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Degree show review 2019: Architectural Association

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The show’s weaving of past and future, marshalling the resources and assets of the AA, exemplifies what new director Eva Franch i Gilabert looking to achieve at the school

After rumours that the AA Projects Review this year would be radically differently organised under the new stewardship/directorship of Eva Franch i Gilabert, changes are immediately if subtly signposted by a shelf of cards. Each bears a word on the front in an overlapping alphabet – Aesthetics, Border, Bureaucracy, Care ending in Waste and Youth: words Franch describes as ‘topics of relevance within architecture and society and at large’.

Some of these terms are used to structure the exhibition – with units grouped loosely under them mixing intermediate and diploma levels – while also structuring the newly relaunched AA Files, edited by Maria Giudici. Franch describes this as a ‘pedagogical mirror’ between exhibition and publication, aiming to start ‘conversations across units, programmes and constituencies inside and outside the school’.

Aa projects review 2019 first year sb 9233

Aa projects review 2019 first year sb 9233

With her curatorial background as director of Storefront, it’s perhaps not surprising that she’s using the exhibition and publication to signal the changes she’s making at the school, which she took over last year in the wake of its slight existential loss of confidence amid rocky finances.

But she’s also clear her intention is not: ‘to change things for change’s sake but by approaching things differently’. Indeed, this year’s Project Review is the usual vast profusion of work, but it’s undoubtedly more tightly marshalled, no bad thing for a showcase often criticised as impenetrable to outsiders.

The groupings of disparate diploma/intermediate units set up interesting cross-currents and in some rooms units have collaborated to curate their work cross-unit. So, under ‘Nature’, concrete tables (their eco message unclear), cast with the unit names: Intermediate 3, 9, 11 and Diploma 17, bear books of student work presenting a wide ecosystem of projects.

Intermediate 3 focuses on the idea of the forest, with projects such as Ludvig Julius Holmen’s intense mapping of trees against conflict zones. Meanwhile Intermediate 9 focuses on Stockholm, drawing rich parallels between creating a sense of place in architecture and sourcing natural ingredients in cooking in a series of recipe-monikered projects. 

Aa projects review 2019 dip 2 sb 9381

Aa projects review 2019 dip 2 sb 9381

A room fairly popping with ideas is ‘Commons’ – typical of the more social and political side to much work, exploring shared/contested spaces from Diploma 7’s Fluid Territories focus on the North Sea, with its delicate evocative models, to Diploma 14’s exploration of the idea of garden, such as Andrea Vasilcin’s Welfare Villa: Privileged Life to Collective Living, an elegantly represented renaissance retrofit of a Medici Palazzo, and Caroline Esclapez’ guerrilla hacking of the Palais Royal square in Paris.

These share space with Diploma 3: The Architectural Media Complex, a unit run by Merve Anil and Christina Varvia with Eyal Weizman as a collaborator looking at issues around the mapping of contested spaces of power, a new unit this year, indicative of a gradual pedagogical refresh at the school. Projects here include Lola Conte’s beautifully crisp delineations of UK courtrooms in Field Notes for the Place of Law.

Aa projects review 2019 aa drl sb 9226

Aa projects review 2019 aa drl sb 9226

Another rich grouping of units is found under the heading ‘Home’. These range from fascinating elucidations of Parisian housing typologies in Diploma 5 to ideas of collective living and ‘architecture without walls’ in Intermediate 6. Domestic ephemera feature in the engagingly curated display of Guillermo Lopez and Jack Self’s Diploma 6: Nobody’s Home, where small books by students richly riff off subjects from Maximilian Worrell’s Democracy and Corridors to Anna Emma Voisin Isdahl’s Washing and Watching. 

In the ‘Urban’ room, the Housing and Urbanism postgrad programme’s New Ecologies for Abandoned Territories of Kentish Town is strikingly presented in 60s-style retro-graphics. London is also the focus – in particular its potential fragmentation. This includes Diploma 1’s London Supernova, Siong Wang’s fascinating project on artefacts at the British Museum, digital reproduction and cultural restitution.  

Another room that gets nicely down to earth – literally – is ‘Territory’, containing projects like Eva Ibanez Fuertes’ look at Scottish land ownership in terms of developing a protocol for capturing the amount of CO2 retained in peat, notable for the intensity of its research. 

Aa projects review 2019 dip 7 sb 8993

Aa projects review 2019 dip 7 sb 8993

A further single piece of work from each of all 779 students has been hung throughout the school’s circulation spaces at Franch’s initiative, the school’s ‘future archive’, as she describes it. Indeed she’s keen to celebrate the AA archive itself – for instance the title typeface in AA Files is one designed by a student in 1938. It’s this ‘weaving’ of the past and future, marshalling the resources and assets of the school, that exemplifies what she’s looking to achieve at every level, including an aim to cut waste to zero.

With a planned new incubator space supporting young post-graduate research, there’s an undoubted new energy here, from the restructuring of the show up. It is succinctly summed up by a 1983 quote from previous director, Alvin Boyarsky, reproduced in one room: ‘We fight the battle with drawings on the wall’. That battle has been convincingly commenced afresh this year.

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