As the dust settles in the aftermath of the round of visits to the end-of-year-shows of the London schools of architecture, one particular issue keeps springing to mind - the prefix 'international' that with some justification is being added, what it means and what it could mean. The opportunities born of state-to-state grants, exchange rate bargain-hunting (as was) and London's culturally pivotal position between the us and Europe mean that teachers and students from across the water are being tempted by the variety and richness of the menus on offer by a number of schools. None more so than the Architectural Association, whose show I found particularly impressive this year.
After a number of rather somnambulant years, the intensity of the debate seems to have increased dramatically and is clearly manifest in both the variety of the student work and the projects review. The review is important in a number of respects. It is a beautifully produced working document and summary of the production of each unit, and signals ascendant areas such as the graduate school, where some projects in the design research lab are drawing experimental ideas towards practice, and technical studies, where the influence of a number of interesting contributors is marked on the design work of a number of the units. The last few pages, however, contain the real message: under 'public events' are listed the summary of the year's debate in the school, a heady concoction of 25 exhibitions, plus public lectures, one-day seminars, events and publications.
While the show represents a festival of current architectural representation, it is clear that it is based on the rich ground laid by invitations extended to those who have participated, including artists, engineers, philosophers, historians and architects, not singly but in groups of speakers to emphasise dialogue and debate. The aa as host has become once more a kind of speakers' corner for some of the most interesting voices to be heard in Europe, Japan and, to a lesser extent, the us. Most interestingly, it has been the neutral territory needed for the meeting of divergent schools of thought from other countries, viz Vienna/Graz, Barcelona/ Madrid.
At the coalface of this endeavour, and in addition to the core of excellent units in continuity, are the considerable number of new units formed in the last two years based on two freshly predominant principles:
that those running the units are practising architects who hold a theoretical position that underpins their work
that they are consciously drawn from a number of different European countries.
These requirements, to our gain because of those who have come, are also a criticism of the lack of those who would meet the criteria in this country.
The aa has gone a long way, both financially and in creating partnerships, to enable this mix of talent, also made possible by either the post-project sabbatical, as in the case of Matthias Reese - recently project architect on Daniel Liebskind's Berlin museum - or with the belated arrival of Go, Easyjet and Eurorail links to allow the weekly commute of Paul Robbrecht and Ben Van Berkel from Belgium and Holland; Philippe Barthelemy and Nasrine Seraji-Bozorgzad from France; and Carlos Muro, Inaki Abalos and Huan Herreros from Spain.
This all marks a clear future for the aa and possibly other schools of architecture.