Diploma 9 Miruna Mazilu's (2015-16) elevated landscapes construct aligned views across the rooftops, converting the view of a city into a bucolic scene.

The Diamond Age: Narrative & Apparatus

Natasha Sandmeier, Manolis Stavrakakis

Archaeological periods (the Stone, Bronze and Iron ages) are defined by the materials and technological developments that shaped them. To say it another way, the material and the apparatuses invented in order to transform those materials in turn give shape to our histories and futures. But to name a thing, whether object or era, is already to infiltrate it with a narrative.

Noah's ark was not an instrument of salvation. It is, however, a narrative device that delivers a story of destruction and creation. A McGuffin is not the object of a story but is the very thing that triggers the plot. Alberti's gridded veil converted the soft three-dimensional curves of the body into an initial proportional alignment of lines on paper, and so bound together the author, apparatus, subject and object across a table. Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age follows the story's protagonist, Nell, as she is given a book called the Primer, which both teaches her and evolves alongside her over the course of the story. As the book and the girl read and write one another, the Primer becomes an apparatus through which her story is lived.

An apparatus is not the thing produced, but rather the means for organising ideas and material. A window, whether by John Soane or Alfred Hitchcock's Jeff Jefferies, can be can be a simple optical instrument or a complex means by which to read (or invent) a murderous plot. The camera obscura brings the landscape into a room, turns it upside down and into an image. The faux terrain in a museum display transports a mammoth across time and space into its original habitat, challenging the viewer to question their own terra firma. The project of the architect is always to design a process, not a result. Diploma 9 will exploit the apparatus to connect things not normally joined - whether scales, landscapes or ideologies - to challenge the full extent of the architect's reach.

Unit Staff

Natasha Sandmeier has taught at the AA since 2001. In addition to Diploma 9, she directs the AA Summer School, held in Bedford Square every July. She is also a registered architect and has worked in architectural offices in Boston, London, Athens and in Rotterdam at OMA, where she was project architect for the Seattle Public Library. She is the author of the AA Agendas title, Little Worlds (2014).

Manolis Stavrakakis holds a PhD in History and Theory of Architecture from the AA. He has studied architecture at the National Technical University of Athens, Columbia University and the AA. He has been practising and teaching architecture in Athens and in London since 2005.


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