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Architectural Association Project Review 2008

Harvard University masters student Sydney Alexis Mainster reviews the AA’s degree show

Entering the AA’s Projects Review 2008, I quickly turned to my fellow student from the Harvard University, Graduate School of Design and simply asked whether or not she thought these students study the same discipline that we do.

Granted, it is difficult to understand a project’s history and development from only its final presentation. But given that my undergraduate education emphasised tectonic logic and the experiential spatial qualities as the basis of architectural design. I realised I would need to shift my design sensibilities to approach the work before me.

One distinguishing feature of the AA show was that it was difficult to differentiate one year’s output from another. Unlike the work presented at the London Met show, for instance (which differed greatly between years and studios), my classmates and I found the formal consistency at the AA show disquieting. The students’ work was rigorous in its response to studio briefs, which were quite diverse, well-crafted, and multi-scaled. In particular, I very much admired the approach by a few students in Diploma Unit 7 to modular construction systems, which do not require machine tools and could be used in rural locations. The presentation quality across all studios was outstanding, especially the representation in Diploma Unit 14, which combined 2d and 3d representation techniques.

Other studios of particular interest included Diploma 6’s Aerotropolis - Typological Ideas of the City, which dealt with airports as ‘autonomous punctuators, consolidated limit, dispersed mats.’ Diploma 14’s Liquid Cities/Liquid Landscapes explored representation in architecture, arguing that ‘by default, [traditional methods] are reduced and incomplete’ while Diploma 16’s Temporal Projection proposed architectural responses to climate change.

Despite strong opportunities for unique student responses to the challenging studio briefs, so much of the work, though conceptually elegant, was aesthetically very similar. This could be due to the consistent use of parametric modelling and scripting across all studios. The resulting designs often seem scale-less. While parametric modelling responds to specific structural requirements, it requires an intentional step to respond to the human scale.

By contrast, the two projects outside in Bedford Square – the [C]Space Pavilion, built by graduates of the Design Research Laboratory Alvin Huang and Alan Dempsey; and the Swoosh Pavilion, designed and constructed by Intermediate Unit 2 students – address the tectonics of construction and the human experience of space. These pavilions signal a leap forward from the abstract 3D-printed models I saw on display inside.

In summary, the AA show was full of interesting studio briefs, CNC-milled and laser-cut models and elaborate presentation drawings. What it lacked was a diverse approach to architectural design.

Sydney Alexis Mainster is completing her Masters of Architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design

Resume: AA students are just about bearable when they get real.

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