ‘real’ work. The idea of the apprentice seems to have gone. Knowing how long it took to get a real understanding of the profession, so as to have comprehensive confidence in all its aspects, one is left wondering if our digital world does not engender a self-importance beyond capacity, an unquestioning confidence that overlays, shrouds a lack of experience, converting it into brash statements about ‘MY’ work that are expected to be admired by all. In more modest times, one was always self-critical before engaging any politically-styled spin: times change, but the idea of architecture as an apprenticeship remains.

The proposition was framed as an question: what might one actually tell the Advisory Group? The first point would be that we need to get ideas debated; we need theories, thoughts, possibilities written about and discussed, instead of publishing impressively coloured, glossy books for publicity and self-praise. Why not promulgate a book of equal size presenting papers on architecture, discourses, if a flasher name is needed? Maybe the Baird/Jencks (ed.) book, Meaning in Architecture, 1968, model can be adopted, where the debate between contributors can be carried on in the margins. Let’s discuss history in architecture, how and when it is taught, and why, and what. Gropius always argued that history needed to be introduced later in the course so that students could better appreciate the complexity and integrity of the architecture. Let’s talk about Street View and architecture; let’s revive and review the writings of Howard Robertson, and Trystan Edwards, et al. - reconsider those subjects like manners in architecture, and e.g., proportion, etc. Why not re-introduce the Beaux Arts methods in design teaching, and ponder how, when and what construction is taught? Is there a need for mathematics in architecture; ethics; chemistry; physics; materials; joints; drawing; art history - more? All of these matters need debating, in real discussions where folk come together not to defend their own positions with persistent, stubborn argument, but where each is willing to truly listen and learn, to change opinions, concepts and thoughts that might develop from the shared involvement. Ideas need to be expanded in texts, explored, revealed in order to establish some common ground rather than promote bespoke beliefs - c.f. Kerridge photos: see - and other items in - architectural seeing, anthropology, semiotics: ideas stretch out from other centres of interest, directly and by analogy. They need to be embraced.

Education is important; architectural education is just as paramount; and while heart is at its core as care and feeling, just how this emotive quality is embodied in the learning is critical, for it cannot be assumed to be there by mere fancy, hopeful osmosis, ordinary goodwill, or by just talking about it. One wonders if the new digital instruments that seem to take all the interest and energy of the young architects might not be like the electric guitar, when, on its invention, it was said that it would take fifty years or more to get really good music from it, once its exciting newness had become a subliminal part of the composers being. The date of the invention of the guitar is interesting: 1931: see -

The early CAD that might be fifty years old was so rudimentary that it is now irrelevant. The new digital instruments, like e.g. Grasshopper, are very young. All I know about grasshoppers and technology is that ‘grasshopper’ is the nickname of the lovely Elna design, Elna's beautifully-detailed first sewing machine that should be seen by all young architects as an item of good design. It is in this context that the history debate is needed, along with the discussion on other ideas and challenges. It is too easy to blindly indulge in the new intrigues of the technological world. One wonders: might one do away with CAD for just one week? The Elna designed in 1936, and distributed 1940, is nearly 80 years old, but remains a true gem: ‘high tech’ of the era would be the architectural term: see - It is a 'high tech' that includes life, augments it, rather than distracts from it, as our new technologies seem to.

Soheil Abedian

We need to ponder the question, what is architecture? in order to understand.  Soheil Abedian says it is “an instrument for change," like technology itself. This may be so, but it is not the core issue, and neither is “the heart,” although heart remains a part, the root of everything. The core purpose of architecture is more inclusive: to confirm life, to confirm being; traditionally, this means remembrance, the reminiscence of origins. This is the purpose of art: it has nothing to do with aesthetics, although it can be spoken of in this regard. Confirming life, supporting it in all its rich, subtle, abstractions and functions, is what architecture does when at its best. It is habitation for the spirit, the mind, and the body. There is little wonder that mental health has reached such astonishing epidemic proportions when art and architecture have been isolated from their role in this confirmation, to become personal statements of bespoke genius to be envied in admiration.

In this sense, art and architecture now divide rather than enrich an integrated wholeness of body, mind, and spirit, recalling our being at its roots. Without this coherence in contentment, there is only a vague, indeterminate void, a nagging, hollow nothingness promoting incomprehensible, distorted dreams, difference, and personal whims. This is the problem with the architecture of appearances: it may look impressive, but it does conceal an inarticulate longing of the spirit in its over-confident hype. Science has shown us the value of doubt. The lack of doubt in the new work, the apparent self-satisfaction with outcomes, is a worry. In the same way, the lack of theory, a failure to debate ideas in architecture, leaves one tottering on the edge of a cliff of uncertainty, hoping the next step is not into a private oblivion, for we are left knowing not what we are really doing.

Architecture needs to be firmly rooted in enchantment, enrichment, and facts, not fanciful fictions. For this to be, architects need to know the implications of their activities; know these depths with a questioning confidence and rigour that is constantly seeking. Holding on to an assured, predetermined stance is dangerous, as the words of the ancients point out: if you find the Buddha, kill him. Heart might be a good way into this understanding, knowing that it is more than words and appearances. The serious question must be: if “the heart is the heart,” how does one teach this? What must a school of architecture do when the everyday examples, the ideals of our era, are exhibited as slick and profitable developments that get reproduced in the rose-coloured glass of promotional brochures not unlike the Bond book?

 These are random images from the 2019 review, edition 3

Most images represent one page of the publication.
They give a feel for the graphic style and content of the work and the book.