Architecture and its past Symposium 4/9: 'The static age'

Series: Symposium
Date: Friday 21 May 2010
Time: 18:00
Venue: Lecture Hall
Running time: 0 mins

Mark Cousins introduces Irene Sunwoo, relating her talk to ways other than teaching in which the past enters the schools of architecture, such as an interest for the institution itself. Irene introduces her current PhD research topic, which traces Alvin Boyarsky’s pedagogical theories and projects and his most known project: the AA, where he was chairman between 1971 and 1990. What she does is not a straightforward institutional history, nor a biography but rather tracing the ways in which pedagogy becomes a primary agent within architectural culture. I am presenting a part of the thesis on the uses of media in the 1970s in the AA. She begins with a short clip of Cedric Price in an episode of ‘Archimags’ of 1975 broadcasted in TV AA, in which he makes an account of the magazines he is reading. Irene underlines Cedric’s preference for photographs of the architectural process above those of built work. Television provides one lens for interrogating a cross fertilization of pedagogy, architecture and media practices at the AA during the 1970s. The school’s internalization of such practices led to an implosion of both media and architectural education. The photograph showing Alvin Boyarsky at the AA, shows the chairman behind his desk, overflowing papers: it can be read as a reflection of the way in which he understood education, as a well-laid table. Certainly, when he started at the AA, Alvin was no stranger to the camera’s eye, during the second half of the 1960s in Chicago, Boyarsky had supplemented his teaching duties with a series of short instructional television programs. He made an effort there to learn the medium. Furthermore, in the winter of 1965, Boyarsky participated in a series of television programs: ‘Masterbuilders: Implications of Change in Architectural Ideas’ with a lecture on Le Corbusier entitled ‘Towards an Architecture.’ The direct translation of the lecture format into the TV series, aroused harsh criticism for not having been able to exploit the actual process of television itself. Irene draws a comparison between the Bauhaus program represented in a wheel with concentric divisions and the AA events list, which in her view offers the quintessential diagram of Alvin’s post-modernist reconfiguration of architectural education as a process of selection rather than prescription. With its comprehensive diary of workshops, seminars, television programs, exhibitions, film screenings, lectures and courses the document acted as a kind of menu or program guide. We might be reminded of Habermas’ discussion over traffic in news emerging in tandem with a traffic in commodities. The events list is also a script for the school’s community, structuring the institution’s overwhelming number of activities and thus provoking a perpetual dissolution of educational process into a multiplicity of trajectories and destinations. In the 14th issue of the events list, it is announced the launch of TV AA, which will be shown on monitors all over the school. The communications department was then established. In TV AA were carried along in various formats, however it was in its earliest years, roughly between 1974 and 1976, when its identity was the strongest and its programming was at its most diverse. In December 1973, AA tutor David Green had articulated the value of such an undertaking, announcing that editing and video techniques were explored in his unit. Green also speculated on the TV system in the AA would offer “new possibilities for changing the academic structure” suggesting that the production and international distribution of video could initiate a broader learning network. A resource to be harnessed and manipulated, video, he contended, is not a magic wand, it is a tool. By the mid 1970s, television and video were already deeply embedded in avant-garde artistic practices. The AA came to embody the radicalization of institutional practices and the institutionalization of radical practices. In his 1964 book, Understanding Media, McLuhan begins his chapter on television by claiming that the child accustomed to watching television, struggles when confronted with static, printed information. Irene relates this to Walter Benjamin’s description of the horizontal plain of the book or as opposed to dictatorial perpendicular of newspapers, films and advertisements. From the surface of the table to the surface of the page and to the eliminated surface of the screen, the school’s multiple horizons seem to be projected in multiple dimensions, leaving the student without a straight path, yet bounded by resolute but perhaps imperceptible pedagogical limits.

Roundtable discussion with Edward Bottoms, Mark Cousins, Irene Sunwoo and Tom Weaver. The later points out that history has become more and more a history of the immediate past, which in a way reinvents the model of architectural writing: not simply in third person, but adopting conversational terms. Edward Bottoms talks of the archive as a morgue, making reference to Adrian Forty’s lecture, where the cadavres are being cut up. The archive as a space of dead certainties. Adrian Forty intervenes saying that people normally go to the archive with a particular question in mind and with the expectation that the material found will provide some sort of answer. However, the attitude should be of listening to the archive, to hear what the archive wants to tell you. Most archives have been produced and organized for some particular purpose, they have their own peculiar structure and gaps and that is what you want to hear. Thus Adrian Forty poses a question to the panel: what is that the archive of the AA has to say to us, what is his own particular oracle. Mark answers: when the students identify certain people as being interesting and famous architects from 35 years ago, if they see what courses they were taking, they would be surprised by how historical that was. It is surprising to see that when people deliberately constituted themselves as oppositional or avant-gardist in the mid 70s, that took a political form that was also historical.

The focus of the symposium is on the teaching of architectural history within architectural trainings. It is frequently admitted that architectural students do not find their history programmes useful or interesting. Why is this? The conference will address this question and consider how problems within architectural history might be productively changed by a different approach to the architectural past.

The AA has sought to reformulate its syllabus of how the issue of the past is dealt with in architectural terms. The symposium will consider ways in which the issue of the architectural past can be fashioned into a productive element in the training of an architect. 

Friday 21 May
10.30 Brett Steele (Director of AA), Welcome
10.45 Mark Cousins (AA), Introduction 
11.00 Reinhold Martin (Columbia University), Professional Histories 
12.00 Brian Hatton (AA and John Moores University), Wandering in the Museum 
2.00 Adrian Forty (Bartlett School, UCL) Dissecting the Cadaver 
3.00 Irene Sunwoo (Princeton University), The Static Age 
3.45 Panel discussion on Archives and Publishing, Tom Weaver (AA Files), Edward Bottoms (AA Library) and Irene Sunwoo 
4.30 Tea
5.00 Eyal Weizman (Goldsmiths) Forensic Architecture: only the criminal can solve the crime 
Saturday 22 May
10.30 Mark Campbell (AA)
11.30 Jeff Kipnis (Ohio State University), Honour Thy Bungling Epigone
12.30 Lunch
2.00 Mark Cousins (AA), Architecture and its Unconscious
3.00 Panel discussion, Mollie Claypool (AA), Ryan Dillon (AA) and AA students.

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

July 2019
Su M Tu W Th F Sa


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


Online Lectures
Lecture Archive



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.