The AA School & Projects
Alvin Boyarsky (Director Architectural Association)


Alvin Boyarsky, 1985

©Monica Pidgeon

The Architectural Association School of Architecture has its roots in the 19th century. It was a time when the professions were not particularly organised for education and there was no way in which a young person, working for an established architect, could take an exam and become a professional architect in his own right. Young architectural draughtsmen in London began to meet to talk about the possibility of founding a course. They invited people from the profession who they thought might be sympathetic to them and there were meetings in pubs and meetings in people's living rooms and eventually some more formal evening meetings. And out of this developed a pressure group which eventually established the first English-speaking school of architecture in the world, and which incidentally had succeeded in proposing a bill in Parliament to force an examination for architects to be qualified. And in this way the Royal Institute of British Architects became involved in a formal educational system. So that the beginnings of the Architectural Association School of Architecture established a tradition which the School to this day is nourished by. The tradition includes several interesting aspects. The first is that the students themselves produced the initiative for the gathering, and they invited the people they thought were of interest. So that all those people even today, who are involved in the teaching process, who produce the most interesting lecture series and symposia, are people who are involved in issues or who have done things or have written seminal books etc., who are of interest to the students. And in a way it's not possible for someone to be teaching at the School at the moment who doesn't have a following within the School. This is in sharp contrast to the many schools of architecture all over the world who are led by a tenured faculty who are professional teachers as opposed to people who are active in the field of ideas etc. Another tradition of course is that because it has been a question of issues and personalities and so on, there is no curriculum at the School. The School is organised on the basis of teachers who offer projects, and students who work with them from an appetite for the activities that are programmed. And so there is no question of teaching as a sort of ritual, or teachers walking around in what I call other men's shoes, supervising work. Because everything is real, sharp and experimental at all times, because the teachers have as much at stake as the students. Another tradition of course is the beginnings of the School and the Association which had to do with people gathering to talk about not only education but about architecture in general, a forum as it were. And to this day the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London is a gathering place. Every evening of the week there are a couple of major lectures, people of the British scene or from all parts of the world coming to talk about things of general interest. It's a major exhibition centre. Out of all this has developed a large publishing house which not only makes available information about what has been going on in the lecture hall but also its catalogues. The catalogues are collectors' items now because we've tried very hard to faithfully reproduce the spirit and the quality of the work on view, and there's a vast intellectual audience who vicariously share what's on the walls. Another tradition of course is the large numbers of overseas students and members who are involved in the School and Association. From the very beginning the sort of great British Empire brought people from all parts of the world, and more recently the School I think has approximately 80% of its enrolment from overseas sources - Japan, South America, Africa, Middle East, USA, Canada, all over Europe - and most of the teaching staff themselves come from various parts of the world. Nevertheless a London conversation does still take place.


The AA, Bedford Square, London

©Architectural Association Slide Library

The club-like atmosphere of the AA has possibly to do with its Bloomsbury setting, an 18th century Bedford Square setting very close to the British Museum. And every square inch of these three 18th century houses is used, mostly for public events. There's a bookshop, restaurants, library, slide library, bars, seminar rooms and so on. Students work at home. And so the place is really a gathering place and a social centre for architecture for London. And this is in keeping with the tradition of the founding of the School which moved from one small premise to another until some seventy five years ago it located itself at Bedford Square.

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