Intermediate 15 Neiheiser Argyros, The School of Athens, 2018


Xristina Argyros, Ryan Neiheiser

Rafael’s painting "The School of Athens" offers a utopian vision of a free, open, informal, and common space for learning. It is an in-between space. Neither inside nor outside, not quite a room, but also not simply a space for circulation. It is monumental, but also generous, and almost casual. Although we typically think of learning taking place in the classroom, educators and architects have recognised for thousands of years that learning also occurs in the space between: in the hallways, on the stairs, at the café, and in the streets. Socrates taught in the Agora; Plato founded his Academy amid the Athenian olive groves and often taught while walking; Medieval colleges were organised around a communal courtyard.

Universities today are contradictory spaces of intellectual curiosity, corporate competition, liberal debate, managerial bureaucracy, cutting-edge research, political manoeuvring, and creative output. They are engines of economic development and juggernauts of gentrification. They are bastions of radical thought and gatekeepers of tradition. Universities exist at the scale of the building, the campus, the small city, and the transnational corporation. They have been – and remain – complicated and vital institutions.

Joseph Rykwert argued in 1968 that the university, like the temples of ancient Greece, the Romans baths, and the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, was the institutional archetype of the twentieth century and in urgent need of critical reformulation. With protestors pouring out of the campus and into the streets, architects in the 60s and 70s experimented with radical new forms of university architecture at the scale of urban infrastructure, blurring the boundary between object and field, student and citizen, institution and city. In the years since however, there has been a marked retreat from this ambitious thinking, with architects primarily focused on the design of individual and autonomous university buildings, often with little concern for the surrounding city.

This year, the unit attempts to critically reengage these two scales of thinking, seeking out new architectural strategies for simultaneously designing the university in the city, and the city in the university.

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Unit Staff

Xristina Argyros (co-founder of Neiheiser Argyros) graduated from Princeton University and received her MArch from the Yale School of Architecture. She has worked for WORKac, OMA New York, and Ateliers Jean Nouvel, taught at Cardiff University and Yale University, and has been teaching at the AA since 2016.

Ryan Neiheiser (co-founder of Neiheiser Argyros) holds a degree in Engineering and Art from Swarthmore College (Pennsylvania) and an MArch from Princeton School of Architecture. He has worked for OMA Rotterdam and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and has taught at Princeton and the AA since 2014.

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