'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

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 Certificate), 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.