Saskia Lewis, Umberto Bellardi Ricci, Juliet Haysom, Silvana Taher

The AA Foundation course is a one-year introduction to an art- and designbased education. It allows students to develop their conceptual ideas through experimenting with a wide range of media and creative disciplines in an intimate studio environment. As students are introduced to a variety of intellectual and process-based approaches, they learn more about themselves: their own interests, passions, aspirations and inspirations. As they gain confidence in their own approach to work, they can readily galvanise their own self-critique, drive and skills to more successfully pursue education in various creative disciplines. Drawing on a number of pedagogical practices, experienced tutors and visiting practitioners, Foundation offers a unique cross-disciplinary education within the context of an architectural school.

The first term provides an introduction to observation, analysis, inspiration and representation. The second term follows with a series of three-week projects allowing students to work in groups, digest the art of constructive critique and develop an understanding of content and context. Projects focus on specific areas of art and design and are complemented by workshops that help students gain the confidence to articulate their work. The conceptual development of each student is supported by the acquisition of specific skills that are immediately applied and practised in context. During the final term, the faculty supports students as they write their own briefs and produce a series of explorations and experiments using knowledge accumulated throughout the year, which takes its final form as their portfolio.

Knowledge and skills developed include:

Observation The Foundation course begins with developing an understanding of how observation, analysis and representation are essential components for contextualising and articulating work.

Technical Drawing Weekly workshops explore the language of orthogonal drawing and plans, sections, elevations, perspectives and axonometrics and how different drawings operate at different scales and cities (1:2,500), neighbourhoods (1:500), buildings (1:100 and 1:50), rooms (1:20) and familiar hand-held objects (1:1).

Model-making Explore three-dimensional form by casting and remoulding objects in different materials or by using flat sheets of card and cutting, folding, scoring and slotting.

Photography Learn how to use aperture, focus, composition and lighting to document work and create narrative effects. Use these techniques to record your explorations and record final pieces for exhibition.

Critique Develop a sense of quality through critique and critical thinking to understand how to improve work. Students will be encouraged to take risks and enjoy the design process rather than aim towards safe and predictable outcomes.

History and Theory Understand historical context with reference to an intellectual lineage of ideas and how they inform contemporary practice.

Portfolio Development Build a portfolio that illustrates a year's worth of analysis, testing and project development and effectively supports the narrative of your experiences and design work.

Life Drawing Examine and draw from naked figures by looking at proportion, weight, skeletal structure, muscle, joints and flesh. Explore the movement and dynamics of the human body.

Pattern Cutting Learn about the material qualities, structure and weight of fabric and how it can be used to clothe the human form.

Millinery Create extraordinary structures for the head: stitch and pleat, use plastics and wire, steam and stretch felt.

Filmmaking and Editing Learn how to structure a narrative through storyboarding, use a camera, edit and apply soundtracks to your own short films.

Design and Construction Learn about the material qualities of timber, its grain and seasoning, and how to joint different components to create tensile and compressed structures. Design and fabricate projects that accommodate the human form with respect to mass, weight and function.

Painting Learn about colour theory and how to use different types of paint to achieve a desired result.

Exhibition Learn how to curate, design and construct an exhibition. Survey a space, frame and mount two-dimensional work, build carcasses to house threedimensional work and screens for filmic projections.

Print-making Learn about the rich graphic history of printmaking, monoprints, linocuts and lithographs and develop skills to articulate and reproduce images and text.

Precision Cuts and Margins of Error: The Dynamics of Materiality and Time Inspired by the strategic images of Thomas Ruff, the graphic influences of the October Revolution, the fluidity of plywood, Josef Albers analysis of colour, the mundane worlds of Thomas Demand and the cut-up compositions of Hannah Höch, over the course of this year we will explore inspiration, observation, scale, site, materiality, archiving, scenario and identity.

Term 1 will focus on the development of skills though the forensic examination of microsites, colour within volume and varieties of landscapes. Students will intellectually delve into their own research by identifying and compiling a series of influences and progenitors. Workshops will encourage translation from observation to material interpretation, and projects will range in scale from the intimacy of a spatial fragment to a journey through the city.

In Term 2 students will use these skills to articulate work in greater depth. We encourage haphazard experimentation, thinking through making and the use of a variety of techniques: photography, drawing, painting, model-making, casting, mapping, material studies, form, structure, pattern cutting, costume, sewing, weaving, textiles, carpentry, performance, lighting and filmmaking.

Term 3 allows us to negotiate ways to record work through the medium of the moving image. We will playfully translate positions and proposals into cohesive narratives while continuing to deepen and develop investigations.

By the end of the year, students will have produced a comprehensive portfolio that illustrates, in both analogue and digital interpretations, their bespoke journey through the Foundation.

Unit Staff

Saskia Lewis has taught at the AA since 2001. She has practised in New York, Paris and London and has taught at many schools of art and architecture in London. She is co-author and photographer of Architectural Voices: Listening to Old Buildings.

Umberto Bellardi Ricci runs a practice in London, which ranges from residential projects to product design. He holds an AA Diploma and degrees in social anthropology and international relations. He co-organises the Architecture Exchange and directs the AA Visiting School in Las Pozas, Mexico.

Juliet Haysom trained in Fine Art at the Ruskin School, University of Oxford and the RCA. She is developing a solo artist's commission built into the site of a nineteenth-century prison in Bristol where she is also lead artist for a new park on Unity Street.

Silvana Taher is a writer, architect and teaches History & Theory Studies at the AA. Her writing has appeared in Publica, Blueprint and The Architectural Review.


AA School of Architecture Admissions (Undergraduate)
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Projects Review 2017

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Prospectus 2017-18
AA Prospectus

Foundation Course Booklet
Foundation Course Booklet


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