ASHENDEN, Sam/Mark COUSINS/Hugo HINSLEY

Architectural Education Symposium: The Constitution

Series:
Date: Friday 29 October 2004
Time: 00:00
Venue: Lecture Hall
Running time: 79 mins

How can the AAs constitution be made more accessible and effective? What principles should govern any changes that the AA might make? Sam Ashenden is senior lecturer in the Department of Politics and Sociology at Birkbeck College and a member of the London Consortium teaching faculty. Mark Cousins is Director of General Studies and of the Graduate School Histories & Theories programme at the AA. He is a founder member of the London Consortium. Hugo Hinsley is an architect with experience in housing, community buildings and urban development projects. He is a tutor in the Graduate School Housing and Urbanism programme at the AA and currently a member of the Interim Management Group.

Lecture transcription with Q/A:

MARK COUSINS: It’s very strange how it happens at the AA that events seem to institutionalize themselves, I noticed that people are already seating in the same seats. We want to discuss and debate about the nature of the Constitution. This bizarre object, that everyone knows we have one, but nobody knows where it is, or what it is. I think it’s widely accepted by the school is that whatever else we do, we must put the constitution on a kind of firm, clear footing, so that everyone is confident that they know what it is. It’s only fair that any incoming chair is confronted with a sort of done deal about the constitution, and the chair’s relation to it. I’m also aware that if this meeting is going to have tangible outcome, in terms of writing the constitution, this meeting will only begin to open the question and scratch the surface of the problem. Hugo and I had a brief discussion about this: when this meeting ends, it’s not the end of it. If people could send Hugo comments, observations, proposals, about the constitution as a whole or about some aspect of it, then we can begin to gether those things together and try to present some kind of more adequate document for the school and perhaps working parties, etc. This meeting begins to open the question, to which a lot more work will have to be devoted to. Obviously, you know Hugo, I’d like to introduce Sam Ashenden, from Birkbeck. Sam was a wonderful student of Paul Hirst, who taught here and tragically died last year. She followed all paul’s arguments about the nature of constitutions, in particular, in respect to participatory democracy. We thought it could be a good idea to start this meeting having someone from outside, who is concerned with what you might call political theory of participatory democracy, to give us a broad indication of the nature of participatory democracy and its founding principles.

SAM ASHENDEN: Thank you. What I’d like to do very briefly is to outline something my understanding of the importance of the Architectural Association, and then give you some brief pointers to the way in which Paul in particular though of associative models of democratic governance, which mirror quite closely some of the best features of the AA model. The Architectural Association is a self-governing institution, it inspires all, and also envy, from across the road, there, the University of London. What does it mean to be a self-governing independent institution? To me, someone that has wrote within the University of London for a decade, that means not entertaining a division between staff and students that one finds in conventional universities, increasingly enforced by things like the RAE (research assessment exercise), quality assurance mechanisms, those things which have bureaucratized higher education across this country.

That division between students and staff  is not borne out particularly well at Birkbeck, luckily, because we have mature students who have to get out of the institution all they can and prepare to put it back into it. What it does, in the worse case scenario is create a sense in which things are ‘as they have to be’ and will persist, because ‘this is the way they are’. In other words, it creates a sense in which disciplines become closed upon themselves, and the infrastructure of departments, and the funding of companies creates a kind of conflict between one department and another within an institution, it makes work across conventional academic boundaries very difficult to achieve and sustain. I know this is someone who runs a multidisciplinary degree. The AA, on the other hand, by being grounded in a participatory model of democratic governance, enables all who are present within the institution to have voice in it, an equal voice in the discussion as to the functioning of the institution. That in turn, prevents an unhelpful division between those who lead and those who are led, and after all, if this institution, and other institutions of higher education are about anything, they ought to be about providing the ground in which people can think differently in order to become the future leaders of architectural practice, political architectural practice, etc. How can you create that if there are some who lead and there are others who are led. That is the first thing that your model has and others doesn’t have. What other universities have in the way of democracy? Most of them have some kind of representative mechanisms for students to make their complaints, usually, which are important, they are filtered through various committees of staff and are implemented via notice boards in corridors. In addition to that there are representations of students in various committees of staff making policy decisions. That is very different, the idea that the guy from the students union, the eternal activist turns up to meetings, is different from a participatory model, because, what one is asked to do as a member of a self-governing institution is precisely to govern oneself and to play a role in governing others, in other words, to engage in the debate of what we want to do, where we want to go, who are we, that can enable the institution to be innovative, to develop, to move. That is very different from having a representative, this is a very passive model in which there is a very clear distinction between my MP and myself. That is the participatory model of which Mark talks about, and which Paul Hirst emphasizes in the book ‘Associative Democracy’ amongst other places. ‘Associative Democracy’ gives you a core account of associational mechanisms. To turn to Paul a bit more closely, the core of his argument is against an over-centralized and far too complex state trying to produce policy for a complicated and pluralist society.  Paul’s starting point is the premise that the state is not a very good vehicle for producing very adequate policy to meet a plural social form. Unhappy with the market as a solution to that, Paul looked back to the writings of people like (Harold) Laski, G. D. H. Cole, (Neville) Figgis and others, to build an account of how bodies in civil society might make their own associations for  getting things done, in which participation and exit are the right of every citizen. Money, incidentally follows me, this is a bit what gets left out of the argument, but it’s there in Hirst's texts. I have to either just sign up on ‘money follows me’ or, more importantly, I can participate to produce things like social policies that more accurately reflect the needs that I feel I have, as a citizen. You build then a model of democratic decision making that actually engages people from the bottom-up, rather than us very passively engaging in a weak model of representative democracy, in which once every 5 years or so we are free, but produces a situation in which do nothing but to mourn about, but disengaged from government. Paul's point was, rather than mourning about the constitution of the AA, or about the head of the AA, one ought to engage with the mechanisms that exist in order to argue and to reflect, and to change things in desired directions.

MARK COUSINS: Thank you very much, Sam. I just want to make 2 points to begin to kind of translate the point that Sam’s made in a larger or abstract level and think of what it means in terms of the AA. The obvious point is that Paul was concerned, above all, to produce mechanisms that go in opposite directions to that of passivity. For him, if people are to be independent and creative, it depended on taking a kind of relation to the institution, to what happens within it. In that sense, democracy is the mechanism for it; it’s not just saying “people have an abstract right to a vote” it is that the virtue of voting, the virtue of participatory democracy is to generate a certain level of activity, the opposite of passivity. That’s the first point.

The second point verses on what Sam said about representative models; it’s very important in our discussions at the AA. We distinguish very clearly between a model of representation, and a model of participation. If you think for a moment, what would happen if we abolished participatory democracy at the AA, and move towards the more representational structure of the University. Clearly, the second - University - is subject to all sorts of checks and balances. At the AA, the checks don’t come in, the balances don’t look to healthy. The point is the kinds of representational framework, the ways in which academics are represented on various boards, travelling from a sort of departmental board, to a zenith, is one that automatically generates a great deal of bureaucracy. The institution soon becomes riddle with committees, with the time that committees take, with the staff needing to serve those committees. By contrast, if you look at participatory democracy, one of the things we do is to invest an incoming chair with really quite exceptional powers. Not because, because we make an abstract virtue of electing someone with exceptional powers, but because, with those powers, as long as the relationship with the school works, that is to say, the chair, the overall support of the constituency, it’s possible for the institution to function with the maximum degree of flexibility and the minimum degree of bureaucracy. One has to see that all these elements fix together. The democracy goes precisely together with investing the chair with very considerable powers. That generates a permanent situation in which, rather than being responsive to a number of committees, the chair has simply to maintain - or fail to maintain - the confidence of the school, and ultimately that proposition can be put to the test of a voting. Now I’m going to hand over to Hugo, to deal with the real meat of it.

HUGO HINSLEY: Thank you, Mark. I’m going to try very briefly to cover quite a lot of ground. I want to lay out at least the bare bones of where we are now, and signal perhaps some questions on how we might want to make proposals to change. At this meeting, I’m remotely interested about making proposals for change, what we need to do to start with is to make sure that everybody has really good information about where we are now, and what the structures where we operate on are now. For that reason, the ING published a couple of weeks ago this document, [shows: "An Invitation to Participate in Debates About the Future Structures of the AA"] I hope you’ve all got a copy, it was sent to every member of the school community, there are more copies here. The purpose of this is to lay out very clearly the existing structure of the AA, and it includes this diagram which attempts to - in a very simplified way - explain the relationships within the school. Sam and Mark have both touched the point, the problem of governance within a democratic model is a very subtle one, it’s not about designing a written legal document that will solve all the problems of a democratic institution. It needs very clear principles of the idea of what it is that you are trying to achieve, otherwise, you’ll end up writing immensely complicated documents which aim towards achieving something you didn’t want to do at all. Constitutions are one form of structure that an institution might use in order to try to govern itself. There are difficulties as well, they can be far too prescriptive, and they are often in fact, very messy. Many constitutional arrangements are actually broad frameworks of written laws, other legal documents, written rules… balances of powers, and debates. For example, the UK constitution, of course the UK has a constitution, but Britain is not governed by a single written document which is “the constitution”. It’s a very complicated framework which doesn't work terribly well, but better than some others might. Today in Rome, the EU is meeting to sign a constitution for the European Union, a terrifying prospect, in some ways, it could be written in one middle paper: a set of rules that would govern 25 countries.

I can briefly lay out the structures of the AA, and then raise a few questions. Bear in mind that the sort of democracy that the AA has had, participative democracy, cannot work if people don’t participate. To participate is not a question of turning up at one or two meetings, it’s a question of information: you need to have access to very good information. For that purpose, we publish things, we set up the forum on the website, which has all the documents that currently exist there, for anyone to look at. We need as an organization to have a constitution but quite what that should be is very much a debate. But we also need other structures that encourage engagement, we need rules of engagement, as it were, which may be written, or may be by precedent, but they are not the constitution, and we also need and have culture and traditions that set up what people understand to be what the school is trying to do. Those things are very difficult to write down, and there are very important things about the AA’s traditions and its culture of education and debate, which would never be able to be prescribed within a constitution. Some of the issues that we face can be summed up: we need to try to find better ways to link and to and promote dialogue between the different bits. Very simply, there are 4 bits of the current model: there is the council, the school - all students and all teachers - which together form the school community, and from time to time meets and votes on things. There is also the Association, 3000 people all over the world, which includes US members of the school, and the chair. The chair’s role was founded in 1971 and continues today as the model that we have. Those 4 bits somehow have to find the way to have open dialogue, clear rules, great flexibility, and great creativity, and how they work with each other. There are a few clear relationships already: the council and the chair have a legal contract between each other, and a schedule of duties. The school and the chair have a slightly less clear relationship. The school has a schedule of duties the chair has agreed to, and the school has informal management arrangements between the chair and the school. Currently, for example, there is a structure of student representatives and staff representatives who, from time to time, would meet with the chair. As Mark already said, the only real sanction that the school has against this chair is not a constitutional one, it’s simply that the chair is xx to maintain the confidence of the school. If the chair loses that, the school has to start a process of telling the council that it has lost confidence in the chair, and then the council as employer has to do something about it.

This brings us to the point, in terms of relationships between the school and the council. The school has a very strange relationship to the council, in terms of advising the council on the selection of the chair, or the reselection of an existing chair. That has no basis in law, it’s not a constitutional issue, the council appoints, but the school is always asked, and gives its opinion through secret ballot. This is a strange balance, as the council can say “well, thank you for your opinion, now we want to do something else.” The point being, this is not something constitutional, it’s by tradition. If we look at the relationship between the council and the school, 2 key actors, students can be in the council, from time to time there were 2 or 3 students who were members of the council. At times, that has been useful, in the very early formations in the early 1970s: they formed very much the new model of the council. Staff, employed by the AA, cannot be part of the council, under the rules of the charities commission: if you are going to benefit from charity, if you are payed by the charity, you can’t seat as a trustee of that charity. There is a very clear, legal separation there. The council are reviewing the legal structures under which they work, in relation to the charities’ act, and the companies’ act. In doing that, they are interested in seeing whether it exists the possibility of members of staff being members of the council. That is something for us to think about and discuss. There is also the bigger bit, the Association, which includes all of us, people from all around the world, very valuable to the AA, but not part of the school. And there is a relationship between the Association, the council, and the school, which at the moment is mediated by the secretary of the council, who also is very much involved in the membership office, and the relationships with the Association. The Association is a great benefactor to the school, financially, but in many other ways, as most of you know, we have tremendous access to people throughout the world, which we wouldn’t have if they weren’t members. That’s the bare bones of this 4 parts, there are subdivisions of those, which I will not talk about. On the AA forum are published documents which make much more clear all of that. The actual structure is forensically written there to the extent that it exists as a clear structure.

Let’s talk of the current situation. The AA has a legal constitution [shows the document], it’s a very boring document indeed, which is what constitutions should be. It’s a memorandum of association, and its articles of association, and its by-laws are those of an association. The legal constitution is a necessary thing to have, it sets the relation of the AA in relation to outside organizations. For example, debts, and legal responsibilities of correct procedures in law and so on, they have to be followed. 18 council members are elected from time to time by all the membership, 3000 people. They elect a council: those 18 council members become directors of a company limited by guarantee. That’s what this memorandum of the Association is: these are the rules that any company limited by guarantee would use, with minor modifications through by-law changes. Those 18 council members are also trustees of a charity, because the AA operates under another law, which is the charities’ act, which gives us great benefits in taxation purposes, but which also constrains us, because charities can't do certain things that companies can do. Charities are not profitable, supposed to be doing good things. We claim to be a charity because we educate people, which fortunately is considered a good thing, still, in this country. That’s the legal constitution, it’s on the forum, you can go and read it, but what we want to talk about is how we could re-improve the constitution of the AA. We are not really talking about “changing article 35B in a memorandum of agreement”, we are talking about this much more difficult framework of rules, and traditions, and relationships, and powers, and interrelationships of the different parts. There are some written rules of the school which are not part of the constitution. For example, when we went through the process of reforming the school in 1971, and the role of the chairman was first invented, it was thought necessary to have an elected body called Forum, which would be what the chairman chaired. This is why the chairman is called the chairman. That body had powers, it included council members, students and members of staff. They had significant powers in instructing the chairman what to do with certain areas. The chairman is due to have overall authority, and was accountable to regular meetings with the council, but had to work through the Forum. In 1973 a constitution was written for that Forum that exists on the website, and you can have a look to it, it’s out of date now as it were. But that constitution established something called the school community, which has remained a very rich and powerful idea in the subsequent history of the school. It’s not in fact a legal body, but it has immense powers. Votes taken by the school community are very seriously considered by the school, they decide things that are very important for the school, you have a school community meeting when there are very serious issues to be debated and decisions made by it are not binding the council, but the council will take very seriously what the school thinks. There is another role for school community meetings which is largely fading, which is the tradition that the chairman, being in an extremely powerful position must use the school community meeting as a way of opening up and revitalising a dialogue with all members of the school community, by reporting back to the school, by discussing issues with the school… That is written in the schedule of duties, under the contract signed by recent chairmen, but has largely fallen into disuse, something we might want to think about.

There are other written rules, based in precedent, for calling a school community meeting, for running it, for what would be a quorum, and for how they can vote. This has no basis in law, there are not part of any constitution, there are not currently ratified in any clear form by the school community, so a proposal I should make in the end is that at the next school community meeting, those rules should be looked at carefully, and the school community should vote on whether or not it wants to operate under those rules. That gives them some legitimacy. At the moment, I’ve put them together from an assembly of old Forum rules, of old precedent of how the school has worked recently, but they need to be ratified by the school community. So it’s a separate thing: the constitution, and other written rules, which we need to see whether they work, whether we can write them better, whether there are too prescriptive, whether they are clear or not.

There is a third part of this which in some ways is probably more important, which is, for a lack of a better word, traditions.

Most institutions, actually operate through a culture, and through traditions; they operate because the people know and understand how the institution makes decisions. Here are some of the traditions we have at the moment: since 1974, council has asked the school community for a ballot on re-electing the chair or appointing a new chair. A secret ballot of all school community members. That’s a tradition: no reason why council should do that, no reason why the school should bother to do that. It seems immensely valuable, and it means that council is extremely well informed in making its legal decision to appoint a chair, but it’s a tradition. Another one: since 1971, council gives to the chair, through the contract of employment, all powers and responsibilities for the school and for the association. Council remains legally responsible, as trustees, and as directors of the company, but they operate their constitutional responsibilities by simply saying: step one of constitution, we hand all that to someone else, we stand back. If there is a real mess, the council will have to pick up the pieces as legal trustees and so on, basically council is not running the school, council is saying “we are appointing someone else, advised by the school, and we want to give them everything. That’s the tradition; that’s how we’ve done it since 1971. The chair reports back to council, and is in the direct employment relation to council. There is nothing written into that, that requires the chair to do very much in terms of reporting back, or being governed by the school, other than by the schedule of duties, which does make mention of the chair from time to time meeting to report to the school committee meeting, but it’s very difficult to make that operate. So the chair is the chief executive of the association, the chair at the moment, is fully responsible for that whole operation, 300 people all over the world, budgets flowing here and there, decisions about how to organize members events, and so on. The chair is also the academic director of the school; is also the financial director of the school, is also the administrative director of the school. So council has decided from 71, that the best model is to put all of that stuff into one box and give it to one person. There is no reason to do that, that’s how it works at the moment. Council, by doing that, doesn’t devoid its legal responsibilities to the charity trustees, and as a company. Council members are still personally accountable for the proper management of the assets of the school, they must not deliberately cause loss to the AA by unlawful activities, but basically, they hand it over.

So, I’ve tried to say that when we have discussions about the constitution, we need to be very careful of what we are talking about: there is a legal constitution, you might want to suggest changes to that - to me, that doesn’t seem to be either the most important, or the most interesting part of this set of rules that we operate on.

The other two, the written rules of engagement, and the traditions, seem to be to me a much richer and more important part of the culture of the school, I think. And I think they are at the moment not clearly enough formed: they need to be reviewed, but, in doing so, we must be very careful that we don't push them towards a more prescriptive or more bureaucratic structure. The great value and strength of the AA is exactly that it doesn’t have prescriptive and bureaucratic structures, it doesn’t have any of these rules and committees and organizations. That’s a fantastic, valuable thing we have, and if we were to move along the road and say: let’s produce ten books that set out exactly what diploma school has to do, we would kill the whole thing. It’s a very subtle thing that we need to do over the next months. In some ways, the AA is very simple: it’s a very small place, it has a single focus, it’s only really trying to do one thing: providing the right culture of debate and education, to form people through the experience of being among really interesting people. In some ways, it’s not a big problem: it’s a small place and it’s trying to do a relatively simple thing - if you compare it to most companies, it's not very difficult. On the other hand, as we know, the AA is immensely complex. It was founded as a participatory democracy, in 1847, or whenever it was, and the whole thing about a participatory democracy has already been said: it needs to be continually refreshed. It can only be participatory if the electors know what’s going on, if they are engaged, if they bother to find out what are the structures we want to change, why do we want to change them. If the electorate is passive, then is no much point in having a participatory democracy. Although the AA has a very simple constitutional structure, the framework of traditions and unwritten, and written things is in fact quite complex, to some extent they contradict each other and there is a sort of muddle there. So it is quite complex, and in that way needs cleaning up. We should guide our work partly to avoid bureaucracy, to avoid over prescription, but also positively to aim for the clarification of the responsibilities, the powers, and the roles that should be played among those parts: the council, the chair, the school, and the association. How can we make that clearer, more effective, without pinning it down to some dreadful structure of bureaucracy that would kill it. At the back of all of this discussions is really that our aim must be really to provide the very best conditions for continuing to nurture the culture of education and debate that is certainly strong in the AA. Anything we do that would damage that must be a step in the wrong direction, so this is our warning signal.

I have noted 3 or 4 specific proposals, but I’m not sure this is the right sort of a meeting to make those proposals, I think first of all it would be good to have some discussion about the things that I’ve said, and the other people have said, so we can open that up.

MC: Since we’ve already said that after this meeting, Hugo and I will welcome you to send observations, proposals, whatever, so that we can begin to edit it into the framework for further meetings and work. I don’t think it’s the moment to make detailed and specific proposals, or anything, but it is very important to get from you a general sense of response to what has been put forward. Could we take observations from the floor?

#1: I was concerned in the beginning that in anything about the constitution of the AA (...), I’m quite happy to know that we have written and unwritten constitution, with traditions, and we have a culture, and history. I don’t think it would be a problem to define it further: if we don’t write further the structure, but just use it as a discussion… I think it’s a very good model.

#2: I was wondering if there was anything in the fact that legally we were a charity, and if you were looking, maybe, into maybe advantageous changes to that. Is there anything from that part of the structure that would have an impact on traditions, in the way we operate internally?

#3 The comment I would make is that perhaps the change in the notion of an institution which relies upon tradition - and a very clear statement has been made about size and scale - is to protect what Paul Finch said, your governance from its legal requirements, because from a council perspective, the institution has to function legally, and as we know laws and legislations have become tougher and tougher and working away from the notion of flexibility and tradition and working towards prescription. If there is one word that I think it’s perhaps missing, or we need to keep in our mind is the notion of transparency. It seems to me that the notion of transparency in institutions has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. Therefore, perhaps there isn’t enough clarity between the layers of the different parties that are involved in this constitution. That transparency is what we need to tease out in whatever the light set of rules or relationships.

#4: Hugo, you didn’t really explain why the Forum doesn't exist anymore. Perhaps it would be useful for the audience to expand on that.

HH: Yes, I don’t know all the difficult details, Alvin was appointed as a chairman in 1971, and continued for 19 years to be the chairman. Alvin’s idea of how to develop the school, was based on a very centralized power into what he should be able to do. He found extremely frustrating or annoying to have to work through the Forum, or with the Forum. From very early on, early 70s, there was a conflict between the idea that Alvin had of the potential role of the chairman, and his responsibilities back to the council in order to make the school a success. What he saw was an impediment to that role, of having some form of body that he had to refer to, and discuss things with. Slowly, he managed to reduce the powers, and side-step the powers, and find other ways of getting decisions made, until eventually, the Forum sort of dissolved itself, as far as I remember, in the late 70s, out of frustrations. Other people in the AA know a lot more about the bloodier details of that struggle, but it was a power struggle, essentially, between a model of a single, all powerful chairman, and the model of an all powerful chairman, but that must work in conjunction with an elected Forum. Since then, there have been other attempts to get participatory models in the school more formally structured, in the 90s, there was something called the Alpha Group, elected, with representatives from students and staff from all the parts of the school with no powers, as an advisory body, whose aim was to improve the communication and debate between all the different parts of the school, which is something which I haven’t touched on, but the school has to think very hard on, about how it communicates inside itself, but also to communicate better between the school and the chair. That existed for about 3 years at the end of Alan Balfour’s time and just the first year of Mohsen Mostafavi’s time; it died out, an actual death, from the fact that once things had settled down and the new chairman was in place, when they called out for people to stand and be representatives, very few people wanted to stand and at the end it became inviable to stand up, because not enough people wanted to stand up and be representatives, so it died its own death. The constitution of that organization is also on the website, as an example of a different sort of model of a way of trying to promote debate around the school, but not having any powers. Forum had some powers, not very many, and those were slowly taken away as well.

#5: To me it seems a very curious example of balance of powers, at some times, we give a lot of power to a single individual, the chair, as a chair, we hope he’s going to act in an official and enlightened way, we don’t know what it’s going to happen, a lot of his work is being done in secrecy, sometimes with discontent on the part of the school community (...). I’m wondering whether this is something that has to do with the AA tradition, or with its constitution. Last, I wonder whether this is a wise way of running the school, whether we should have a more continuous, less crisis-prone system of having the school functioning.

MC: Could we start thinking of that by going back Hugo’s point, that whatever constitutional reforms we make, they can’t be expected to cover every possible instance, it would be unrealistic, and I think, it’s kind of self-destructive, if we thought that the constitution should become so elaborate that it automatically forms the type of chair that we have. I think we should start at the other end: chairs come in completely different kinds, let’s sort of run two opposite possibilities, either you have a chair that is a sort of hyper-compromiser, someone who always seeks to manage a consensus, and it’s extremely attentive in one way or another to views expressed within the school, that would be one model. The problem with such a person is precisely that this chair him/herself might start to generate rather too much of bureaucracy. Now let’s think of the other hand, of an absolutely kind of non-compromiser, who has a vivid but rigid kind of vision to bring to the school, and who is not likely to brook a large number of compromises. What that chair risks - they’re upping the political stakes - is the possibility of finally losing the confidence of the school. At the AA we'll always be confronted with a range of different types of chairs, they both come with advantages and disadvantages, with the non-compromiser the situation reverts to the fact that the AA constitution from the point of view of the chair, might be described as a tyranny tempered by assassination, which is a little bit like the early Roman Empire. This person has very strong powers, but the more they use them in a non consensual way, the more they run the risk of  losing the school’s confidence. Now, I don’t think the constitution, itself, can be expected to prevent the dangers that I decide to have. What it has to be is in the middle: a settled set of rules that everybody knows, and which ultimately can be applied to if a situation breaks out, the school becomes unhappy. It can just as well become unhappy with the over compromiser - we are not doing something novel.

SA: ...and that can be harder to remedy. Can I add something to that? It seems to me that one of the things that you might think about is how do you institutionalize conflict? In other words, if one has the ruler who rules through sheer force of imagination, then that can work as long as there is not a rebellion against him, or her. But one way of producing a situation that would be more stable in terms of governance is to go for firming up of the rules by which decisions are made. In other words, this question about when a meeting is called, or when is it possible that a decision can be made, and the role of the Forum, are important areas where you might think about reviving various sort of strata in the governance of the AA, that perhaps has been neglected over recent years. In order to institutionalize mechanisms for having conflict, and working through problems before you end up with something like “let’s assassinate the guy who is the boss.”

#6: I’m not sure that I completely agree with what Mark just said, I think, if we just reflect on our last 3 decades, and the three chairmans that we’ve had, Mohsen, Balfour, and Boyarsky, we couldn’t have three more different types of people, with very different styles of management. And yet, in the three cases, there was an over centralization of power, and an over centralized manner of operating. And this was not a function of their personalities, or styles, this was a reflection of the fact that between our school community, that often only gets mobilized in moments of crisis, and the office of the chair, we don’t have proper procedures, instances and structures for this famous participatory model to actually operate. So, it’s all very good to talk about participatory democracy, but democracy is not purely about spontaneity, it also needs structures, and those structures are not in place. And the fact that the school community meets every now and then in moments of crisis and votes, that for me, is not at all an instigation of participatory democracy. So, Boyarsky is a good example, people often refer to Boyarsky as very authoritarian, I don’t think there was nothing intrinsic, or genetic about him being authoritarian, it’s just that the whole situation when he was chairman led to that, and we didn’t have the powers - I don't know exactly the story about the Forum, but why is that it happened with Boyarsky, but then happened with Balfour, then it was not called Forum, but it was the Alpha Group, but then happened with Mohsen… Why is that the school community does not have the power to establish those structures, and keep them going? and creating an ongoing process of participatory democracy.

MC: Can I make one point clear? I would completely accept and agree with that, with the qualification that I don’t think the regulation of that should itself be in the constitution, that’s the point.

#7 (3rd year student at AA): I’ve been attending the lectures and the meetings, and one thing that I’m missing is what is the role, or the purpose of the AA in relation to its responsibilities with the students? to the world ? to the profession? And also, what is the role of the student? what are the responsibilities that the student has to the AA, to the world, to the profession? What is that role ideally, what is it that the AA wants to achieve? where does it want to be in the next 20 years? and right now? A very simple, clear statement: we want to be the best school in the world? how do you measure that? It’s got to be something that we can hold up and say: it’s what we’re doing in this instance, helping us to achieve this, or that. (...) It’s a very hard definition to make, but it needs to be made, so you can test decisions against it.

HH: It’s a very big question, and the sort of question that can't be answered through a constitutional structure, but it’s why many institutions now use those dreadful terms like mission statement: how do we know what we are trying to do and how? You find that in the AA, it comes in multiple forms, through the work of all the different units, they are making very clear statements about what they are intend to do, and how to test it, and what the outcome should be, and why they do that, and what responsibilities they see that has. And you can see it from time to time when the school has to sum up its position, for example in the end of the year show, and the publication that comes out from that is a sort of manifesto of why do you think what happens here has significance outside this walls. The work we are doing here is not simply training some people, to go and be good technicians, we are trying to create the sort of culture of debate and argument, and the whole bigger picture within which people form themselves to be very useful in the world and in the profession, without saying: in order to do that, you must do A, B, and C. It’s a bit difficult to try to write down that, and the AA can answer those questions by saying: well, look at the results, who are the where are the significant practitioners in the world? where are the interesting questions that are being asked in our world? are they coming from the AA? Yes, some of them still are. Can we get more energy and engagement coming from the AA? Yes, we could. How do we do that? What would help that? That gets down to issues that we’ve discussed: it has to be an educational model? Whether there are other ways of empowering, and improving, getting students and teachers to interact in different ways, different crossovers, different forms of generating better debate and so on. That's all part of how the AA tries to continually refresh and review its way of working, which is a slightly different problem from the one of governance, it’s an intellectual problem, what are we producing. The one governance must be there underlined, because if we don’t get that right, we damage the possibility to create the conditions in which the intellectual one can thrive, and that would be the problem of the discussion today: to look carefully at those bits of the governance, and see if we can get that to work better. Not to say, if we do this, that would do that, in terms of some intellectual advancement, but if we don’t get that more transparent, more clearly structured, more carefully thought through, it will damage and undermine the other part of what the AA was. So, it’s a bit of a non-answer to your question, but it’s trying to distinguish between what we are trying to discuss today, and what would be a different sort of discussion.

MC: If I could just add to that, I don't’ think that your question either could or indeed should have an unequivocal answer, because the purpose of the school, of the institution, is precisely to provide a plural framework in which many different answers to your question emerge, and each of those should show respect to others as part of that condition of questions and answers. So, it’s not just a failure to answer you, but in some sense the failure to answer you is one of the principles of the school.

#8: I have a question for Sam. If we were to focus on strengthening the rules by which decisions can be made, you made reference to two different types of organization the AA has had. Are there models that you could describe to us that are different ways of doing things?

SA: Of course. One of the problems intrinsic to having one individual holding all the power of decision, is that no one individual can have all the intelligence at his/her fingertips, and is able to think from as many perspectives as possible. In other words, a certain number of people arguing and discussing with one another, generally, I believe, make better decisions than one individual left to themselves. However, you then potentially reach the problem that Mark identifies, which is: you need to have someone that in the end is in charge of the institution, and if all they do is to listen to a body that is discussing, and never actually stand their own way of doing things, then you end up without leadership, or potentially without effective leadership. So, the question is how to produce a structure that has an effective leader, who nonetheless listens to those who might be regarded as the wise fellows in his midst. One could summarize this contrast between an increasingly presidential model, and a prime ministerial system, where you’ve got a collective responsibility, but nonetheless, the head guy has to have primary responsibility on decisions made. So, it’s a balance between how a system that fosters dynamic leadership, by giving the leader of the AA institution enough power to with which to be dynamic, and on the other hand not end up in a situation where one individual apparently having all the power. There need to be some ways in which the collectivity can curtail the activity of that leader. Whether in the AA that vote of confidence is enough to do that, or whether there are some other measures short of a vote of confidence, that one might one to build in. It seems to me that that’s the area where you need to think about.

#8: In a way, that vote of confidence is always a nuclear option.

SA: It might be the most appropriate one in the end, but they might be others to think about.

MC: It is true that the relation, ultimately, of the chair and the school, isn’t as worked very much as nuclear deterrence. He can do pretty much, whatever he wants, except he’s got to keep the confidence of the school, the last resort, as it were, could be the vote of confidence. If that is the final deterrent, how does one think of conventional warfare, at the AA? WHat are the modes of conflict and their resolution at level below that, of crisis?

#7: Could I ask a question regarding the role of the council in all this? Because every time you mention the chairman is an all powerful being, we need to collect the powers that the council does have. After all, as I understand it the chairman is accountable to the council in many matters, like the financial. In recent experience, we have found that the council has taken very much the back seat, and not represented the larger school community. In a way, the Alpha Group, and maybe the Forum were both made redundant because there was already an organ within the school that could take that role of either communicating with their electorate, which is the school community, or controlling the chairman, on the other hand. i wonder if the constitution could encompass a new definition of how the council would function within that system.

#3: If I could make just one simple statement, I think the failure of both the Forum and the Alpha Group was the failure of not having effective control. And the model that we have is that effective control only sits in council. The failure of council to deal with that control is their lack of connection with the activity of the school. That is where we need to examine the model. In a sense, my personal view is in a position that I’m promoting to council at the moment; is that the school community needs to be part of council. It seems to me that’s the only mechanism that you can actually effect without damaging the flexibility. You can effect this checks and balances which actually could deal with the conflict resolution without result to nuclear war. Often, you don’t need a nuclear war, any renewal of the Alpha Group or the Forum is going to fundamentally fail, unless it has the authority and the powers of the siting council.

#10: There is one thing that I find very valuable in giving the chairman a lot of freedom and a lot of power, that is, he doesn’t have to think ”in two weeks they are going to vote ‘no’ against this decision”. He has to make a series of things in which he progressively loses confidence. In other words, he has time to do some questionable things, without having to go through certain barriers every time he does it. If over an amount of time, he hasn’t still some amount of faith from the community, then it’s addressed.

#11: At the moment, when you are elected to council, there is some expectation to attend a number of meetings in an evening, a few months throughout the year, there is no much work load that can be taken over that time, and I’m wondering if the examination of this new grouping, or representation, whether that necessitated change to that mode of meeting. It seems they have an enormous amount of work and things to think through as a result.

#3: I think we mustn't go into that level of detail. There is no mechanism here, or no wish to take the authority away from the chairman. In reality, if the school community wants to have a more effective, rather than a single point of censure, then the logic seems to me to move up the chain, but I don’t think there is any wish on council to expand their kind of function or role, I think the reality of it is that council traditionally were based on members that came forward to the association out of practice. The nature of the school over the last 30 years has changed, in the sense that the alumni are no longer entirely based in London, and it is true to say that in any way the council represents its past ambition, or what the school is now providing. So, that kind of old, cozy relationship needs fundamental review. The mechanism of that change needs to be quite radical at that kind of level.

#12: It seems the issue at hand in this discussions is that there is some concern about the power of the chair. It seems to me that rather than moving up the chain, through AA’s history, we’ve been moving it down. What follows from that we do things by tradition, but council doesn’t have a hand in the academic process of the school. There is,  potentially, a paradoxical position that is legitimate and we are all concerned about, possibly having checks on the amounts of power. On the other hand, council, if they follow up that suggestion, would be acting against that tradition, a very long standing one, that the council don’t interfere with the academic process.

HH: We can also reflect on whether there are various points in the structure, whether or not council changes, but other things that could be done. For example, there could be, we could devise a clearer written structure of the countability of the chairman to the school community. That wouldn’t be difficult to do, the current schedule of duties is pretty messy. And that, without being prescriptive, could mean that anyone who was in that powerful position would know that from time to time - and we could suggest an appropriate frequency - within there needed to be an exposure of an agenda for debate. Not that what came out of the debate would then be binding upon what that person did, but they couldn’t slowly, as chairman tend to do, lock themselves into a very closed box and report to council when they need to, and to the board of the school in a very fragmented way, or not at all. We could, at a different level in the system, write a another sort of model where someone looking at the post and saying, well in that case I don’t want the post, because the only reason I want the post, was because that extraordinary division: I can do whatever I want and nobody would interfere. But most people would respond to a clarification of that relationship between the chair and the community, in a way, if it was carefully and thoughtfully done. That seems to me to be an important area to work on. There is also the question suggesting that we could also try to engage more the council more; council members, most of them are incredibly busy and see their role as trustees and directors, with a very light touch, in terms of being legally responsible for the whole thing. I’m picking up a really big crisis, very different from a committee sort of model, which would require a lot more of time and probably a very different body of people.

MC: That was the last question. I just want to make one observation, because it cuts across a number of issues that are being discussed, and it’s also an inevitable kind of anxiety in the mind of members of the school. It concerns the question of the power of the chairman. It’s very important when people are framing their proposals that they make a very clear distinction, when you are thinking about the power of the chairman, that you don’t automatically deal with the problem of the power of the chairman, by reducing the power of the chairman. It’s almost like a reflex, you say, let’s think about the power of the chairman, and then the problem seems that the chair has too much power, and what would be the instrument for mitigating that, or sharing it. Whereas it’s perfectly logical also, that that power actually does and can be used to maintain the vivacity and the future of the school, in which case what you are concerned about it’s not so much cutting down the power, but making very clear the conditions on which it is accountable. I say this simply to make a distinction where perhaps people tend not to make a distinction.

On your behalf, I’d like to thank Sam for coming over, and i hope she’ll watch the process, and thank you very much, Hugo.

Transcription by María José Orihuela, Architect, MA HCT at the Architectural Association



All lectures are open to members of the public, staff and students unless otherwise stated.


December 2019
Su M Tu W Th F Sa
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031

Contacts

AA Photo Library has DVD copies of Public Programme lectures dating back to 1974

Links

Online Lectures
Lecture Archive

Share


Feedback

For any issues with video playback please contact
AA Digital Platforms

The Architectural Association, Inc. is incorporated as a company limited by guarantee (No.171402) and registered as a charity (No. 311083). Registered office: 36 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3ES, 020 7887 4000

Click here to read the AA’s latest review report.

Click here to read the AA’s latest action plan.

close

THE AA RECEIVES THE POWER TO AWARD ITS OWN DEGREES

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 Certificate), 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.

close