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 Doppelgängers 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 doppelgänger 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, architectural doppelgängers – ie, obscure cases of architectural curiosity – will be archived, categorised and investigated in myriad forms of duplication, doubling, faking, pirating and re-enactment. Interestingly, all research about a doppelgänger always requires an intense study of the original. The questions about the value and meaning of the authentic work of architecture as well as the technological possibilities for reproduction pose challenges for historians, architects, students and legal experts.
On the basis of such an extensive atlas of ‘architecture doppelgängers’ we will investigate scientific and legal methods of assessing the meaning of architectural doubles and potentially unsavoury dealings with them. This part of the research will also open up a more unconventional way of exploring architecture between legality and illegality. It will address the rights to architecture – the meaning of the legal owner of the copyright as private property – while also thinking through a legal definition of ownership about architecture as a ‘public commons’.
Urban PrototypesClara Oloriz Sanjuan and Douglas Spencer
‘Urban prototype’ describes a mode of design related to contemporary computational and industrial processes as well as a conception of urbanisation that responds to both to the efficiencies of reproduction and the flexibility of differentiation. Prototypical approaches now prevalent within architectural and urban design have acquired their currency in the context of contemporary conditions of urbanisation. The design and operation of urban prototypes is consistent with demands for organisational efficiency, flexibility and speed, and with the management of environments, networks and information. Conducting research across a range of disciplines and practices, and addressing social, economic and ecological concerns, we are working towards a critical understanding of the problematics and potentials of the urban prototype.
The first phase of our research centred on analysing the urban prototype – through a series of readings, discussions and interviews – in terms of its implications for architecture, its terminological significance, and its relation to the ‘mentalities’ of design and social experience. In phase two of the research cluster we will address the specific conditions of housing shortages in suburban areas of Mexico City. In collaboration with local universities and institutions, and drawing upon our existing research, we will explore the potential of the urban prototype to engage with these conditions.
Paradise LostMark Campbell
This research cluster has been exploring the notion of architectural obsolescence through a study of the contemporary United States. If the US was the world’s greatest economic, scientific and cultural force during the twentieth century, it now faces a kind of unplanned obsolescence. With the nation becoming so obsessed with its own decline the journalist Frank Rich declared a state of ‘mourning in America’, in which a media-fuelled ‘hysterical nostalgia’ persistently refers to a highly fictional and nonexistent past. (His phrase ‘Mourning in America’ is itself a satirical inversion of Ronald Reagan’s absurdly optimistic presidential advertisements that promised a new Morning in America.) In these circumstances, changing patterns of consumption and demand often result in an architectural redundancy, in which architecture simply exists as a kind of byproduct – or residue – of this mourning.
In recognition of this dynamic, the cluster has been sifting through these residues in the hope of determining the words and images that truly speak of paradises lost. We have examined the work of a number of prominent photographers – Walker Evans, Robert Frank, William Klein, Garry Winogrand, William Eggleston, Jacob Holdt, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld and Alec Soth – whose images illustrate the recurring visual fascinations that mark this redundancy. These fascinations were recently compiled in the cluster’s Guns, Household Objects, Road-trips, Cars, Bodies, Acts of Devotion & TVs (2013), a visual atlas conceived as an archaeology of pictorial and photographic registers.
Our means of considering the architectural consequences of these paradises lost is simple. If the symbolic history of US rests on the heroic potential of production, mythologised in the inventiveness of Henry Ford’s assembly line (amongst others), then we are examining the opposite: that which isn’t work. Or, more appropriately, what constitutes non-work when there is no productivity left to define it? (Which is to say, when everything is redundant, what remains?) Our next publication, Glimpses of the USA – an assemblage of quotes, citations, interview quips and throwaway remarks – is being prepared for early 2014. The concluding publication of the cluster and its accompanying exhibition will be completed in the autumn of 2014.
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, desaturating 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 nonlinguistic 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 begins the process of re-evaluating and restructuring the frame of this apparent contradiction. The cluster seeks to develop a set of spatio-chromatic methodologies, and forms 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 with 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, new 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, neuroscience and neuroesthetics. With the process of design, fabrication and discussion as the linear core around which to weave these bodies of knowledge, the Saturated Space generates and documents 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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