Gallery: Unit X Festival 2017

Images provided by staff from Manchester School of Art

Following a truly fantastic week of events, below is a gallery of images from this year’s Unit X Festival, along with photographs from activities and events that happened during the Unit.


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Unit X Festival 2017 – Identity

Words & Images: Aimee Plumbley

First year Three Dimensional Design and Interior Design students displayed their work in Manchester’s quirkiest independent bookshop ‘Chapter One’ as part of the Unit X Festival.

Interior Design students responded to the concept of ‘paper towns’, which are towns or places created by mapmakers that don’t exist, in order to deter plagiarism. Students explored the concept of ‘paper towns’ within the Manchester context. The response to this topic varied greatly; from the placement of fake blue plaques misplacing Manchester’s history, to dreamy visual constructions depicting fake towns in popular culture and the blending between realities.

3D Design students explored the identity of Manchester in their pieces. The prevalent themes were: what Manchester is, its histories, its culture and what Manchester could be in the future. Students drew on things such as Manchester’s architecture; communities; industrial past; homelessness issue; drug culture- to defining events such as the Strangeways riots. Pieces included ‘knuckledusters’ made out of everyday objects and accompanying zine, inspired by the Strangeways riots, to plant pots inspired by Manchester’s connection with its canals and sustainability.

Well done to everyone involved!

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Unit X Exhibition 2016

Words by Ayah Alshami, Ayesha Mirza and Houda Kaddouh

We have just celebrated the fifth year of Unit X in style with a truly fantastic exhibition of our student collaborations. The exhibition was held at London Scottish House, an ordinary office block transformed by inspirational work ranging from the modern era to classic renaissance compositions.

The students’ work was displayed using an array of techniques, each uniquely developed to the subject matter. From compositions to full office installations, the building was brought to life in the most brilliant of fashions.

Second year students from Illustration with Animation, Creative Multimedia and Fine Art Curating collaborated with renowned composer Peter Byrom-Smith who composed incredible short pieces for each student, which were played live by a 12-piece orchestra. Each animation spoke an intimate story, from the threats of biodiversity, to a Native American folk tale about a grasshopper and a cricket, produced with puppets! Each live performance felt like a personalised experience, as though you were being let into a little secret. It was definitely not one to miss, the energy in the room was incredible and the performance set a wonderful tone for the rest of the evening.

‘I was challenged to work in disciplines that I wouldn’t usually consider exploring’

Tapping into Manchester’s Year of Science, first year Textiles in Practice and Three Dimensional Design students were involved in a project entitled ‘Art Meets Science’. In groups students deliberated on how science and technology have reformed methods in representing the body. Visitors were encouraged to look at every detail within the various fabrics. The embroidered pieces were particularly delicate and intricate. Students also strategically laid out their sketchbooks next to their exhibits, and it was lovely to see the creative process from start to finish.

‘Working with people with other skills gave me the opportunity to produce a product that looks more complete. My ceramic vessels look a lot more interesting with the textiles features.’

On the second floor, work by Filmmaking, Animation and Photography students, expressed their brief with pieces relating to the English National Ballet, thereby accompanying the world premiere of Giselle, choreographed by the renowned Akran Khan, which will be performed in September. This had the audience walking through a series of projectors, much like an American drive-in movie theatre, except that one was able to navigate through many different movies in the same space.

Property developer Bruntwood asked students to develop original ideas for hoardings to surround the new Circle Square development on Oxford Road, and reimagine spaces within Blackfriar’s House.

As we become infatuated with the advancement of Manchester’s development, it is crucial that we are able to reassess how we occupy the city.

By working on this brief, students had to pitch, create proposals and liaise with Bruntwood representatives to develop their own ideas.

Unit X has continuously proven to be ingenious and resourceful.

The work produced was extremely professional and I could easily see any of these designs being cultivated in Manchester.

Another enterprising brief involved developing 12 looks for client James Long, who has quickly become one of the most sought after fashion designers. Long has recently won the Fashion Forward Award, an initiative set up to promote emerging design talent, a wonderful opportunity for those who selected to undertake the Fashion brief for their Unit X project. Students experimented with different materials such as foam, and produced sample pieces alongside sketches. The exhibit attracted many visitors who came to marvel at all the bright colours and exaggerated shapes. The students curated each outfit with aesthetics very much at the forefront of contemporary fashion.

Out of the four floors of installations and art, it would be impossible to choose a favourite, however first year students from Fashion, Fashion Art Direction, Interactive Arts and Interior Design definitely came close. This collaboration played with ideas of temptation and escapism, creating environments that heightened your senses and immersed you into alternative surroundings. Students experimented with different materials and delved into themes surrounding the question ‘Can space affect your behaviour?’. Each installation evoked feelings from the public, be it tranquillity, or an unsettling sense, as each atmosphere was unpredictable, flicking quickly from one emotion to another.

‘It was challenging to work with courses that work in a completely different way to how we work. I am doing Interactive Arts and working with Fashion students that are used to strict timescales and deadlines, I felt pressured in a productive way. I had to make quick decisions and be selective with my ideas.’

For me, the highlight of the evening had to be the educator workshop. A student who had worked on this project explained that students from a variety of courses had worked together to develop and deliver engaging workshops in public settings. Most of the students who chose this option would like to go on to work in schools.

It was therapeutic to escape from the busy exhibition, have a chance to unwind and make pompom key-rings, and visitors were able to create their own collaborative piece by throwing darts at paint filled balloons.

Overall, I was exceptionally overwhelmed with the high standard of quality, professionalism and how the eclectic mix of courses harmonized. It was truly interesting to see how everyone approached each notion in a different way. Students have raised the bar, and expectations next year will be high. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Unit X 2017!

‘As an alumni of the Three Dimensional Design course at Manchester School Of Art, the Unit X exhibition is always a highlighted date in my calendar. It is just incredible to see how the students developed their unique approaches to the collaborative briefs this year resulting is this phenomenal transformation of the London Scottish House in the city centre. It is notable that the standard of the work across all courses is creeping up each year. The experience from the initial introduction to the unit through to the final exhibit is invaluable for the students careers beyond university.’

‘From the inspiring talks, trips and workshops to the opportunity of engaging with an external organisation, Unit X offers the perfect package for students to experience working as a creative in the real world.’  

You can access a gallery of works from the exhibition here.

There are also lots of posts detailing the processes our students went through to get to the exhibition here.



Gallery: Unit X Final Show 2016

Images provided by Staff & Students from Manchester School of Art, and visitors

This year’s final exhibition was a perfect end to a truly full on ten weeks for our students. The standard of collaborative work produced seems to improve year on year, and we are incredibly proud to share their results with you.

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Option 7: Publishing

Words: Abi Goodman

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Last week we caught up with Second year students who have undertaken Option 7: Publishing as their Unit X project this term. Students have had a busy 10 weeks which have included: a day-long workshop with Studio Dumbar; lectures from 4Creative, Human After All, Hey Studio and Mucho from Barcelona; the opportunity to take on an individual project concerning a new concept store in Berlin for Topman (which could lead to internship opportunities for some); and working in groups to develop and pitch a magazine in response to words drawn out of a hat.

Students on the BA (Hons) Graphic Design course have been joined by students from BA (Hons) Three Dimensional Design, BA (Hons) Creative Multimedia and BA (Hons) Illustration with Animation.

This week you will be able to see the Kickstarter films and AO posters generated by each group promoting their magazines at this year’s Unit X finale. Last week we had a sneaky peak at the work of selected groups who had been chosen to present to industry professionals Paul Willoughby (Human Afterall), Steve Watson (Stack Magazines) and Rob Walmsey of Teacake.

Of the groups we saw:

  • The word ‘Danger’ was turned into a magazine called ‘Milk’ chronicling tales of obsession and weird habits;
  • The word ‘Uncut’ was turned into a high quality volume called ‘Curious’ of which issue One was concerned with censorship and secrecy; whilst
  • The word ‘Chaos’ inspired the playful ‘Disarray’ which took the six degrees of separation theory to explore subjects ranging from bungee jumping to the Glaswegian icecream wars.

Before the pitches we got chatting to team ‘Danger’ and team ‘Uncut’ who described the Unit X experience as follows:

“It has been a pretty smooth experience working as a group. We established a style early on. We knew we wanted to be illustrative and typographic and worked out a colour scheme.” (Team Uncut)

“It has been a bigger task so we’ve divided up roles and spooled ideas together” (Team Danger)

We were also fortunate to talk to Rob Walmsely who explained that he set up Teacake with two of his peers in his second year at Manchester School of Art and has been working within the studio for the last 5 years. His top tips for students were to be professional, work as a team, support each other, say ‘yes’ to everything and most importantly to:

“Work hard and be nice to people, you never know who knows who and where it might lead.”

Option 4: Design Hub/ Creative Studio

Words: Abi Goodman

“It’s the first project with a client that has been really good.” (Second year Interior Design student)

“We’ve moved on since the preliminary pitch. That pitch helped with useful points for us to address.” (Second year Interior Design student)

“If there are some good schemes, we will work with students to bring them into our spaces. Last year we commissioned two students and helped them to develop and install their ideas.” (Bilal Alam – Bruntwood)

Design Studio/ Creative Hub is a project about how we can re-think and re-propose how we inhabit, socialise and work within city workspaces. The project has allowed second year students to work for Bruntwood as a client (who with over one hundred offices in the North-West are on of Manchester’s leading commercial property owners).

Students from BA (Hons) Interior Design, BA (Hons) Textiles in Practice, BA (Hons) Interactive Arts, BA (Hons) Three Dimensional Design and BA (Hons) Fine Art have formed mini ‘design studios’ to design, make, pitch and create proposals that reimagine spaces within Blackfriars House – an office space within Deansgate. Students were able to choose to make proposals for one of the following – the Stairwells & Lift lobby areas; reception area; loading bay; ground floor area; or roof garden.

We joined the project as students pitched proposals to three representatives from Bruntwood – Simon Bushell, Bilal Alam and Robert Stirling. Bruntwood gave their instant reactions about what excited them, where ideas could develop, asked questions about materials and processes, highlighted things to consider and gave advice on the best ways of communicating the essence of proposals (through elevations, models and visualisations that help the audience envisage the re-imagined spaces).

We look forward to seeing how they develop. You can see the proposals at this year’s Unit X exhibition at Mount Street – we’ll see you there!


Option 4a: The Rooftop Project

Words: Abi Goodman

In addition to the opening of the Unit X exhibition at London Scottish House, Mount Street (opposite the Manchester Convention Centre), a pop-up event will be taking place for tenants at The Rooftop Project, 24 Lever Street, within the Northern Quarter on Thursday 12th May.

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The Rooftop Project is an initiative that has transformed a once unutilised urban space into a social hub for the building’s creative & digital industry tenants. It is a co-designed space designed for conversation, relaxation and collaboration.

Second year students from BA (Hons) Three Dimensional Design, BA (Hons) Textiles in Practice, BA (Hons) Fine Art, and BA (Hons) Interactive Arts have been working in groups to create site-specific interventions for the Rooftop using sustainable materials. The project involves transforming a rooftop space through upcycling and re-hashing existing ‘industrial materials’ to come up with contemporary solutions for weather resistant seating, coverings, shelters, lighting, ornaments and/or sculptures.

We have been fortunate to join students on the project on two occasions, the first time for a materiality workshop (in which students were able to experiment with manipulating different materials) and on a second occasion when students pitched their proposed ideas to the client, Becca Taylor (who is a partner of the Curiosity Bureau and is undertaking doctoral research concerning designing with people on ‘The Rooftop Project’) and Greg Ashton (who organises club nights and events).

“The rooftop was originally an activist response. A form of activism to create some green space within the Northern Quarter.” (Becca)

The client was interested in the concepts underpinning the proposed ideas (driven by each group developing their own manifesto). Becca and Greg also gave great advice about the practicalities of installing work including the need to consider: the weather (particularly the wind); the scale of the proposed work (whether it is big enough, how it will fit in with the configuration of the roofspace and the way it is used); the weight (it mustn’t be too heavy); stability; and access to power if required.

Pitched projects included a lighting solution for the rooftop to enhance the space for club nights, work to adorn the borders of the rooftop, an interactive angle-poised crane sculpture with a reflective ball to highlight the rooftop surroundings, a piece of seating inspired by the interests of the building’s users, and an immersive shelter.

Commenting on the experience of working across disciplines, Fine Art student Sophie said:

“[The Rooftop Project] is enjoyable as it has attracted people with an interest in design and sculptural interests. We’ve got a discipline in this and have had to be really structured in the way we work which is great.”

Having seen the interim pitches we’re really excited to see the final products installed on the rooftop!