We are coming to the end of the conventional academic year. Across most of the University, exams have been taken and marking is well underway. But that also means that – as the title of this blog indicates – it’s showtime.  In the Head Post Office, the Sheffield Institute of Art degree show is on, and in Hallam Hall, the Architecture and Architectural Technology show is underway.  Both run until June 29, and, wherever you are in the University, or the city or, indeed anywhere else, they are well worth a visit.  For me they are amongst the highlights of the year at Hallam.

The Architecture and Architectural Technology show in Hallam Hall is cleverly put together.  The route through the exhibition allows you to trace the growing acquisition of knowledge, skill and sensibilities as our students move through their courses. Much of the work is stunning.   The architectural models are simply a delight, characterised by attention to detail, imaginative conception and clarity of execution. I talked to one architecture student about her model, for a riverside boathouse, and she guided my eye around her work, looking at the way it reflected the contours of the landscape and drew in the curious passerby. The use of advanced technology in design and planning is now exceptionally sophisticated, and allows students to produce architectural plans of exquisite beauty.  But what, I think, I enjoy most about the show is the way the Hallam curriculum links technique to purpose.  As they progress through the courses, students become ever more adept in thinking about technical problems not simply as difficult academic puzzles but as social and human challenges, looking at design as a social activity.  That spills through their work: engaging with user groups, and working in collaborative teams.

This year’s architecture and architectural technology show

The SIA degree show in the Head Post Office is more diverse, but just as engaging.  Our art and design curriculum is wide ranging, from fine art, through to video installations, jewellery-making, fashion and product design. Each of these has a distinctive set of curricular and artistic concerns.  Many of them are – in the best way – challenging.  I have a soft spot for the jewellery, where the combination of stunning materials, exquisite technical dexterity and imaginative thought is extraordinary.  Product and graphic design students work on a larger scale, developing ideas for products, toys and furniture and displaying them in the most inviting ways.  The fine art and illustration shows stretch students, and observers, in striking ways.   The fashion show, replete with the mood boards and learning logs which trace ideas from conception through design to execution, is always striking and this year the SIA Fashion Show takes place on June 21st in the Hertha Ayrton STEM atrium (tickets are available here).

The skill, intelligence, energy and engagement of the shows make them a real treasure of the University. They are evidence of genuine curricular engagement with real world challenges, and they demonstrate exceptional levels of achievement.  In the last two years, the University has purchased, and is displaying, examples of students’ work; over time, the collection itself will mature. Talking to students about their work – I always find they tell me things, or make me think about them, in ways I had not understood myself – is a real delight.

The opening of the shows coincided with confirmation of very good news indeed: the University’s Lab4Living won one of the intensely competitive UKRI Extending Excellence in England research centre grants.  Over the next three years, Lab4Living, led by Professor Paul Chamberlain, will receive £4m to extend and develop its work: the premise of the Extending Excellence scheme was to identify genuinely outstanding research where targeted investment would allow the activity to be significantly scaled up. The Hallam project is focused on Lab4Living’s capacity to advance its ground-breaking research in the development of innovative products and environments that promote quality-of-life in the context of an ageing population – the ‘100 Year Life’.

So, as this academic year draws to an end, it’s a sheer joy to celebrate outstanding achievement in education and research, in shaping futures and creating knowledge.  I’ll say it again: do find time to explore the shows in the next ten days.

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