At the core of the AA is our five-year ARB/RIBA accredited Undergraduate School, leading to the AA Intermediate Examination (ARB/RIBA Part 1) and AA Final Examination (ARB/RIBA Part 2) and the awarding of the AA Diploma. The Undergraduate School also includes a one-year full-time Foundation course for those contemplating studies in architecture or associated creative fields. The focus of our undergraduates’ academic lives is our famed ‘unit system’ of study, in which students pursue year-long design projects in intensive and agenda-driven design units while also attending complementary courses in History & Theory, Media and Technical Studies.
The Undergraduate School sits at the heart of the larger AA School, a community of 750 students and almost 250 teachers and staff that make up the most international architecture school ever created, and two-thirds of AA students and teachers comprise the Undergraduate School. Every year nearly 90 per cent of our full-time students come to the AA from abroad, creating a setting for a global discussion, debate and exchange of architectural ideas that makes the school unique. Students in our Undergraduate School have the opportunity for continuous interaction with not only the students and teachers from other parts of our school – which includes a Graduate School of 12 specialised programmes, a global Visiting School and a Foundation course for individuals considering a possible future career in architecture or other creative fields – but also with the unparalleled range of visitors and other participants in the AA’s Public Programme, the world’s largest, year-long programme of public events dedicated to contemporary architectural culture, the arts and design.
First Year Studio
The First Year design studio brings together students who work both individually and in groups in an open single, shared studio space located in the heart of the main school. This intellectual environment is intensified through continual interaction with experienced design tutors and collaborators who offer tutorials, seminars, workshops and presentations throughout the year. Students begin to develop their talents, strengths and modes of working to their highest potential through a diverse range of explorations that move between the disciplinary and the speculative.
AA Unit System
Student life in the Intermediate and Diploma Schools is organised around year-long design studios or ‘units’. This innovative approach to architectural teaching and learning emphasises the development of comprehensive design projects undertaken within the setting of a single unit selected by a student at the outset of the year. In 2014/15 there are 13 units that make up the Intermediate School, and 14 units form the Diploma School. Students work in close contact with unit masters and tutors who independently set the agenda, aims and objectives for that year’s design project. Unit masters work at the AA School on a parttime basis while also leading successful professional lives beyond the school; many are based in London, and others travel regularly from across Europe. The unit system first emerged at the school in the 1930s, during a period in which the AA played a vital role in introducing modern architecture to the UK. Alongside this innovative, project-directed form of teaching, the school implemented increasingly collaborative, experimental approaches to architectural education, refining a model of open, participatory studies that has since gone on to greatly influence the teaching and learning of architecture across the world.
AA Agendas and Projects
Today the AA Undergraduate School is a place of unparalleled diversity, exchange and experimentation. A growing range of alternative practices, projects and forms of critical engagement offer students an unrivalled setting for the formation of young careers, agendas and future ambitions. Students in the Undergraduate School are encouraged to pursue their own individual paths through the range of possible units and projects they are exposed to, defining for themselves the basis for their future architectural development, interests and goals. In 2014/15 unit briefs explore the temporality of architecture under harsh conditions; possibilities of a new town for an ageing population; the value of land in the twenty-first century; fabrication of new urban skylines; the idea of the addition; the power of constraint; deep planning; large urban blocks; experience-based architecture; health and the city; the role of the poetic and visionary; one-to-one material protytoping; new forms of architectural representation, simulation, knowledge and learning; the routine of the everyday and that which counters it; gentrification and our changing domestic space; direct intervention and local community engagement in cities and landscapes; the performative nature of urban centres; challenges of dwindling resources as a result of global warming; and the exploring of alternative worlds to better understand the world we live in.
From Denise Scott Brown and Cedric Price in the 1950s; to Richard Rogers, Peter Cook and Elia Zenghelis in the 1960s; and Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid and many others in the 1970s, AA graduates are responsible for many of the most important, iconic architectural projects and visions of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Our students today work hard to live up to, and surpass, the legacy of open experimentation, critical enquiry and professional accomplishment of those AA students who have come before them. AA graduates and former teachers are also amongst the world’s leading architectural educators, as deans, directors, chairs and professors at architectural schools across the world. Many have taken lessons and ideas from their time here with us back to other countries and distant settings.
We actively seek candidates for the Undergraduate School who share our view that architecture is a cultural – and not only professional – form of human activity, enquiry and knowledge. In these applicants we are looking for a demonstration of intelligent prior experience, background, knowledge and skills, as well as a genuine willingness to want to work, learn and grow in a setting that demands near-constant levels of engagement, exchange and communication with the world’s most diverse, active and intelligent architectural community.