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Diploma 1 Merzbau, Kurt Schwitters, 1923–37

Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed

Miraj Ahmed, Martin Jameson

‘One day something appeared in the studio which looked like a cross between a cylinder or wooden barrel and a table-high stump with the bark run wild. It had evolved from a chaotic heap of various materials: wood, cardboard, scraps of iron, broken furniture, and picture frames. Soon, however, the object lost all relationship to anything made by man or nature. Kurt called it a column.’ – Kate Steinitz describes the development of the Merzbau at Kurt Schwitters’ studio, Kurt Schwitters: A Portrait From Life, 1968

At the end of the eighteenth century, French chemist Antoine Lavoisier coined the law of conservation: mass can neither be created nor destroyed, rather it is constantly re-organised and transformed within space. We propose that this principle applies equally to the world of creative ideas. Artistic endeavour, including architecture, is a process of transformation and evolution. One could even argue that the complete set of architectural ideas, forms and narratives already exist (nothing is lost) – our job is to understand and adapt this inheritance. This implies that excessive emphasis on the cult of the ‘new’ is rarely productive; rather, we should focus entirely on adaptation. In the most pragmatic sense we can think about adaptation as applied to a particular building or a building type. But it can also be considered in the sense of cultural evolution – the idea that architecture can be developed through transformation from other art forms, or might itself morph into something else – in the way a book might be adapted into a movie.

It is against this background that we ask the open question: how might our architectural response to the urgent economic and environmental pressures of today be informed by processes of transformation. Our ‘muse’ as we address this question will be the German artist Kurt Schwitters and his merz – a process of collage and adaptation of found objects. His Merzbau, an architectural exploration that started in 1919 and continued for many decades, was Schwitters’ emotional response to the political tensions of the time, most obviously the rise of fascism. We will seek out similar compulsive processes that address the crises of today.

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Miraj Ahmed is a painter and architect. He is an Associate Lecturer at Camberwell College of Art and was a Design Fellow at the University of Cambridge.

Martin Jameson is a Partner at Serie Architects. He has an AA Diploma (Hons), a BA in Philosophy and Politics from the University of Oxford and an MBA from IMD, Switzerland.

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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.