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Ara Architectural Studies Graduates Showcase The Shape of Things To Come

During the last week of November, a miniature city was created in the Kahukura Building at Ara – a truly diverse collection of buildings that could fill a metropolis that are actually alternate concepts for inner-city spaces in Christchurch.

EXIT is the year-end showcase for work completed by Ara’s 2020 graduating class of Bachelor of Architectural Studies students. The annual exhibition demonstrates to family, friends and industry figures alike the technical and design capabilities that students have acquired during their years of study, but also the realization of each’s unique vision.

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Tayla Clarke entitled her model of a convention centre and ‘in-between’ space ‘To Wander – Time, Space and Journey’, which is a fitting description of the exhibition in general, a curated array of vastly different concepts and executions, all unbounded by budget, bylaws or client imperatives.  For their final project, Ara’s architectural studies tutor Bernadette Muir asked that students to unleash the full power of their conceptual and design thinking upon a civic space located in the heart of the re-building central city. The goal was to create an outstanding example of a “cultural, community or recreational facility (that)…considers the needs of the community and the surrounding environment.”

“What guided me in creating the brief for the students this year was thinking about how this was a year during which we've all had time to consider what's important in our own life, what matters in our communities, and what’s special” says Bernadette.

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For the students, making their ideas actual and visual involved sketching, model-making and a high-level consideration of form, usage, surrounding structures and facilities, as well as a deep understanding of the engineering involved and of human psychology.

Although many of the models and concept drawings were impressive as audacious flights of fancy, the degree program is just as well known for its ‘ground-up’ collaboration with the engineering profession. Belfiore Bologna, Programme Leader for the Bachelor of Architectural Studies, says “Here at Ara, architecture is part of the Engineering department, so our students are taught to speak the same language as engineers and apply engineering thinking from the beginning of their creative process. This means that we avoid the traditional divide between the exercise of pure ‘creativity’ and technical realities; if you view the engineering of a building as integral to its design and usage, it actually becomes an element of your design process, so it’s liberating rather than constraining.”

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This close collaboration with engineers is further demonstrated by the working relationship that the Department has with local firms such as Beca, which sponsors the annual award with a focus on structural design. Peter Mai, Senior Associate at Beca noted “When Bernadette first approached Beca a couple years ago and asked if we wanted to be involved in this program I thought ‘why would you want a bunch of structural engineers ruining some architectural students’ day? But once we sat down and talked about it, it was clear that there was a really good opportunity, both for the students here but also for some of the structural engineers at Beca. So now we see it as a two-way street – consulting engineers aren’t there to always says no; in fact, we want our engineers to treat the collaboration like a concept workshop where you're not allowed to say no! You have to work together and figure out a way to make it work. So that's been really rewarding.”  

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Throughout the year students also work closely with other award-winning companies such as Warren and Mahoney. The Degree incorporates a range of opportunities to participate in internship programmes, to present ideas to working architects, and for students to gain additional insights from urban designers and engineers via guest lectures and workshops.

“This year, the industry guests mentioned that this is a place where students have ‘played’. Our degree is recognized as being a space where we encourage and celebrate curiosity, creativity, experimentation. The work you can see here is very free like in terms of being not constrained; demonstrating how students’ imaginations direct their work, each in their unique way. Our studio is a place where we tell students ‘please bring yourself’ – you’re safe doing that here, we encourage you to do that!” says Architectural Studies tutor Bernadette Muir.