First Year First Year works, installation view, Projects Review 2016

First Year

Monia De Marchi, Shany Barath, Pol Castello Esteve, John Ng, Alexandra Vougia, Visiting lecturers to be confirmed

First Year at the AA is the initial exposure to the five-year study of architecture that leads to the AA Diploma. The course immediately engages with the discipline as a way of thinking that both affects and is affected by the wider context of the present moment. The focus of First Year is to reinvent architecture's enduring topics and questions while simultaneously searching the current world for accidents and shifts within the discipline.

The First Year is characterised by studio-based investigations that are developed through thinking and making. The studio itself offers students a space where they can step away from the conventional tools of education - their own desks and laptops - in order to develop their thinking processes and ways of working. The work we make is shared, discussed, pushed forward and moved to other settings - between cities and countries, and in annexe to past architecture. We will use London as an active laboratory to explore the different forces that reshape the city and the different spatial constructs, thoughts and visions that emerge as a result. We will also visit the works of architects, artists, writers, philosophers and scientists who have questioned how we live by reimagining spatial conditions as social constructs with programmatic, stylistic and temporal qualities. To understand the role of alternative communication in architecture we will enter these novels, films, texts works of art, drawings, spaces and essays.

Over the course of the year you will learn how to relate your experiences of architecture to both the present and the imaginary. You will visually synthesise and translate your ideas into a personal year-long portfolio of work, informed by various modes of writing, designing and arguing. In the First Year, reacting matters more than planning, imagining comes before experimenting, and experiencing something is not synonymous with browsing. While we collectively address ideas and questions, how you ultimately choose to express an idea is open for you to independently test and define. Workshops and Complementary Studies courses taken alongside the First Year studio will offer multiple ways of exploring and translating your thoughts into projects.

The First Year studio seeks students who express a curiosity in the present and who possess both an affinity for thinking independently and the flexibility to constructively engage with different thinkers and audiences. In the First Year we reject embracing the past or future. Instead, the present is here to not just be lived out but to be imagined and reinvented again.

Present & Architecture

'The world fascinates me' - Andy Warhol, 1964
'...Too much world...' Hito Steyerl, 2014

The present world is too dense to be left unexplored. At the same time it is too dense to be constantly lived in. These opposing statements are at the heart of the First Year ethos - in engaging with ideas from multiple angles, we maintain an open approach. This ability to see not only one side of an idea but the bigger picture is an essential skill that the course will embrace throughout the year. In paying attention to the world in its present continuum, we will see how shifts and accidents crystallise into social and spatial habits. Architects have a distinct way of thinking visually, translating complex forces and information into new spatial inventions. An architect is an improviser who has the ability to see beyond the present, and this essential skill should constantly be honed and refreshed. This year we will pay attention to the present and to architecture by searching and questioning our current ways of living and modes of life.

Search - Forms of enquiry are essential to the work of the First Year. Rather than seeking the answers to our questions, our work often generates even more unknowns. This year we specifically ask: What are alternative ways of living? In focusing on this topic we will investigate the emerging spatial constructs that are symptomatic of our present moment. For us, searching means directly experiencing our surroundings by seeing what is hidden or about to be revealed. We will not only wander spaces, buildings, cities and territories but also engage with architecture as the making of projects by visiting archives and collections.

Reinvent - Can we reinvent ways of living and ways of inhabiting our present? We will start Term 2 by challenging architectural conventions of programming and spatial relations. While spatial complexity and contradiction are still present in our cities, they are layered between the complexity and contradiction of the inhabitants. We belong to multiple territories and to multiple spatial conditions, alternating between different forms of living and varied codes of behaviours and habits. We live in between countries and urban sceneries, more than between a city and its outskirts. We will question the scale of spatial constructs by crossing cities and landscapes - from London to Marfa, Texas and from Houston to Iceland.

Imagine - Do you know how to imagine the present? Towards the middle of the academic year we will put forward positions that challenge how we communicate a spatial construct. By learning from the way photographers, writers, philosophers, filmmakers and artists imagine and invent the present through their work, we will imagine modes of life that can be shaped by unpredictable settings, while embracing difficult searches and choices that are translated into something that speaks and provokes unexpected thoughts. We will use forms of communication that are enriched by different types of resolutions while imagining and constructing the present.

Unit Staff

Monia De Marchi is an architect and graduate of both the Istituto di Architettura di Venezia and of the AA DRL at the AA. She has been the programme head of the First Year since 2011 while also running her own practice. She has taught at the AA since 2005 as a unit master in both the Intermediate and Diploma Schools.

Shany Barath is a founding partner of the architecture firm ShaGa Studio. She studied at TU Delft and the AA, where she teaches in the DRL graduate programme and Media Studies department. She directs the Tel Aviv AA Visiting School.

Pol Esteve is an architect who trained at ETSA Barcelona and at the AA School. He is co-founder of the platform of architectural production GOIG. He currently teaches both First Year Studio and History and Theories Studies at the AA School and is the director of the Brussels Visiting School.

John Ng studied architecture at the University of Bath and the AA, where he has taught since 2011. He founded ELSEWHERE and practises architecture in London.

Alexandra Vougia studied architecture in Thessaloniki, Greece, and holds an MS in advanced architectural design from Columbia University's GSAPP a PhD from the AA. She has worked as an architect in New York and Athens and has taught at the AA School since 2012.


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Extended Brief

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Projects Review 2017

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Prospectus 2016-17
AA Prospectus

Foundation Course Booklet
Foundation Course Booklet

Undergraduate Course Booklet
Undergraduate Course Booklet

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