Thursday, July 01, 2010

School shows: Architectural Association


The Architectural Association “builds audiences for experimentation,” proclaims its Director, Brett Steele, who has made pushing the technical boundaries of the discipline his school’s priority. Whether the audiences will understand what is on show is of little consequence to a school which works at the rarefied cutting edge of advanced digital production. Many units are concerned with complex form-finding over contextual realities, and their agendas are bolstered by an incredibly high standard and volume of production across the board, in both the intermediate and diploma schools.


Newly expanded into two adjacent buildings, this year’s AA show provided an even larger labyrinthine network of rooms filled with a riot of undulating models and often impenetrable drawings. Frustratingly, much of the work was left unlabelled, seductive images losing their power without meaning, and any captions that were provided were frequently coded in the usual arcane archispeak.

A refreshing foil to DRL’s orgiastic climax of parametric tumours, some of the newer intermediate units provided a healthy dose of critical cynicism. Sam Jacob’s Pop Vernacular Inter 12 explored the depths of “Post-functional techno primitivsim” in the form of a thatched McDonalds, while Liam Young’s Inter 7 revealed our anxieties through a compelling series of cinematic speculations on the end of the world.


Many of the usually strong units were disappointingly displayed this year, with Diploma 10 and 13 both showing a crisis of curation. The work of Shin Egashira’s Diploma 11 was characteristically gnomic, but beautifully so, the walls plastered with a wunderkammer of intriguing low-tech fragments and chunky Luddite models. Diploma 14, under Pier Vittorio Aureli, also shone out above the melée with its polemic stance against the school’s surrounding “monotonous landscape of diversity.” His students developed a language of monolithic austerity to confront the insurmountability of the city, portraying relentless visions of urban megastructures in stark, critical clarity.


In Diploma 9, Amandine Kastler’s poetic treatise on the city as an endless interior experience stood out for its conceptual rigour. Elegantly modelled in a series of immaculate paper studies, she unfolded her world from the bedroom to the street to the city block in an endless Baroque perspective. Dip 14’s Jorgen Tandberg presented an equally thorough examination of the potentials of generic spaces to cater to different personalities, taking John Hejduk’s North, East, South, West House as a precedent from which to extrapolate a polemic extreme of programmatic separation in his Immeuble Cité.

Originally published in The Architects' Journal, 22 July 2010