Today was the first day of Orientation Week at the Architectural Association.
I had thought it would be a little weird being outnumbered by people who are younger than me. I'm not entirely used to that because I have always been younger than my classmates and colleagues at work and in school but I soon realized that even as a graduate student, courtesy of the School's structure and admissions system, I was not entirely outnumbered by younger students. The School allows admission into almost all of its years simultaneously (many transfer students, many one-year visit students, along with graduate and foundations students), which means that on orientation day, you can see the entire cross section of the School waiting in line for registration.
As for my impressions, they were not entirely unexpected. I had visited before and have friends who already attend the School, so, for good or for bad, I have already developed an idea about how the School operates and performs, and am currently putting it under test. A major characteristic of the School's atmosphere is its informality (I have operated in somewhat informal environments in the past, but this is totally different, and my last year at the office has introduced me to efficiency -my nemesis- so I will have to shake it off as studio starts). Informality is a common thread that runs through both the School's organizational structure and it's educational pedagogy. In the welcoming lecture, Brett Steele, the AA's Director, put it best when he said that the School is "soft in it's infrastructure" and stressed that this was "not an accident. He also reiterated that the AA is a "very peculiar place."
It is indeed a peculiar place in many ways. I was watching the lecture on video relay in the basement, while the lecture was taking place in what used to be a family drawing room not more that 170 years ago. Not much has changed of the room itself as I can imagine, at least remnants of it's old use are still there. The main School grounds was a house built for a family of 7, and as the numbers I have been seeing posted around indicate, there is some 600 students and a generous number of tutors and staff occupying the now tightly sprawling property.
Steele also described how the School is trying to operate on three scales, the local, the regional, and the global in attempts to widen its reach and further develop its agenda (a vague agenda, but I will get to that later). Locally, the School has consolidated all its venues into a tighter footprint as some of its programs had been scattered some (albeit walking) distance away from the main grounds. This will hopefully help increase the interaction and conversation between the infinite number of universes (a function of the unit system that governs the undergraduate degree, and the different graduate programs, each focusing on a special field(s) of interest) that operate. I imagined molecules in gaseous state when this part of the lecture was going on, but I digress. But I think that is important. The different units and the different graduate programs already seem to interact with each other, even if they do not like it, but they have to interact, otherwise what is a point of taking a conceptual stance in architecture if it cannot be tested in itself and against other stances (I'm waiting to see if my opinion changes on this, but at the moment, I maintain that some diversity is key). On the regional scale, the AA is continually developing Hooke Park, a fabrication workshop in the woods of Dorset, some 3 to 4 hours outside of London. As the School's website indicates, Hooke Park is a "a laboratory of experimentation and research" that will allow for massive undertakings of fabrication to happen that are otherwise restricted by space and transportation. On the global scale, the School continuously attempts to set up international workshops around the world. While I see advantages there, I also find it too political.
As for the School-wide agenda, it is too early for me to determine anything of substance (especially when looking at the infinite number of agendas that operate within the school, one of which I will be shamelessly championing), but the welcoming lecture stressed the AA's legacy of always "rethinking architecture as we now know it," which is true if one looks at the number of people and ideas that have emerged out of the many conversations that happened within the walls of the indistinct house that sits on Bedford Square. At least I hope it's true, even if only for my sake. Steele referred to running the School as no different than running a dinner and trying "to find interesting people who can carry on interesting conversations."
A small introduction to the public programme (lectures and exhibitions) that the AA organizes was also given. I will be sure to update this whenever something comes up (almost weekly?).
The rest of the week is still dedicated for orientation with a number of social and academic activities. A visit to a number of firms will take place, and of the ones on the list, I'd like to try to go to David Chipperfield's and Ove Arup's.
On a lighter note, I will move into my sardine box of a studio (I love it though) sometime at the end this week or early next week (the DRL starts on Monday the 28th). I will be walking to school (when the English weather permits) and I have found a nice little book store that is right on the way. I think it's an opportunity for me to pick up random books whenever my time permits because it's dangerous to completely bury myself in studio work and detach myself of everything else in the world.