Alvin Boyarsky, Caroline Tisdall, Peter Cook, Kenneth Frampton, Leon Krier
Academicism Lives On
Date: Monday 29 November 1976
Alvin Boyarsky on the International Institute of Design, the 'academy', architectural education, and his own programme for the AA that puts him outside of the academic fold. Caroline Tisdall on power structures, the resignation of the 1970s, and an educational model communicable to a wider community concerned with issues not disciplines. Peter Cook on containers.Q & A chaired by Cook, featuring Boyarsky, Tisdall and Kenneth Frampton answering lengthy responses from the audience.NB: Begins in mid-discussion. Missing section of Q & A following Leon Krier's response.
ALVIN BOYARSKY: I have a certain disgust for the contemporary academic situation. The existing institutions, while acting as repositories for fantastic resources–people, equipment, money, and experience–they also have various harms, such as the isolation of the institution and of the people within. Besides, the difficulty of making any expense that has not been previously budgeted, makes impossible, or too costly, to propose something for the day after; something you might have thought of the day before. This kind of angst came during my period in Chicago, just after 1968, when I received a travel grant. At that moment, it seemed clear that the academic institutions in society were about to transform; somewhat they did–what is unclear to me is to what effect. At that moment, around 1969-1970 architecture schools in France, for instance, revealed that the Beaux-Arts system had disintegrated, and they were all starting newly without any tradition. In Italy the situation was even worse, were Universities had been opened up for everybody who wanted to come; for instance, now (1976), the school of architecture in Rome has around 20.000 students, Florence 7000 or 8000, Turin has over 2000 students, and architecture diplomas have become liberal-arts degrees. Some schools in Germany or Switzerland, while being highly organized and well founded, have the same malaise that it is noticeable in the United States; that people turn up in academic quarrels and become isolated from each other, waiting for the outside world–whatever that might be. In Vienna, a lot of activity, noise, and ideas were being provocated, similarly in Japan. In retrospect, what I tried at that moment was to set up an institution, the International Institute of Design, which would offer a platform for people to talk, to come into a sort of a marketplace for ideas, and for a brief period of time (six weeks). Possibly, through the contacts they make, and through the information it would be there available, and the problems they would be introduced to; those coming would probably have enough material for some time to work on, and operate with outside their own practice or academic institution. What was also required was a mixing of problems; of very local problems, with those typical for many countries of the world at any one time. For instance, the issue of the redundancy along waterfronts and international harbours of the cities, which is a conversation which is equally truth for Rotterdam, as it was for New York or Chicago, Liverpool or London, would be able to develop some comparatives and conversations. Or problems regarding developing countries. This was essentially anti-institutional, anti-academic, it was an attempt to find a possible substitute for everyone’s education. All those people, like West-coast Americans that were trying to drop out and develop an alternative society; or those in the arts avant garde movements, might be given a platform to raise this issues and might be given the opportunity to meet each other. This institution would be self-financed, costing practically nothing, which could seem some kind of dream, but it actually worked; it is how utopian socialist European institutions are organized. In the anglo-saxon countries, Britain or the United States, it was possible to get funds for architects to finance not the institution, but the modest fee of the former, so people could come. It was also possible to use, shamelessly, the resources of the city, which I did in London: the ACA, the Bartlett, the AA would provide their facilities, libraries, rooms, typewriters. It was actually possible to move in, for six weeks, several hundred people and use unused situations in the city: all that became the modus operandi. It was also possible to get funds to do research projects.
Above all, it was not a novel idea, but the novelty was that it worked fabulously well, and when I was invited in 1971 to pick up the chairmanship at the AA, I had to make a very difficult decision. The institution at that moment was supported by 30 countries, with almost 90 sponsors, built up with tradition and style, and it was getting ready to become something more than a six-week a year thing. The idea I had about the AA was that there had to be someplace in England where architecture, problems of the city and the general culture of architecture could be opened up. Basically, the idea was to incorporate the place, its history and traditions, into a wider framework, and to give the teachers the sufficient space, budget and support. Students, thus would be able to put together their own education, through the series of activities, of units they were participating in. Those units being able to engage in the outside world with their subjects of study. This self-operating system would allow people like myself to fade out. Society, in Britain at this point, shows very little signs of optimism; and I am being optimistic. I don’t see the present period as one that is begging for that tough curriculum, or method of teaching like the one the Beaux-Arts academy in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century was promoting. I think the quest now and over the last 15 years, what to do which is appropriate and how to anticipate it, not to get in the way of young people, through forcing them through a method on their education, but to use the sensibilities of dozens of people to allow the situation to shape itself and form itself.
CAROLINE TISDALL: What I see in the 1970s reflects more a period of resignation rather than intense activity, as others have claimed. Education at the moment is under a power structure which is moving towards bigger and bigger units, this is reflected in British industry, also in the units of higher education and polytechnics, but in secondary and even primary education as well. The bigger the structure, the less possible it seems to evoke any change. If we are talking about alternatives to the academy, then we have to tackle the issue of who pays for it, who is it for: is it any kind of activity or particularly art activity. We have talked about expanding disciplines, but we also have the problem of specialization, which many times allow the funding, but at the same time close the institutions from the rest of the world. How can we extend the activity of the institution to the rest of society, how can we communicate it and in which forms? None of our educational institutions give us the tools with which to work.
PETER COOK: What strikes me about one traditional aspect of the institution of an academy is that it presents a framework which is necessarily abstracted, and therefore is a container that we fill up with liquids. What intrigues me about the academic tradition is not only the intellectual, or political nature of it, but the notion of it as a mechanism. What intrigues me is that there is a new feel from the youngest students coming. There is a need of a discussion about the nature of art magazines, not substantially different from a discussion of the instruments of teaching. The structure, sometimes is perverted, sometimes elevated, by personal charisma. Certain individuals at certain periods of time have been able to leap from the pedantry of the situation; there is the problem of being too correct, too pragmatic, too exact on the point. Academicism had marvelous instruments for accommodating leap situations—I hope that I am not defending it too much. We would like to hear about the models of this alternative institution.
CT: The models are in three levels. First of all, a research level, whose function is certainly to get funding for a specific body. The process of that research is open. The 70s is intense in an introspective way, much more collective. That area of research has to be of a high academic level and has to interact with the workshop areas, so the practical and the theoretical influence each other, and they are a way of discovering new ways of disseminating information.
KENNETH FRAMPTON: I think there is an unspoken element in this conversation: one of the problems that struck the Western world, I think is that we have a society that has been conditioned by the media. Since the World War II, it is expected from every building to stand in the name of progress and in the process of consumption. The welfare state was supposed to see a redistribution of wealth, and maintaining that condition. When you start to analyze this problem, all sorts of other problems start. It is painful to put it bluntly. For example, the academy is involved with the question of the guilds, the issue of the division of labour. The problem of the art schools, the question of contact with the society is the same that it was in Ruskin’s time.
LEON KRIER: Schools and academies are in themselves the instruments that perpetuate the alienation between knowledge and doing, between the head and the hand. (Recording incomplete).
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