AA Research Clusters are year-long special projects, activities and events that bring together diverse groups of AA staff, students and outside partners – audiences, specialists, researchers – in order to realise a body of focused research. Originally conceived in 2005, Research Clusters are mechanisms for triggering and integrating discussion and exchange across the school. Operating as ‘vertical units’, they are intended as platforms through which to explore and enhance existing and new territories and modes of research. The clusters are intended to promote the culture of applied research in the school.
Each year the AA Research Cluster Group, in consultation with existing cluster curators, takes applications from across the school for a new cycle of research areas; there are usually four clusters operating at any one time.
In addition to developing expertise and specific projects, Research Clusters are expected to challenge existing forms of research and presentation – exploring alternative ways in which work can be produced. These might include events, symposia, conferences, workshops, performances, publications, off- or on-site exhibitions, fabrications and interdisciplinary collaborative research and competitions.
AA Research Clusters Launched in 2011/12
Architectural DoppelgangersInes Weizman and Sam Jacob
The research cluster Architectural Doppelgangers aims to explore the relationship of architecture to the multivalent meanings and implications of copying. Subject to law the idea of the copy also brings profound moral disturbance to our idea of architecture. Though the profession increasingly relies on technologies of copy, duplication and replication the idea of originality remains a disciplinary foundation. Does the myth of the doppelganger haunt the discipline? Is architecture’s imminent death signalled by the encounter of its doppelgänger? Does its doubling create an evil twin? Or conversely, might architecture find a productive relationship with the culture of the copy? Originating with a sequence of public interviews, small symposia and talks that will examine a variety of intellectual products and properties, the cluster will explore two main questions: One concerns the nature of the copy, the other the problem of copyright.
In a comprehensive atlas of practices and forms, architecture doppelgangers, obscure cases of architectural curiosity will be archived, categorised and investigated in its myriad forms of duplication, doubling, faking, pirating and re-enactment. Interestingly, every research about a doppelganger always requires an intense study of the original. The question about the value and meaning of the authentic work of architecture as well as the technological possibilities for reproduction will pose very challenging questions for both historians, architects, students and legal experts.
On the basis of such an extensive atlas of ‘architecture doppelgangers’, we will investigate scientific and legal methods to assess the meaning and potentially also unsavoury dealings with architectural doubles. This part of the research will open perhaps also a more unconventional way to explore architecture between legality and illegality. It will concern the rights to architecture, that is, the meaning of the legal owner of the copyright as a private property, but also aims to think through a legal definition of ownership about architecture as a 'public commons'.
Urban PrototypesClara Oloriz Sanjuan and Douglas Spencer
The prefix proto may signify, in relation to type, the notion of the originary or ideal, a concrete experiment or test case, or an abstract and protean informe responding adaptively to its environmental context. The terms prototype and urban prototype are prevalent within the discourse of architecture and related fields of design practice. Yet, though frequently employed both within and outside the AA, these terms are conceived and understood according to a variety of differing, even contradictory, definitions. For some the urban prototype appeals as a cybernetic system with which to model the city; for others, its inflection is more biomimetic, suggesting its derivation from ecologically adapted natural formations. For others still, the urban prototype operates as an analytic – a critical tool, that is, through which the complex dynamics of the urban can be registered and responded to.
The urban prototype acquires its currency, as an object of research, in the context of the continued and rapid urbanisation of the planet, the social, economic and ecological implications of this development, and the desire to produce models of the urban for territories newly opened to the globalising logic of urban entrepreneurialism, eco-cities, ‘place-making’ and the like. Also of particular pertinence to architecture, under contemporary conditions of urbanisation, are the unprecedented possibilities for the design of whole cities now being taken up by figures such Rem Koolhaas/OMA, Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid, and also the design tools and methodologies through which such projects are developed.
Analysing and developing the thought and practice of the urban prototype the cluster will engage with experimental, professional and critical approaches. This will be undertaken through a series of design proposals, interviews, debates and symposia, culminating in an international conference, and communicated through the cluster’s dedicated website alongside print-based publications.
Paradise LostMark Campbell
This Research Cluster explores the notion of architectural obsolescence. If we accept Siegfried Giedion’s argument that architecture manifests the unconscious will of society, then it can also exist as a kind of residual by-product and a marker of defunct socio-economic processes. In this sense, these long-abandoned buildings are not only emptied of any literal purpose but also – in the more rhetorical sense – of any continued logic for existing. And it is this lack of reason, coupled with the stubborn facts of architectural perseverance, which this cluster will explore in order to discover what lies beneath the image of a Paradise Lost.
This study is intended to be speculative and opportunistic, rather than comprehensive or authoritative. We begin with the image. Participants will photograph examples of these architectural by-products and the resulting images will be geotagged, tagged by subject, and uploaded to an online archival database. The intention is begin by presenting the images as dumb barefaced fact, when of course they are anything but, with ‘photography teaching us,’ as the great American curator John Szarkowski once noted, ‘to see from unexpected viewpoints.’ The cluster will draw on such diverse precedents as: Eugene Atget, whose photographs of Paris – in the famous words of Walter Benjamin – resemble nothing so much as ‘the scene of a crime’; Walker Evans, whose optimism barely survived the rural poverty he documented in James Agee’s Now Let Us Praise Famous Men through a refuge in aestheticism; the heroic grandeur of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s industrial fetishism (Water Towers, Blast Furnaces, Mineheads, Cooling Towers, Grain Elevators, et al.); and the picturesque decay of Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre’s recent Ruins of Detroit. Works by Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Stephen Shore and William Eggleston are also important references.
Examples from this database will be further researched and annotated through land registry searches and local histories. These architectures will then be reviewed and described through the process of drawing, which will open up further ‘unexpected viewpoints’. The products of this process will be examined through a series of informal workshops; interviews and invited external commentaries inform the cluster’s inbuilt critique. The research will culminate in a printed publication, concluding and presenting our speculative research.
Paramount Music Theater, Alexander Street, Greenville, MS
The Paramount Music Theater occupies the former purpose-built premises of the Kress Five and Dime, which operated during the 1940s–70s in Greenville, Mississippi. After sitting vacant for almost 40 years the Theater opened in the early 2000s and closed again within six months. Like the vast majority of buildings in downtown Greenville it remains unoccupied.
Saturated SpaceAntoni Malinowski, Adam Nathaniel Furman and Fenella Collingridge.
Since Plato’s opposition of image to reason, defining image as antithetical to logic, and the consequent antagonisms of rhetoric vs discourse, painting vs drawing and colour vs form, there has been a consistently strong iconoclastic, de-saturating, purging tendency within Western thought and Architectural discipline. It is a line of reasoning that pits superficiality against depth: depth is idolised as pure, abstract, white, difficult to grasp and serious, while whatever is sensual, eloquent, colourful and essentially non-linguistic is ridiculed as superficial, vulgar, indecent, and even pornographic. That which operates directly on the senses is demonised and feared for the potency of its power, and ultimately excluded from ‘serious’ discourse.
Colour in architectural discipline and theory is necessarily affected by this categorisation, with its legitimacy, although never its power, in perpetual doubt. This research cluster will begin the process of re-evaluating and restructuring the frame of this apparent contradiction. The cluster will seek to develop a set of spatio-chromatic methodologies, and form them into a combined figure of complementarity, rather than subordination or opposition, with theoretical and scientific discourse.
The most immediate and direct of the multitude of interfaces through which architecture can engage its occupants is that most highly evolved of our perceptual apparatuses, the eye; its language is of light, its vocabulary chromatic combinations. Reflected off an inexhaustible range of environments and materials, colour, in all its forms, is the architect’s first and most consistently powerful line of atmospheric influence. As techniques of fabrication, and modes of materiality proliferate in architectural production, a new set of possibilities arise to orchestrate an unprecedented level of spatial richness. At the same time colour is beginning to be rediscovered as an area of interest in art theory, as well as in neuroscience and neuroesthetics. With the process of design, fabrication and discussion as the linear core around which to weave these bodies of knowledge, the Cluster will generate and document creative feedback loops between design teams, art theorists, historians and scientists, with influences and reconsiderations reverberating in all directions
Past Research Clusters
Urbanism and the Informal CityLaunched by Jorge Fiori, Elena Pascolo and Alex Warnock-Smith
The aim of the cluster is to explore the concept of the ‘informal’ as a parallel modality that shapes the urban condition. The team is identifying unexplored themes and contradictions for designers, thinkers and practitioners to consider at a series of Unit ‘open-mike’ sessions, talk-shops and a symposium, leading to an international design workshop in 2011, followed by an exhibition and publication.
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Beyond Entropy: When Energy Becomes FormDirected by Stefano Rabolli Pansera
The cluster attempts to fuse science, architecture and artistic collaboration in order to develop new ways of thinking about energy. The 12th International Exhibition in Venice marked the end of its first year and brought together work, research material and ideas for display and debate. http://beyondentropy.aaschool.ac.uk
Concrete GeometriesDirected by Marianne Mueller and Olaf Kneer
The research investigates the intimate relationship between spatial form and human processes, whether social, aesthetic or material. An international call for submissions in January 2010 attracted 415 entries from the fields of art, architecture, design and the humanities.
A symposium was held in October 2010 with invited guests, and from this an exhibition and publication are forthcoming.
City CulturesInitiated by Marina Lathouri
The research seeks to develop new conceptual frameworks that redefine what historically has been constructed and institutionalised as the ‘city’. The ideas generated in a seminar in 2009 fed into a 2010 conference seeking new manifestos on the city.
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