'Most famous architects have been here (sooner or later)'

And they have. AA alumni have been a powerful presence among the leading architects of their generation since the school was set up. Even a brief trawl through the last century brings up the likes of Charles Jencks, Elia Zenghelis, Peter Cook, Dalibor Vesely, Joseph Rykwert, Daniel Libeskind, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Bernard Tschumi, Nigel Coates, Cedric Price, Nicholas Grimshaw … and many more.

AA School alumni are well represented in the best-known names in the profession worldwide and in the coming months, this page will lead to a new AA resource, celebrating their achievements. All AA Members are invited to contribute to these pages: with a profile (500 words maximum) of an architect or practice, or of a building, development or other work involving AA students or staff, past or current.

Submit your ideas or alumni profiles to webeditor@aaschool.ac.uk

This article originally appeared in the AA Sporadical Alumni newsletter. Sign up to receive the AA Sporadical.

…On Translating, Borrowing & Branches

If the architectural landscape of Bedford Square can be traced back to early Georgian town planning, it is perhaps due to a more ancient, agricultural attachment to the linearity and homogeneity of acreage, plot and land. The measure of pastures into acres, historically symbolized by the typical area that could be ploughed in a day by oxen pulling a wooden plough, would eventually translate into the four cardinal points of Bedford Square. And yet, in terms of measure, the Square itself is not square and the centerpiece oval garden is far from being square. At 520 feet on the major and 320 feet on the minor axis, the Square that is not square would have taken 3.82 days to plow and oxen would have been turned, not without difficulty, at the long rectangular edges of the Square and not at any distance before.

In this third edition of Sporadical, arriving to Alumni a few weeks after the Silver Gala and the launch of Architecture in Translation and just as Bedford Square is being glazed by autumnal leaves, the question of precision seems apposite and once again brings to the table the hierarchy of sight within the senses. The crucial difficulty of seeing things in themselves, seeing a translation in itself, seeing Bedford Square as rectangular, is the inherent fault line that jostles the other four senses into action. Indeed, as we find below in Peter Thomas’s essay-interviews, while the precision of the eye is imperative for seeing, what happens when sight becomes unmoored from its landing? Scouring the Mediterranean for a tiny refugee boat in a swell, former AA student Robin Jenkins describes the impossibility of seeing anything at all until the strong smell of petrol suddenly became the sign that a refugee boat was nearby.

There is something at the heart of translating that is often perceived as lying beyond or outside translation. For AA Alumni Julian Cripps’s 1978 laser projection across Bedford Square, the work was not driven by the wish to see or illuminate Bedford Square but, as Julian describes, inscribe it with light. This inscription took place not at ground level, but in the elliptical air space hovering between the branches of the garden’s plane trees––beams were projected from a borrowed 18-watt laser housed in No. 36 to mirrored points in the Square albeit unsuccessfully since the precision required for the handling of the beams was, as Cripps notes, beyond me at the time. The degree of blindness requisite to launch the project in the face of Ranulph Glanville’s pragmatism, and on a modest budget, was directly correlated to the insight and fruitfulness of the project as well as the carnival period to which it belonged.

The dialectic between phenomenon and Idea, to borrow from Derrida’s lexicon, might be captured architecturally by the translation of a line from the horizontal surface of the page up along a vertical axis and into the wall of a building. And yet, this is not an easy or an analogous translation plotted safely along two intersecting axes. Rather it is an activity of great difficulty since the architectural line mostly wants to appear as a straight line and nothing like the looping up and down of a line of fiction that an imperfect wall, idea or page enjoys. The architectural line, often liking to present itself as smooth and didactically unambiguous, is a kind of sociological non-fiction and usually does not wish to say or do anything other than what it claims to say or do. How, then, to enlarge the field to include the lines of fiction that usually populate an idea, how to turn to a depth of languages and debates and juries and presentations in translation as the AA wishes to do? Perhaps the position of not choosing holds a clue, the position of undecidability that quivers on the point where the line on the page stops, where the experience of moving between phenomenon and idea, languages and writing is suspended and reflected upon in the air space between fiction and non-fiction rather than being pinned down. Jenkins seeks a pinpoint in the sea, Cripps uses the plural architectures; both restimulate our conversations with a dimensionality that holds the failures that occur within communication alongside the need to communicate at the same time.

The carriage of words across places and across meanings – in Latin translatio, like metaphor in Greek, means carrying across – is straightforward only insofar as language is nearly always careful to take the circuitous route. Jenkins’s rescue required an intense amount of care not only for logistics and safety, but for how people – refugees and volunteers – interact with and take care of each other. He notes, You never directly approach the boat, you circle around … shouting out … in English, French and if possible Arabic … We are here to rescue you. The translation of intentions across heaving seawater as people search for each other is profoundly moving and reminds us that words sometimes have the chance to reach as far as olive branches.

In this issue, seawatching and borrowing begin like roots and branches growing outwards in whatever way they must: we imagine the AA Reception in 1970 where Brenda Gorgoran on switchboard connected Julian, in aborescent style, to the outside world and we imagine Jenkins’s in the eye of the storm recording then sending out his video like a sliver of hope in a bottle. Into a place where the confrontation of two lines of thought – success and failure – did not necessarily negate or cross into a third position, but rather culminated in a manner of stealing … stealing insight from where it was thought to not previously exist. Here watching, borrowing, and stealing are circular, crisscrossing success and failure – or in Mark Cousins’s words the failure to fail – into a blur of lasers, telephone wires, life jackets, seawater, night-sky, and leaves. Cripps’s laser-light project not only geometrically exaggerated the uniformity of the Georgian Square, but it did not entirely return what was borrowed. Jenkins’s impassioned work to re-place the displaced, reminds us sometimes people and things must change place, move site, upend precision, look away from it, transport lacks and deficiencies somewhere else, steal already borrowed time away from itself. In these cases, AA workshop and drawing desk and solid line themselves become unhinged from gravity and travel out into an uncanny Square that is not square to rebuild, in poet Robert Duncan’s words, out of air, unseen roots and branches of sense … something a translator might call an inner view of things.

Claire Potter

Jacques Derrida, Edmund Husserl’s Origins of Geometry: An Introduction. Trans. John P. Leavey Jr. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.
Robert Duncan, “Roots and Branches” in Roots and Branches. London: Jonathan Cape, 1970.

This article originally appeared in the AA Sporadical Alumni newsletter. Sign up to receive the AA Sporadical.

The Art of Borrowing…

Julian Cripps in conversation with Peter Thomas 2019

In 1975 Julian Cripps came to Bedford Square for an interview to study at the AA. Encouraged by his art teachers and armed with a portfolio of large-scale drawings, some the size of a football pitch, Julian also arrived with a sketchbook of buildings and factories shown in various stages of demolition in his hometown of Reading.

Arriving at Bedford Square for his interview, an exhibition by Frei Otto “blew him away”, and as well as photographs covering the walls of the members' rooms, there was an inflatable bubble in the gardens of Bedford Square with a bouncy inflatable inside. During his visit, Julian found like-minded people who seemed to “hang around the sofas and chat” and he knew he had found a home.

In March 1978, as part of the AA Carnival, Julian, by then in his second year and motivated by having been told it was not possible, installed an 18-watt laser on the roof of No. 36 to draw – with light – an inscribed square at roof level within Bedford Square. The results of which became the stuff of legend!

Julian Cripps and Mike Davies
Julian Cripps and Mike Davies

Forty years later, Julian accepted an invitation for another interview at Bedford Square, to look back on the project, how it came to be and life after.

PT: Julian, thank you for coming in this evening to rake over the coals and share your memories. There have been other “projections” and light installations at and on the AA since 1978, mostly using the facade as a simple screen, but in your case the experimental projection shone out across the city. Can I start by exploring how the installation came about?

JC: My first year at Bedford Square was spent with Chris and Elspeth Cross and the AA’s own cybernetician, Ranulph Glanville. I also spent the summer with Jim Whiting and Gille Djilali in the AA workshop. Everyone seemed to be working on drawings, they were the thing! Consequently, the AA workshop was empty and offered space for a different form of exploration.

The kinetic artist Jim Whiting was the workshop technician and was making and testing his animated machines in Chings Yard. At the same time the “Light Fantastic” exhibition at the Royal Academy was an early exhibition of lasers and holograms – drawing with light in space – and had a huge impact on me.

Associated Press Archive
Associated Press Archive

That summer, with all this in mind, I spent the first of many summers with Jim making kinetic sculptures.

Pergatory 1 installed over Chings Yard 1978
Pergatory 1 installed over Chings Yard 1978
Kinetic Artist and AA Workshop Technician Jim Whiting, the Jean Tinguely of the AA Still from Heavenly Bodies, Sam Scoggins (Director), RCA Department of Film & Television (1982), BFI Database 22961 Alter Image (featuring Jim Whiting),

PT: Quite a rich introduction to the AA! I noticed when looking at the projects reviews of the time that the workshop pages were simply full of photographs of its tools: angle grinders, welders, a staple gun and a socket set!

Pergatory 1 installed over Chings Yard 1978
Pergatory 1 installed over Chings Yard 1978

JC: After this, I started the second year, joining Mike Davies and Alan Stanton who were just back from California. My autumn term project was to propose an articulating mirror which was one mile long and sited close to Reading which enabled small things to be projected across the landscape. I was also in my spare time helping Jim Whiting install one of his kinetic sculptures at the Bath Festival in a cemetery. It was a moving wall of suited people creating a spectacularly perfect kinetic architecture, an interplay of fixed and moving structures.

Extract from Hayward Annual 79 catalogue
Extract from Hayward Annual 79 catalogue featuring Chings Yard and Bath Festival installations, Hayward Gallery, London

PT: A parade of the “never alive” amongst the graves of the dead – as a second year student this sounds like you were already developing a specialised set of interests and skills!

JC: It simply reflected the things that made sense to me. Phil Hudson gave me a lift back from the Bath Festival on the back of his Triumph and we got to know each other. As a result of all these experiences, I felt comfortable with the business of conceiving of kinetic architecture, making machines and keeping things running.

Phil lived in a building at Kings Cross, a semi-derelict urban area at the time. He was one of those AA characters looking at doing things other than just the prescribed work. Phil was stuck without a project, having recently turned up to a portfolio review with a catering tray of mashed potatoes and sausages as a gift for the panel as he was not ready for review.

There was a pithy saying amongst students at the time, “when in doubt go to the slide library” and it was on one of these exploratory visits to search for inspiration that John Malig and Phil Hudson rediscovered the AA Carnival.

The idea of Carnival, a long-standing AA tradition, had been lost during a period of collective forgetting. It was decided that if we are going to do a carnival everyone had to know about it before the event and so there was a series of pre-carnival events on the months before to publicise it. This is where the picture of Alvin Boyarsky on an elephant originates.

PT: Ed Bottoms wrote an article in AA Files 65 using the images donated by Phil Hudson to the AA Archives in 1975 which captures some of the build up to the event.

Alvin Boyarsky on elephant outside the AA in 1978
Alvin Boyarsky on elephant outside the AA in 1978. (Courtesy Nicholas Boyarsky)

PT: Let's start with the project that you were developing for the carnival, what was that? What was its motivation?

Julian Cripps with Panning Beam Splitter in the AA workshop
Julian Cripps with Panning Beam Splitter in the AA workshop.

JC: Well after my first year I felt sensitised to classical geometry, cybernetics and responsive movement and the idea of the project was to create an inscribed square of laser light in Bedford Square. A high parapet level intervention bouncing off the midpoint of each side of the square, borrowing the air space of Bedford Square as a site. I had seen the neuropsychologist Prof. Richard Gregory’s lecture at the AA exploring how we experience the world through our perception and thereafter through our memories, a science of perception. This emphasis on phenomenology, the idea that architecture only really exists in the memory made sense to me, and so I became fascinated with architectures that can just exist for a moment, long enough to be remembered.

PT: And this has stayed as an interest, a belief throughout your life?

JC: Yes.

PT: Practically how did you move from the idea to its implementation?

JC: I didn’t have the faintest idea of how to do it – I spoke to Ranulph Glanville the cybernetician, design researcher, theorist and educator, he was difficult and passionate, but I considered him the AA’s resident technological guru. He advised, “You haven’t got a chance in hell”.

PT: How did you respond to that?

JC: Well, it was the perfect motivation! I was always a contrary teenager and if Ranulph said it was impossible, well he was giving me the ultimate permission to prove him wrong!

PT: But there can't have been much time before the carnival?

JC: It was all done in 5 weeks – from being told it was impossible to a legendary event!

PT: Was there a budget? The country had been in an oil crisis fueled recession for three years before Alvin was appointed Chairman. I don’t remember many stories of the AA being wealthy at the time?

JC: There was a modest carnival budget and John and Phil gave £200 to the project from it.

PT: About £1200 in today's money. How did you start?

JC: It started with needing a powerful enough laser. I picked up the phone – and the yellow pages phone directory – and sat in the unit space ringing people and telling the story of what I was trying to achieve. To make a phone call from the AA you had to get switchboard, which was in the back of reception to connect you. I kept going for as long as Brenda Gorgoran on the switchboard would still connect me, and until I eventually found someone sympathetic to talk to.

Brenda Gorgoran AA Switchboard from 1973/74 Prospectus
Brenda Gorgoran AA Switchboard from 1973/74 Prospectus

I was directed to University College London and in particular to a Chemistry Professor using lasers to research material properties, thankfully he listened and I was invited to come round to the laboratory. The lab was close to the AA in Gordon Street and was set out with large concrete optical tables with lasers as the light sources.

The lab used lasers supplied by Coherent Radiation located in Paolo Alto. With his guidance and Brenda’s connection I spoke to them on the phone. After some discussion and despite the lack of funds they agreed that I should receive their largest most powerful laser [18w] on demonstration loan. With that, I had discovered the art of borrowing!

University College London fronted the demonstration loan, it was delivered in the back of a very smart Mercedes van. The professor came and helped set it up, excited to be outside the laboratory – you cannot help but get excited about the stuff – the light is just amazing. I recently gave Coherent Radiation a ring as they are still in business and they estimate that the laser would have cost about £25,000 at the time so about £150,000 today.

Early use of laser cutting technique at AA, Protective equipment was to come later...
Early use of laser cutting technique at AA, Protective equipment was to come later...

Having got agreement for the laser then the energy to solve other issues just overwhelms you.

It simply has to happen.

PT: What did Alvin say to all this?

JC: Well, if you told Alvin that you simply had to do something – he loved it!

PT: The logistics were still largely unsolved, but he was confident it would happen?

JC: I think we realised that the project was becoming possible and at that point you become supercharged and unstoppable! The one thing we did hire were cables from a theatrical lighting company – Lee Lighting – I had to chop the clamps off to make it work. The cables were pulled up the outside of the building from the basement fuse board.

With a laser, the issue is that you input a lot of power in to get a small amount of coherent light out. The power supply for the laser needed 3 phase 30 amps per phase, this generated so much heat that it had to be water-cooled. I negotiated to borrow half a dozen shop-soiled water tanks from a local builders supply yard. These were plumbed together to handle the 30 litres a minute of pumped water required to provide the required cooling.

Black water tanks [background] with a pump circulating cooling water to power supply [foreground]
Black water tanks [background] with a pump circulating cooling water to power supply [foreground]

The water tanks were set up in the unit space and linked to the buildings water mains to fill and then circulate the water to cool the power supply, initially the water was recirculated. However, after a while when its temperature was close to 50C, the water would be then be purged into the parapet box gutter of the building. This did cause a problem with the Library at one point in the evening when the gutter failed and started pouring heated water into the library through the window.

PT: So you've got the power, the water cooling, and the laser on a Dexion frame. What about the optical components to draw the light across the city?

JC: Ealing Optical Works was the place for sourcing the optical components, front surfaced mirrors, lenses and diffraction gratings to create the required effects. The photographs show how deliberately crude, but effective, the light bench optical elements were. There was no time for creating finely wrought pieces. Each piece had to function, but its own aesthetic was not an issue.

Panning front surface mirror to be mounted on parapet
Panning front surface mirror to be mounted on parapet

PT: They have the spirit of early patent models where the emphasis is on demonstrating a unique function.

JC: Motors gears and other components were sourced from Proops Brother on Tottenham Court Road. Proops traded in Military Surplus items as well as other clearance, job lot lines especially “technical” items from aircraft such as instrumentation and electrical components. Perfect for the trainee kinetic architect!

The Panning Beam splitter in action!
The Panning Beam splitter in action! The project extended the idea of an optical bench from the diploma unit space across Bedford Square and beyond.
The project extended the idea of an optical bench from the diploma unit space across Bedford Square and beyond. Beams scanning through the plane trees
When all was complete, the effects of the beams scanning through the plane trees was very spatial and at one point created a storey-wide swathe of green light across Senate-House two blocks away.

PT: Did you manage to inscribe the square?

JC: With the co-operation of the various tenants of the square, including the architectural practice of Sir John Burnett, Tate and Partners opposite, I did mount the mirrors at parapet level on the different sides of the square, but my attempts at sighting their location with a telescope was not accurate enough to make it work. On reflection, Ranulph was partially correct, the degree of control required to draw with coherent laser light between points in the square was beyond me in the time.

Lasers hitting trees
Lasers hitting trees

PT: The AA must have been quite a noisy neighbour at the time?

JC: Well, you will have seen the pictures from the Carnival articles in Files 65 of the large Coke can in Chings Yard under which Throbbing Gristle performed that night. The can was lifted from Bedford Square into Chings Yard by crane at night with the aid of a local territorial army unit who brought their searchlight along to light the lift from the square for safety. The custard pie fights that night became running battles up and down the fire escape stairs which had to be closed as they were unsafe.

PT: It could have all so easily have failed, but there seems to have been a spirit of making a festival day in the year for the status quo to be turned on its head with minimal means. Truly Carnivalesque.

JC: Carnival projects provide an opportunity to do something you are really interested in, but have no outlet for. The carnival reflected London at the time, diverse, irreverent, eccentric and exciting!

PT: …and then what?

JC: The aftermath – still considering myself a student at the AA, but being completely ill-equipped to take advantage of it – I made an inventory of the project, drawings records and everything, but struggled to make immediate sense of what I should do next.

The artist and regular AA vistor, Helen Chadwick was chosen as one of a young team of curators of the Hayward Gallarys Annual Exhibition, she selected Jim and Throbbing Gristles, Genesis P-Orridge from the ‘78 Carnival to be included in that summer’s show her selection formed a review of mixed media performance. She was a great supporter of Jim’s work and a joint curator for the show. I think Jim didn’t consider himself an artist per se, he was more in the tradition of a travelling fairground master. He spoke of his creations as unpredictable characters.

After the summer, I joined David Green’s unit in third year, followed by a September review, before heading off to New York in 1980. The city had declared itself bankrupt the year before and was seen as offering a world of opportunity. An exciting period of installations followed for Max Protetch who had moved his gallery to New York and started showing architectural drawings.

I worked summers in the States for the next three years with Future Tents, a company who were engineering fabric structures for the Azzedine Alaïa show at Bergdorf Goodman for the 1982 New York fashion show.

I then modelled engineered fabric and light structures with early computers for Issey Miyake and others after the excitement of which I tried and failed to finish Diploma School! I was in NATO for about 10 minutes, at the end I remember Alvin, urging me on and wishing me well.

PT: Julian, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and detailed memories with us. The images, drawings form a compelling record of the times. It has been absorbing to be reminded of how much the spirit of adventure and the risk of failure go hand in hand with a successful experiment.

The site 40 years on – students in Shin Egashira’s Unit space February 2019
The site 40 years on – students in Shin Egashira’s Unit space February 2019

This article originally appeared in the AA Sporadical Alumni newsletter. Sign up to receive the AA Sporadical.

Sea-Watch 3

Interview with Robin Jenkins by Peter Thomas - March 27th 2019

Robin Jenkins, former AA student, RNLI trained search and rescue volunteer and founder of Atlantic Pacific rescue boat charity, was on his second of two missions in the Mediterranean on Sea-Watch 3 to rescue migrants crossing from Libya when a storm struck and a humanitarian video appeal made on his phone went viral.

Image from you-tube appeal that went viral
Hello, this is Robin Jenkins, I’m on board Sea-Watch 3 search and rescue vessel out in the Mediterranean, having picked up 32 refugees on board a rubber vessel just over 11 days ago. We’ve just entered into 2019; we are still without a port of safety. Behind me, the conditions are extremely poor; we are in a seven or eight force storm on the Beaufort scale. We still await news of whether we can go into a port of safety and put an end to this situation. Our passengers on board are now beginning to feel very uncomfortable and desperate for a solution. This is not a stable situation and they would like things to be different in 2019. Help us resolve what is going on here. We find it shocking and unbelievable that authorities in Europe see fit to see us have to withstand these types of conditions. Thank you very much. - 2nd January 2019

PT: Welcome back to Bedford Square, its good to see you safe and well. I wanted to explore the circumstances that led you to pick up your phone in the teeth of a force seven or eight storm, hold it at arms length and deliver an appeal from the deck of a heavily pitching ship in the Mediterranean, one take, word perfect?

RJ: It really was one take as well. It was a pinnacle moment obviously, for me as an individual in my life and came about as a result of a long and complex set of events and at the time of recording we were in a severe storm of the coast of Libya, having rescued 32 refugees and being denied a safe port. Let me explain.

At the time, Christmas 2018, the head of the Sea Watch mission, Phillip Hahn, the boat’s Captain and the team had tried everything to find us a safe haven. Malta and Sicily had taken a lot of the brunt of the impact of the flow of people coming from Libya and their attitude was they had done their bit and the rest of Europe has to take some of this burden. I don’t agree but I can understand it. Malta has limited resources and a lot of people still on the island in centres which are already over populated. Europe had previously told Malta to take them and the burden would be shared, this is what they had done but to no effect, at the time the rest of Europe had become deaf to their call for help.

I was on Sea-Watch 3. At the peak of the migrant crisis there were about 10 NGO ships working the Mediterranean Sea, all on shoestring budgets with equipment that still makes me shiver slightly. In the refugee crisis you are working with boats that are 30 years old and not built as a search and rescue vessels, still safe enough to rescue people from flimsy dirigibles but not ideal. The nature of rescue is dangerous, as a result we monitor the risk and constantly undertake dynamic risk assessments.

All NGOs operating in such areas do so knowing they are operating somewhere between human rights and national law. Sea-Watch have lawyers attached to the team to help navigate their way through what is a very confusing situation. In terms of borders it’s a super grey area, confused by the fact that Europe at the time had a rescue effort going on there with warships and Frontex, the European borders agency operating in the area.

Previous to my joining, Sea-Watch 3 had been operating out of Malta with no problem. In June 2018 they went to go out on a mission and were barred from leaving port, siting ‘paperwork irregularity’ and alleged ‘registration issues’, leading to lock down for 5 months. After this, when Sea-Watch 3 was allowed leave, it was on the understanding that they never return, they were to find a new home.

The first ship to get into trouble in this way was the Juventa, which landed in Catania 18 months ago, and the ship was impounded and crew arrested. They discovered in the course of questioning that the ship had been bugged. Probably the most famous one on the news was SOS Mediterranee, in partnership with Doctors Without Borders (MSF); a big orange ship called Aquarius, beautiful, 70m long, chartered ship and crew – the Charity I formed, Atlantic Pacific had trained a lot of the crew and also their mission head of search and rescue. In Christmas 2017, they were denied entry to port and eventually when they did enter, their flag was removed so they couldn’t operate and the ship had to be returned. This left the last few NGOs operating on the ragged edge.

It was in this context that we left Gibraltar on the 11th December and steamed for 5 days over to the search and rescue zone off the Libyan coast. We passed through some fairly ugly weather and by the time we reached the search and rescue zone we were feeling pretty rough.

After 2 days in the zone, we got a call from a spotter plane operated by French aid group Pilotes Volontaires, an NGO which monitors the Mediterranean trying to identify and locate boats in trouble, aligned to Moonbird which is operated by Sea-Watch - the two pilot teams work closely together.

Distress calls go out in a number of ways, either on a VHF radio from other NGOs, or if it’s an official MRCC then it’s received via its own Inmarsat machine. So you can imagine a lot of alarms and bells are going off on the bridge when the call for action is received. Followed by a period of calm because the boat can be some distance away. When we got that call the ship was about 2 hours out from their location. There was a swell but the weather was manageable, it was daylight and conditions were not so bad. If the weather had been any worse they wouldn’t have made it. We wouldn’t have found them.

There is a certain very poor level at which refugee boats can operate before they are completely engulfed by the conditions. It’s that simple. The boats themselves are a crime against humanity, that they are even being manufactured is truly awful. You can type in refugee boat on Alibaba and find them, badly made, using the cheapest materials.

We were dropped off in the two fast approach RIBs, which was my job, I was at the helm of one of them. We were dropped first about 10 nautical miles away from the ‘pin point’ - RIBs are much faster than the ship. We were given a coordinate and headed towards it. We were talking to the airplane which was guiding us. We were traveling fast, and low, searching for a tiny thing in a sea with a swell, it’s very hard to see and you are scouring for any other indicators. The first thing that I started to notice was the strong stench of petrol. That was the first indication, I looked at my crew and they could all smell it, ‘it’s that way!’, then we saw them and the rescue plan came into action.

You never directly approach a boat, you circle around, to check that no one is in the water. We were lucky with this group, they stayed very calm, I mean they were freaked, some more than others, but they were not leaping off into the water as fast as they could. I had seen groups do this if they had been at sea for long time. This group had been at sea for 8 or 9 hours, and so still had their wits about them, women and children, everyone. This boat had 32 people on it, it looked overloaded but to the more seasoned eyes of the crew they had seen much worse.

We circled with someone in the bow shouting out to them in English, French and if possible Arabic, ‘We are from Europe’, ‘You are safe with us’. ‘We are here to rescue you’, ‘We will not take you back to Libya’ and at that you see the shoulders drop – ‘Thank God!’

We circle round and drive our boat up to the stern end of their boat. We put our bow into them, carefully riding the power to make a good firm connection, gently pushing their boat around, while handing over life jackets. By this time the second RIB had joined us towing a small raft behind it with more life jackets.

Once everyone has a life jacket on we disembarked groups of 10, onto our boat. By that time the ship had come on scene - we take them back to the ship, the passengers are disembarked and we set up a relay of picking up more, while the second rib stays with the boat to keep everyone calm.

Once everyone is back on the ship we go back to the rubber boat and destroy it, which is unbelievably satisfying. We spray the boat with a search and rescue tag, slash the tubes and pray that the thing sinks so that it is neither a hazard or available for reuse. You develop a real hatred towards these things… a profound sense of injustice and anger. We let off some steam…

By the time we return to the ship and are lifted out, the whole rescue has taken 4 hours. The guests have been handed over to the coordinator who starts the process of doing the count, distributing blankets, food and so on.

Usually in that time a strategy of what will happen to these people has already been made. It’s often been made by the time you return from the actual rescue itself. In our case, the difficulties with access to port were slowing things down.

We had been lifted with the boats out of the water, cleared the engines, washed everything down and stored the boats. The passengers are checked by the medics in the hospital bay, if they are fine and the weather’s fine and we have more space we may stay cruising and rescue more people. If more medical attention is required or the weather is deteriorating the crew will make a judgement call on what happens next.

At this time, I busy myself with maintenance, I might go and say hello, but it can be a strange experience, because, as the RIB driver you are the first person the rescued see, in their mind you are the person who rescued them. Actually the person sitting in the office in Berlin is as responsible as I am, if not more so, and so I feel a bit silly, ‘whoa Captain’, ‘Captain’ I’m not the Captain! ‘Captain, Captain’ - it’s just a natural response from my RNLI training, I complete my mission, and mentally prepare for the next one, your mind is in that frame set. I need to refuel the boats, make sure my crew are ok, hold a quick debrief. Did we do the rescue in the best way? How can we improve things? We never usually know what happens to the casualties we rescue…

That evening there was still no resolution, I don’t remember that we were yet worried that the situation might get critical. We had decided to remain in the search and rescue zone looking for people and at the end of the following day the captain decided to start heading north and reach the southern part of Europe to miss the worst of a foul weather front coming in.

We tracked north but went into the bad weather. We got into some pretty hairy stuff, we checked and the forecast was looking progressively worse and worse. So everybody was feeling pretty miserable on board the ship.

On Sea-Watch 3, the back deck is used as the guest quarters, it has a marquee covering it, matts are put out on the floor, blankets and people lie out in rows. There’s a recovery area for women and children or people with serious injuries, and then there is the hospital, and the hospital is for one person at a time. There is also the crew's section of the ship but it’s small and uncomfortable. In a storm it’s not great as everyone gets wet and uncomfortable.

As we moved into the foul weather, a force six sea is manageable - you can get on with your routine but the conditions can be harsh - force seven seas are exponentially worse than force six, you are having to concentrate, you can’t move around without holding onto something, and when it’s force eight you are really holding onto your hat. It’s a different environment and you are thinking of self preservation then, rather than other people. When you are in force nine to force ten territory, it is everyone for themselves.

As the storm worsened, we realised we were unable to keep people safe on deck; the passengers were moved to the recovery area were they were crammed into a claustrophobic scene. It created images that are difficult to shake from the memory. By this time, crew and passengers were getting sea sick, I was thinking about supplies, keeping engines going, what happens if someone’s ill and it spreads, these become very real things that are no longer abstract. They are there staring you in the face.

So your mind, I think, goes through a very quick process of survival mode checks and training kicks in. Your past experience becomes extremely valuable, your experiences become very real. People have asked me ‘how was it?’ The answer that hits the nail on the head is ‘It was real’.

In every passing hour, trivia started to slip away and reality and human nature became something totally different. The crew became closer, we were going through this together, and there were some really beautiful moments, people become very tactile. You would never go past a fellow crewmate without at least putting your hand upon their shoulder. Your pretentions disappear, you don’t care about your appearance, you end up looking like a pirate in Pyjama trousers, wellies and a sou’wester. You wear whatever is dry.

We were also trying to have fun because we had to be careful to come out of this thing, there was music playing all the time, on the bridge, in the galley, the chef is pounding out German hip hop in the teeth of a force eight storm, chopping potatoes while the ship is tilting from 43 degrees to 43 degrees.

At this point we realised, nobody’s going to let us in, everyone was telling us to go away, breaking any reasonable interpretation of humanitarian and maritime law. It is my understanding that a ship in distress is granted permission to land wherever the closest port of safety is. That’s standard. One could argue whether we were technically in distress or not, we weren’t registering an SOS call or anything like that, but we were in a difficult position and the people on board were at risk.

The other boats in the region had cleared off to shelter off Malta or were swinging round and going into Sicily. We were the only ship left. As we tracked north, Italy told us not to even come close, and Malta said no. The Maltese coast guard told us to go to Holland as the boat was Dutch They seriously wanted us to cross the Bay of Biscay in winter!

I wasn’t really party to any of this conversation, but I have over the years built and kept a series of connections of people involved in search and rescue from my time at Atlantic College, Chelsea College and the AA. As it became clear we were being left to the storm, I just thought I’m going to try anything. So I contacted people I knew in Holland, the UK anywhere, I asked everyone. It got picked up by two people on Facebook very quickly; Tegan Hill who was a follower, who got straight back in touch and set up a change.org campaign, and Leanne Wood who used to be the leader of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh national party. It went viral. The press went crazy. In the middle of this someone said ‘you just need to talk to the camera’ so I just got the phone out and explained what was happening. I went off and carried on with my duties, I came back and looked at my phone and couldn’t believe it; 60,000 views by the next day.

We stayed at sea for another 3 days with the people that we had rescued. Eventually the Maltese government capitulated and sent a coastguard vessel to disembark the refugees onboard Sea- Watch 3. A simple humanitarian appeal had achieved the desired effect.

The new crew returned Sea-Watch 3 to the SAR zone north of Libya and very quickly recovered more people trying to make the crossing. I received a report that they have rescued 60 people from an almost certain death or a push back by the coastguard to Libya.

I have stayed in contact with some of the refugees that we rescued back in December. They appear to have been scattered across the south of Europe, however many of them still remain in a detention centre in Malta (it sounds very grim) with little information about what will happen to them next.

During my mission, I managed to create a minor social stirring and I played the social media card for all I was worth. It was a strange experience, and I was amazed and slightly reassured by the reaction. People seemed genuinely incensed by what had taken place. On my return, my email, phone and FB account exploded and I received so many requests for information, interviews and the rest of that crazy circus. I was delighted that we were getting a voice… It was an extremely short-lived experience. When the same situation happened on the following mission, I contacted all the journalists, radio stations and publicity outlets that had shown such interest when I was in the thick of it… I got one call back. It was old news.

There now remains one NGO ship operating in the South Med; Sea-Watch 3. The European effort to assist has all but disappeared. The search and spotting airplanes: Moonbird and Colibri are still flying and when they spot something they report it to the MRCC and broadcast to all vessels in the region, however, there is no concentrated effort to try and help these people and their plight goes unnoticed. The estimates of how many people have drowned in 2019 are unclear, it seems no-one is taking count; however estimates are high, in the thousands. It’s a biased and sick situation and I watch from afar with a real sense of unease.

Image of Robin hugging one of the saved migrants
Currently, only the Libyan Coast Guard is able to save migrants risking their lives at sea in an attempt to reach Europe from North Africa.

Robin continues his work with Atlantic Pacific, working with local communities and organisations all over the world, supplying bespoke rescue boats, mobile lifeboat stations and highly trained volunteer crew to places that lack a provision for water rescue. Atlantic Pacific operates regardless of political context, out of a universal respect for human life.

Visit the Atlantic Pacific website

From Thursday 25 April, the AA Gallery will host an exhibition by Amnesty International to showcase their investigation into the impact of conflict on civilians in Raqqa, Syria – the most destroyed city in the world. Related to the theme of this exhibition, we’re publishing on AA Conversations a series of interviews with alumni who have challenged or dealt with the topics of urgency and conflict through their student work or in their current practice. Read extracts on our Alumni Portfolio page.

Jan Willem Petersen (AADipl(Hons) 2005)

Jan Willem Petersen, Assembling Kabul, Afghanistan 2016

Jan Willem Petersen graduated from the AA in 2005 and has since established his independent research and design office, Specialist Operations. It supports governments, international organisations, such as the UN and local communities with spatial analysis, strategic planning and in-depth urban research. Jan’s work addresses topics of urban planning in conflict-affected environments, while leading an interdisciplinary team to develop strategies and shape processes for rebuilding. Recently Jan took part in the AA lecture series HOME: Questioning post-Brexit Relationships, around the theme of Exodus, to discuss the forces that trigger a mass departure from one’s homeland.

AA: How do you think studying at the AA has influenced your work/career?
JWP: The distinctive culture at the AA has been instrumental in the way we conduct many projects. I think the exciting and arguably critical aspects of the AA is that it delivers an environment of perpetual insecurity and at the same time affirms a sense of certainty when undertaking projects, often in unchartered territories. To some extent, our current projects are born out of level of anxiety, ultimately fostering an inquisitiveness that characterises parts of the school.

AA: What advice would you give to current students?
JWP: Be a collaborator. What we can see today is that, architecture’s greatest asset is not its ability to deliver buildings but an intrinsic capacity to move and engage between radically different cultures, each with their own value system, and to seek out pragmatic and exciting innovations. I think it is incredibly liberating, and necessary, to venture outside the realm of architecture and demonstrate a renewed relevance.

Read the full interview with Jan Willem Petersen on AA Conversations
Watch the Exodus Lecture
Discover Jan Willem Petersen’s work

Torange Khonsari (AADip 1998)

LJ Works (land secured for LJ Farm. project by Tom Dobson from public works), London – UK.

Torange Khonsari trained as an architect, is an academic, and founding member and director of Public Works. Since graduating from the AA in 1998, she has taught architecture and activism at Royal College of Art and UMA School of Architecture in Umeå, Sweden, as well as the London Metropolitan University. Her work is situated in-between academia and practice and has enabled and enriched an exploratory environment within which her collective practice: Public Works operates. Their work occupies a terrain of architecture, art, performance and civic action, taking various forms including discursive events, research, campaigns, urban strategies, participatory art & architecture.

AA: How do you think studying at the AA has influenced your work/career?
TK: Studying in Diploma Unit 10 under the tutorship of Carlos Villanueva Brandt and Robert Mull totally shifted my idea of what architecture can do. It also enabled my interest in politics to thrive in an architectural context. At the AA I was able to critique what I was being taught; I learnt to be rigorous and was given the confidence to experiment. What in the 90s was great at the AA was the fact that you could repeat your fifth year for a small fee if your project hadn’t reached its potential. With this in place, students dared to do experiments that came to be described by tutors as ‘heroic failures’. These were necessary to innovate new models of acting and making things as well as encouraging students to take risks. To me, coming from a conventional degree, the environment at the AA felt more like a laboratory than a school that teaches you to toe the line. Maybe it was the confidence to be heroic or naïve that made me determined to practice what I had learnt in my diploma.

AA: What advice would you give to current students?
TK: Take risks and allow yourself to heroically fail, see this as a way to learn. Take your destiny and career into your own hands, it’s the role of the teachers to guide you and give you skills but where that takes you is all up to you. Don’t follow a path just because that’s what has been set for you. The key is digging deeper to know what you truly care about.

Read the full interview with Torange Khonsari on AA Conversations
Watch Torange on AA Lectures online
Discover Public Works

Nicholas Zembashi (AADip 2018)

Nicholas Zembashi, The Edgeless City, Terra Media, London, 2018

Recent AA graduate Nicholas Zembashi investigates concepts of citizenship and the nature of our digital world. His work lies between architecture, media and politics, and uses speculation and allegory to form essays in space – stimulated in the digital and physical environment. His most recent work investigates how identity is bound by a landscape of media and how classification in machine learning reveals discriminatory biases inherent in human interactions. Nicholas has worked in architecture practices in Cyprus and the UK, and is currently employed at Forensic Architecture.

AA: How do you think studying at the AA has influenced your work/career?
NZ: It’s hard to express the breadth of influence an education at the AA has. One becomes so enmeshed in a kind of culture of thinking and practising, that isolating a single cluster of nodes to represent its impact will always fall short of the task. From the network of brilliant colleagues and tutors, to the opportunities that arise in fields beyond conventional practise, there is a lot to appreciate. If I had to pick a single word, it would have to be exposure.

At its very core this exposure comes in the form of a ‘pedagogy’ that, for me, is a medium through which thinking about space is fundamentally challenged. Architecture is a mediating tool. In any form of communication there is something in the middle. Be it a language, a sound, an image, or a building, there is always an architecture in the way. And in this minefield of maximum exposure, where communication is bound by such architectures, there is conflict.

The labyrinthine oddity of Bedford’s Square’s domesticity-as-university facilitates a unique conceptual stage. On it, my ideas could perform against those of all its members in an agonistic spirit. In this way I learnt to value the ‘brief’ as a design project as much as its objects of design themselves. My journey was not merely concerned with how to design space, but rather an appropriation of spatial tools to develop methodologies that communicate ideas. The AA’s stage churned out the props and minds for me to react to, and eventually incorporate in the construction of my own architectural mise-en-scène. In other words, it fuelled the building of my worlds to be experienced as essays-in-form.

“I wanted to be able to walk around in my mind” said architectural historian Joseph Rykwert, when asked to recount the reason he’d wanted to become an architect. This resonates with how I view the school as an enabler of debate: Allowing me to invite and be invited for a walk around the minds of everyone I am exposed to. It is an ever-changing whirlpool of colliding essays-in-form, that I hope to keep coming back to for the rest of my career.

AA: What advice would you give to current students?
NZ: Congruent with my belief in architecture as a mediator of ideas, the tools with which we communicate those ideas are seminal. I encourage any student to learn as many tools as possible since the limits in ‘how’ we can have a discussion about space should always be challenged – whether we hand-draw, digitally render, or use VR, programming or code.

Most importantly, focus on consolidating as much of one’s personal interests into a design practice as possible. That is, focus on building your own briefs, not only in the design studio but in as many complementary courses as possible. After all, the AA provides the platform for doing precisely that.

Also, don’t overlook mental health. In the high-stress pressure-cookers of architectural education, it is crucial to open up about it and never ignore it.

Finally, I cannot conclude without overstating the role my History and Theory tutors played in my studies, for providing the ground on which to cement one’s intellectual cornerstone. Even if you have an aversion to this type of learning, don’t discount the power of writing.

Read the full interview with Nicholas Zembashi on AA Conversations
Read Diploma 12: Material World unit brief
Discover Forensic Architecture’s work

Álvaro F Pulpeiro (AADipl 2015)

Álvaro F. Pulpeiro, Introduction To Civil War

Álvaro F Pulpeiro is a filmmaker and writer currently based in Bogotá, Colombia. He graduated from the AA in 2015, where he was also part of the collective of young artists curated by Hans Ulrich-Obrist, 89+. During that time he researched and filmed what became his first feature film, Nocturno: Ghosts of the Sea in Port (2017). His work investigates with a type of cinema that thrives in the extreme limits of the West, traveling, researching and documenting political and economic dynamics. His most recent exhibition entitled: En la Arena Se Ha Banado La Sombra (In The Sand The Shadow Has Bathed) was exhibited at the AA Gallery, showcasing a collection of ongoing research for a feature film that is being shot in and around Venezuela. Concerned with two central topics: Venezuela and petrol, Pulpeiro showcases his investigations in petrol smuggling and border economies.

AA: How do you think studying at the AA has influenced your work/career?
AP: In a sense, the AA has no form, no clear method, but a spirit, a way of looking at complexities. In the work I do, improvisation and cunning are far more important than the technical ability to produce without thinking. The AA is all about understanding every aspect of a concept, including the peripheral, not about memorising and producing just for the sake of it. That has helped me a lot, because looking with no desire to instantaneously produce has given me a discerning eye, which is deeper and more precise.

AA: What advice would you give to current students?
AP: I would say: be conscious, don’t be afraid and do not let intellectual or practical intimidations control your sense of future. Yes, there is the real world, but there are many real worlds, and the only way to tame it is through a big sacrifice. This is only if you want to seek what the AA stands for. It is also very respectable to get a paid job and prosper financially. But the world is in need of pilgrims that bring us visions of what it means to be alive in the margins, beyond the objectifying reach of consumption, endless profit and cannibal art markets.

Read the full interview with Álvaro F Pulpeiro on AA Conversations
Find out more about En la Arena Se Ha Banado La Sombra (In The Sand The Shadow Has Bathed) exhibition
Read more about Alvaro on 89+

Rana Haddad (AADipl 1995)

Rana Haddad and Joanne Hayek, Radio Silence – part of BePUBLIC, founded by Rana Haddad, in Horsh Beirut, Lebanon

Rana Haddad graduated from the AA in 1995 and has since acquired the title of activist as she practiced architecture and design in Beirut after the civil war that ended in 1990. Establishing her practice which merges architecture and performance together – to address the everyday affected by urban planning, conflict-affected environments and culture – Rana has produced several public installations and performances in Beirut, Mantes la Jolie, Bern, Geneva, Algiers, Italy and New Zealand.

AA: How do you think studying at the AA has influenced your work/career?
RH: I always say that Beirut, the war years (as I grew up there during that time) and the AA made me. The AA allowed me to see the potential in the field of architecture and the philosophy behind it. It is more of a way of thinking rather than a profession. It broadened my perspectives and allowed me to see the potential in every living constraint.
I started my first public installation at the AA as a way to convey Beirut and to share it with everyone else. Since then, I create installations on the streets of Beirut, moving them out from within a school to engage with the public.

AA: What advice would you give to current students?
RH: Drop your ego. Be ready for new challenges. Think through your hands and not through just your digital devices. Challenge yourself as there is no limit to creativity. We live in a time where multi tasking is a door opener. The field of architecture gives such opportunities more than any other field. Be open and ready for adventure.

Read the full interview with Rana Haddad on AA Conversations
Watch Rana Haddad on AA Lectures online
Discover Rana’s work

Eyal Weizman (AADipl 1998)

At the Palacio de Justicia, between twelve and fourteen students (red) were beaten up and loaded into the back of multiple police vehicles (turquoise), Forensic Architecture, 2017

Eyal Weizman graduated from the AA in 1998. He is the founder of the research agency Forensic Architecture, and is Professor of Spatial and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is also founding director of the Centre for Research Architecture. Forensic Architecture work with experts such as scientists, journalists, and graphic designers who together combine architecture, politics, media and human rights theory to develop methods of investigation and to analyse destroyed buildings for evidence of human rights abuses.

AA: How do you think studying at the AA has influenced your work/career?
EW: I guess I’m one of the rare individuals who has done all of their education at the AA. I’ve never studied anywhere else. I studied from first year to diploma at the AA, and then I did my PhD at the London Consortium supervised by Mark Cousins, so there are not many other places that shaped my thinking. The kind of chaotic way in which ideas and experiments can flow at you or are thrown at you is what I really learned at the AA. It is an incredibly unstructured form of education, extremely neurotic and full of ambition, fear and motivation. That is my experience of being there.

AA: What advice would you give to current students?
EW: Always escalate!

Read the full interview with Eyal Weizman on AA Conversations
Read Diploma 3: The Architectural Media Complex unit brief
Discover Forensic Architecture’s work
Watch Eyal Weizman on AA Lectures online

Ja Kim (AADip(Hons) 2013)

Ja Kim, Seungyoub Lee, Jongwon Choi, Monolith_9.81 Park, Jeju Island, South Korea, 2015–19

Ja Kim graduated from the AA in 2013. Since graduating, she has taught architecture and design at Hanyang University Erica Campus in Ansan (South Korea) where she also established her design practice, Ondo Project Architects. Focussed on finding social meaning through architecture and in designing quality public spaces for the city, Ja’s team works on projects for the government, social enterprises and individuals.

AA: How do you think studying at the AA has influenced your work/career?
JK: To me, the AA is akin to an academic playground rather than a form of education. It revealed to me the infinite possibilities of architecture through an immensely enjoyable journey of learning and experimentation. The AA provided a framework to see architecture in many different ways. This was especially true while studying in Diploma 5, which dealt with a notion of ‘public’ through every project. There, we had to respond to an urgent social problem: that public spaces in our cities were disappearing at alarming rates, which forced us to question how we could design new types of spaces which satisfy urgent needs within communities. It was only later that I realised how formative this experience was, when observing that previous and ongoing projects in our practice started with the same concerns for public space and the public realm.

Our projects such as ‘Monolith’, a 140,000-square-metre theme park on Jeju Island, comprised of race tracks for gravity racing; and ‘Banana House’, a five-household housing project, are examples that showcase the ambitious motto of our practice: ‘architecture for togetherness’. As always, I hope for ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’ and try to realise this through our work– just as I learnt at the AA. There was a constant interest in public space and the AA enabled me to experiment in various ways, using different methods, and across a variety of scales.

In my current practice, I work with similar tools and methods, tackling projects through a practical or theoretical approach towards large and small public space projects in a South Korean context.

AA: What advice would you give to current students?
JK: The central theme of an AA education is that there is a search for adventure, experience and meaning, and this makes architecture worth exploring. The AA will leave you with answers, which you never considered, to your broad set of questions, and it will leave you with a new set of meaningful questions too.

I wish all of your academic experiences to be filled with those great values – ‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’ (Ulysses: Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

Read the full interview with Ja Kim on AA Conversations
Find out more on Ja’s AA graduation project

Jingru Cyan Cheng (MPhil Projective Cities 2014 and PhD by Design 2018)

Jingru Cheng, Territory, Settlement, Household: A Project of Rural China, PhD by Design project, 2018

Jingru (Cyan) Cheng obtained both PhD by Design (2018) and MPhil Projective Cities (2014) at the AA and was the co-director of AA Wuhan Visiting School, 2015–17. Employing the design research method, her PhD thesis focuses on rurality as a spatial question at levels of territory, settlement and household. This year, Jingru’s research paper on Care and Rebellion: The Dissolved Household in Contemporary Rural China received a commendation from RIBA President’s Awards for Research within the Cities and Community category. Cyan is currently working on another research project: Collective Forms in China supported by the British Academy. Her research interests lie in the intersections between disciplines, especially shared ideas and methods by architecture, anthropology and sociology, with a focus on socio-spatial models in China.

AA: Advice for current or prospective students?
JC: Among other things, the AA plants a seed in your mind, and it takes courage and commitment to act on it.

Read more on Jingru’s PhD research
Read more on Jingru Cyan Cheng, recognised at 2018 RIBA President’s Awards

Christina Varvia (AADipl 2014)

Christina Varvia Forensic Architecture, 77sqm_9:26min, commissioned by the People's Tribunal 'Unravelling the NSU Complex, Initiative 6 April, Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Documenta 14.

Christina Varvia graduated from the AA in 2014. Her research experiments with time-based media, converging digital media and memory as well as the perception of the physical environment through scanning and imaging technologies. Her final project Shipping Tales is an animation that revisits shipping routes as a sight of critical exploration, acknowledging the recent years of the shipping industry. Christina joined Forensic Architecture the same year she graduated, and is now Unit Master with Merve Anil (AADipl 2014) of Diploma 3: The Architectural Media Complex. This new unit draws from the work of Forensic Architecture, developing investigative frameworks to examine the ruptures of civic life, analysing the choreography of violence and forensically unpacking breaking news about police brutality, urban warfare, and government corruption.

AA: What’s your experience of the professional working world since graduating?
CV: The most exciting part of working on real research cases is that one is forced to work across disciplines, becoming a witness to how ideas translate and become actionable across political fields.

AA: Advice for current or prospective students?
CV: The architectural studio is an incredibly potent place where we are able to play out thought experiments. It is also a safe space – I would suggest to use this space to expand ones’ imagination and to learn from fellow students.

Read more on this year’s Diploma 3: The Architectural Media Complex brief
Find out more on Christina’s project, or to see other graduate work from Project Review 2014
Discover Forensic Architecture’s work

Hikaru Nissanke (AADipl 2009) and Jon Lopez (AADipl 2011)

Hikaru Nissanke and Jon Lopez OMMX, Artist Live Work, An affordable multi storey warehouse in London, 2016

Jon Lopez (AADipl 2011) and Hikaru Nissanke (AADipl 2009) are founding partners of OMMX who practice architecture through the lenses of building, drawing and writing. Since graduating from the AA, they have developed a significant portfolio of international projects while contributing to the wider architectural culture through their teaching and research practices. The practice has recently been nominated for the 2018 Mies van der Rohe prize for their Stele House project.

AA: What’s your experience of the professional working world since graduating?
OMMX: We founded OMMX as a space for continued learning and development, and with the aim to help communities make lasting improvements to their built environment and quality of life. Half the battle has been to raise awareness about the important role of buildings in answering the challenges of our time.

AA: Advice for current or prospective students?
OMMX: Complement one’s studies with a healthy dose of reality, whatever that might be.

Find out more on Hikaru’s project, or to see other graduate work from Project Review 2009
Find out more on Christina’s project, or to see other graduate work from Project Review 2014
Read our AA Conversations piece on OMMX as part of our AA lecture series: What’s Next
Watch the OMMX lecture: Settings online
Discover OMMX’s work

Kostas Grigoriadis (AA DRL MArch 2009)

Hikaru Nissanke and Jon Lopez Kostas Grigoriadis, Computational Blends – Mullion Interface Multi-Colour Test Print, London, UK, 2016

Kostas Grigoriadis graduated in 2009 with a MArch in Architecture & Urbanism (DRL). Kostas now teaches on the AA Diploma Unit 2 course: Living Matters. This unit represents an inquiry into the true architectural, spatial, noetic and communicative spectrum of contemporary life. In the contexts of today’s cultural climate – and the existential conflation of life and work – Living Matters challenges current materialist perceptions, investigating inhabitation and interiority so as to merge these introspective ideas with broader definitions of matter, space and living.

Recently, Kostas has won the 2018 RIBA President’s Award for Research within the Design and Technical category for his paper Computational Blends: The Epistemology of Designing with Functionally Graded Materials. The research proposes an alternative method of designing with a type of material that is known as multi-, or functionally-graded (FGM). FGM consist of sub-materials continuously fused together in a gradient manner in one volume, without the use of mechanical connections.

AA: What’s your experience of the professional working world since graduating?
KG: It is a rather challenging environment that it takes some time to adapt to, while making sure one’s particular architectural interests develop and don’t get stifled.

AA: Advice for current or prospective students?
KG: To constantly refine their own design language, together with their wider architectural and theoretical intellectual position.

Read more on this year’s Diploma 2: Living Matters brief
Read more on Kostas Grigoriadis (AA Diploma Unit 2 Staff), recognised at 2018 RIBA President’s Awards
Watch Kostas’ lecture on Computational and Conceptual Blends: Designing with Graded Materials

Vere van Gool (AADipl(Hons)2014)

Hikaru Nissanke and Jon Lopez Devin Kenny at Mathew Gallery for Screen Spaces, a geography of moving image, curated by Vere van Gool for Het Nieuwe Instituut, 2018

Vere van Gool graduated the AA with Honours in 2014. Upon graduating, she joined Forensic Architecture as researcher, co-working with AA Alumni and FA Director Eyal Weizmen and Deputy Director Christina Varvia (AADipl(Hons)2014). Vere now works for the New Museum in New York, working as Associate Director for the initiative: IdeasCity. At the New Museum Vere organises programmes that explore art beyond the walls of the museum. As an independent curator, she recently organised the exhibition and lecture series Screen Spaces, a geography of moving image for Het Nieuwe Instituut in New York, which spanned across 10 locations exploring the relationship between video-art, time-based media, and its means of circulation.

AA: Advice for current or prospective students?
VVG: Start doing what you want to do after your studies, during your studies!

Find out more on Vere’s project, or to see other graduate work from Project Review 2014
MISS Event: Eva Franch I Gilabert – Eva’s Paella Party, with Vere Van Gool and Mary Wang.
Discover more of Vere’s work


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The Architectural Association receives Taught Degree Awarding Powers by the Lords of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council.

The Architectural Association (AA), the oldest independent school of architecture in the United Kingdom, is pleased to announce that it has been granted the power to award its own degrees. As of 1 October 2019, the AA has the right to establish new academic programmes and degree awards and is working to create some of the world’s most pioneering courses in architecture to shape and build the future.

Taught Degree Awarding Powers (TDAP) give UK higher education institutions the right to award bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Prospective students worldwide can apply to the AA Foundation Course (Foundation Diploma), Experimental Programme BA(Hons), Diploma Programme (MArch), and nine taught postgraduate programmes encompassing History and Critical Thinking in Architecture (MA), Projective Cities (Taught MPhil) and Sustainable Environmental Design (MSc/MArch), amongst others.

AA Director, Eva Franch said, ‘since our founding in 1847 we have never ceased to create new horizons, institutionally and academically. This is a significant milestone for the AA and demonstrates how we have grown and progressed as an institution that has always valued independence. Receiving TDAP marks a new era for our institution; these are exciting times for the AA. The process has required considerable work from all members of staff and students. I would like to take this opportunity to credit them for this major achievement’.

President of the AA Council, Victoria Thornton added, ‘the TDAP process has recognised our strong governance, academic standards, scholarship and teaching as well as the environment supporting the delivery of taught higher education programmes’.

The School’s application for Taught Degree Awarding Powers was supported by the Architects Registration Board, the Royal Institute of British Architects and The Open University.