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Cambodia Makeshift apparatus, Takeo AAVS Cambodia 2019


In Search of Praxis 3.0

Sunday 5 – Sunday 26 July 2020

Part I - The Secret Lives of Post-Colonial Phnom Penh
Part I  Dates: July 5 – July 13 2020

In an essay on cosmopolitan life Kant suggests that “out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made”. Human fallacies are often blamed for crooked cities and we have the benefit of hindsight to extenuate such claims. Today, Phnom Penh experiences the banes of most urbanizing cities: congestion, pollution and housing shortage - all of which can be traced to the legacy of colonial and modernist city planning and the impact of a brutal civil war. However, the evolution of Phnom Penh is much more than historical stenography. Contributing to morphology of the city are resilient urban dwellers who rebuilt Phnom Penh from inherited crooked timber.

In late 19th century, the French divided Phnom Penh into three quarters : Khmer for local residents, Chinese for business, and French for administration. After Cambodia’s independence, the New Khmer Architecture movement attempted to bridge the fragmented city but its efforts were short lived. In 1975, Khmer Rouge declared year zero and pushed the entire population out of Phnom Penh. Since the end of the civil war in 1979, the city was repopulated by a displaced generation of young Cambodians trying to retrace their past to prepare for an unknown future.

Starting from the legacy of Phnom Penh’s colonial past, we will reveal dormant landmarks that have been buried deep under years of neglect and deprivation. They include the colonial International Hotel, abandoned churches and Chinese temples. Striped of their former significance, these spaces have been remade into informal settlements and communities. Our focus is to document and address historical voids. Through collaborating with local organisations, we will

draw, capture and document the extraordinary lives of inhabitants that have been living with social tensions and cultural contradictions. As oppose to top-down orthodox urban planning, we wish to uncover indigenous forms of architecture that celebrate human ingenuity.

Part II - Vices and Devices
Part II Dates: July 15 – July 26 2020

Le Corbusier’s well-known phrase: ‘The house is a machine for living in’, introduced a kind of mechanic aesthetics that is emblematic of 20th century modern architecture. For Corbusier, a house is an assemblage of elements coming together - a collection that become significant when made into a whole. The notion of machine implies mechanisms of interface, sequence and optimisation in a system. It is a form of determinism based on the material, and of the machine as a limiting and containing form. This year, the Takeo studio is interested in investigating architecture as a machine of assemblage - a device that imposes an order and organisation enabled by the coming together of its constituent elements.

Construction debris, discarded consumer goods and fragments of the home - these are objects that characterise rural Cambodia today. They are the spillage of excess from the rapid urbanisation that Takeo has witnessed over the past two decades. Instead of regarding them as failure of our collective perversion, (or simply - waste,) we are obsessed with its reconstitution. Drawing the ambition from Corbusier, we will try to devise a working system - architecture as a device that caters for the needs of its user. These will be devices that not only explore the bodily aspects of spatial experience, comfort and ergonomics, but also our human desires and emotions.

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe”. Perhaps astronomer Carl Sagan’s quote best summaries the primitive curiosity of our Takeo studio. Continuing from the previous two years of building, our site will be the experimental campus of Thnout Village in Takeo. We will try to understand the school community and challenge the notion of functionality. The 2-week workshop will involve intense hands-on making, learning from local craftsmen and architectural discussion. We will utilise the limited resources available to us in the local town and re-invent our contemporary understanding of architecture as machine.

Prominent Features of the workshop/ skills developed

Part I - The Secret Lives of Post-Colonial Phnom Penh

1. Context/Site
- Urban morphology
- Domestic spaces

2. Architectural History of Cambodia
- French Colonial, Neo-classical
- Post-Colonial Independence, New Khmer Architecture
- Civil War, Political vacuum
- Contemporary

3. Visual communication
- City Mapping
- Urban Sketching
- Collage
- Documentation and presentation

Part II - Vices and Devices

1. Context/Site
- Rural settlements
- Domestic spaces
- Material practice

2. Design and Make
- Workshop visits
- Village excursions to observe physical spatial application of material and technique
- Seminar on material history and precedents
- Design and make a 1:1 fragments or maquette using the material of focus


1) You can make an application by completing the online application found under ‘Links and Downloads’ on the right-hand column of this webpage. If you are not able to make an online application, please contact the Visiting School Office for instructions to pay by bank transfer or by telephone.

2) Once you complete the online application and make a full payment, you are registered onto the programme. Please note that a deposit payment holds your place on the course but does not confirm it. A CV or a portfolio is not required.

3) 5 full scholarships for both Part I and Part II are available based on financial needs. Scholarship does not cover subsistence fees. To apply, please submit a brief statement of interest and one image/drawing of your work to the Visiting School Office. The review and decision of the scholarships will be provided in May 2020.

The deadline for applications is: 5 June 2020


The workshop is open to current architecture and design students of all levels and young professionals.


Part I
Phnom Penh

Part II
Phsa Takao Village,
Takeo Province, Cambodia.
Please note: We will arrange transportation once you landed Phnom Penh International Airport. Please give us your flight details once confirmed or let us know your alternative mode of transport.


The AA Visiting School requires a course fee of:

Part I £595 : The fees includes a £60 Visiting membership fee, but do not include flights or accommodation. Please contact the Visiting School Office for a concession code if you are only applying to this part of the programme.

Part II £695 : The fees includes a £60 Visiting membership fee, but do not include flights or accommodation. Please contact the Visiting School Office for a concession code if you are only applying to this part of the programme.

Total £1230

Package discount: 10% tuition discount is available for those who join both parts of the programme. Please contact the Visiting School Office for a concession code.

All participants will need to make a contribution towards food and accommodation for Part I and II and the amount paid directly to the Programme Heads upon arrival. The subsistence fee will be confirmed shortly.

Students need to bring their own laptops, digital equipment and model making tools. Please ensure this equipment is covered by your own insurance as the AA takes no responsibility for items lost or stolen at the workshop.


All participants travelling from abroad are responsible for securing any visa required, and are advised to contact their home embassy early. After full payment of course fees, the AA School can provide a letter confirming participation in the workshop.


All participants are responsible for securing their own travel and health insurance. Please ensure that your travel insurance also covers your personal belongings i.e. laptop, equipment, tools, passport etc. The AA takes no responsibility for lost/ stolen property.


James Mak is the founder of Project Little Dream (PLD), a charity that designs, builds and runs primary schools in Cambodia since 2009. He is interested in vernacular spaces in post-conflict Cambodia. He is an architect in London and also teaches in Diploma 1 of the AA. He has a degree in human geography from London School of Economics and was educated in the AA where he obtained his AA Diploma.

Alison Cheng is an Executive Director for Project Little Dream (PLD). She runs a series of educational and architectural projects in the rural Cambodia to improve literacy and craft. Alison was educated at the Architectural Association and the Chinese University of Hong Kong and currently work in London.


Programme Heads
Alison Cheng
James Mak

Programme Coordinators
Timothy Tan
Hwajeong Lee
Joyce Chen
Philip Chung

Head of Visiting School

Christopher Pierce

T +44 20 7887 4014
F +44 20 7414 0782

Links & Downloads


Programme site

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Visiting School Prospectus


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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.