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Exclusive: Rogers and Koolhaas warn AA cost-cutting could prove fatal

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Leading architects including Rem Koolhaas, Richard Rogers, Phyllis Lambert, Toyo Ito and Kengo Kuma have signed a letter saying the AA’s planned redundancy drive could prove fatal to the institution

The letter, written by British architects Tony Fretton, Kate Macintosh and Ed Jones of Dixon Jones and sent to AA president David Porter today (Tuesday), urged the AA to carry out an immediate u-turn and was co-signed by dozens of other architects and academics in north America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

Signatories also include Kazuyo Sejima, Peter Eisenman, John-Louis Cohen, Kenneth Frampton, Ted Cullinan, Robin Nicholson, Adam Caruso, Nigel Coates, Alan Stanton and Yoshiharu Tsukamoto from Atelier Bow Wow.

The letter urges the AA to reverse its redundancy plans, which affect 16 staff at the architecture school in Bedford Square including its entire exhibitions and publications departments. The latter is responsible for producing the AA’s highly-acclaimed journal for members, the AA Files, which was launched in 1981 by the AA’s then chairman Alvin Boyarski.

While the AA denies that either AA Files or its wider cultural functions are under threat and stresses that no final decisions have been taken, the latest protest follows previous criticism of the AA’s actions by figures including Joseph Rykwert, Ellis Woodman and curators at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The new letter said that the Files ‘under its present editorship’ significantly bolstered the AA’s worldwide reputation as a ‘centre of intellectual exchange’ and argued that the exhibitions and publications functions were vital to the school’s reputation and viability, including its ability to attract international students.

It even suggested the AA’s current course of action could prove fatal to the institution.

‘The notion that by “lopping off” these activities the future of the school would be protected is thus fundamentally misconceived,’ the letter states. ‘On the contrary: without them it is hard to see how, in the competitive international marketplace of architectural education, the school could survive.

‘We call on you therefore as president to reverse this proposal before irredeemable damage is inflicted on the association and the school.’

While it has yet to comment on the latest protest, the AA itself has so far responded angrily to the backlash, with Porter writing to the AJ to complain about its coverage and to repeat that while there was an ‘urgent’ need to make cost savings, ‘no assumption at all about outcome’ had been made.

In a public presentation to the school delivered last Monday, the AA’s interim director Samantha Hardingham gave details of its financial difficulties, saying the school was seeking taught degree-awarding powers (TDAP) to strengthen the value of AA qualifications.

This process involves convincing the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) of the school’s sound governance and financial viability.

Hardingham suggested the AA was overly reliant on student fees and said it had been hit by a ‘massive’ increase in rates and rents inflated by the nearby Crossrail project at Tottenham Court Road plus the cost of the ongoing revamp of its Bedford Square headquarters designed by Wright & Wright.

She also insisted that the AA Files and other parts of the AA perceived to be under threat would be retained.

‘This is what is meant by roles and departments being made redundant. It does not mean that the functions will be scrapped,’ she said. ‘There will not be no AA Files, no exhibitions, no fundraising. It’s far from the truth. It’s about an organisation looking at how it can operate viably and effectively.’

She also complained that the AA had been treated like a ‘giant pinata’ since the redundancy consultation was announced.

‘Everyone was very quick to get their baseball bats out and start giving us a good old whack,’ she said. ‘I don’t think … any of the people who do what they do to enable us to do our stuff work for that, I really don’t.’

The AA has been approached for comment on the latest letter. 

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  • This is obviously about funding shortfalls /rising costs of operating so rather than get on their high horses why don’t these well paid starchitects financially support the place that helped elevate them?

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