by Priji Balakrishnan (AA SED 2012) AA Visiting School Coordinator
18 November 2013 Architectural Association, London   When Chris (Pierce, AA Visiting School Director) first announced the Visiting School Global Summit in the office, I was not that excited or animated until it was suddenly a week before the actual event.   The Visiting School is the most global department in the AA, currently handling schools in around 50 cities around the world. As globally displaced as it may seem to be, it works with almost every department in the AA, unsurprisingly with occasional last minute as well as unpredictable needs.   [caption id="attachment_2382" align="alignnone" width="360"] Goswin Schwendinger presents the Pacific Highway Visiting School[/caption] The Visiting School has grown exponentially over the last two years. Brett (Steele, AA Director) and Chris fondly refer to it as going through its teenage years and from an administrative perspective, I can say that these years can be quite challenging. The growth is exponential, and while there is a lot of energy and commitment, the maturity is not quite there yet. Like parents of a teenager, the Visiting School office tries to insert some discipline into all aspects of the programme while trying to give each school enough flexibility to operate.  It is a full time, around-the-clock job with never a dull moment.
We once tried to categorise the visiting schools, debating over it before realising that we couldn’t just label them into boxes. Rather its uniqueness lies in its variety. There are over 1000 students and professionals who participate from all over the globe alongside the 60 plus directors and tutors who conceptualise and realise each of these workshops. For all the variety out there, the common ground they share is the AA and the Visiting School office. Naturally being the umbrella for all the schools means dealing with myriad people and meeting their varied range of needs.   [caption id="attachment_2381" align="alignnone" width="360"] Omid Kamvari presents his summary of the Tehran Visiting School titled, Being told I would go to prison, being arrested and finally going to prison.[/caption] The Summit was a great showcase of this variety to both the AA community and, in fact, the Visiting School community itself. We organised the summit over two days - the first to present a selection of work from the programmes and the second to get feedback from directors on what was and wasn't working in the running of their global schools. Most of the directors who run these workshops have never met or shared their experiences with each other. It has even taken me a year to meet a majority of these directors in person and I still haven’t met all of them. The two day summit was all about getting the directors of the different schools in one place to discuss the successes and challenges of their respective programmes and how the Visiting School office could support them better.
A week before the Summit, the office was abuzz with activity. We made a selection of 12 directors who would present their experiences for 5 minutes, sent out invites, took final counts, put up posters to disseminate the schedule for the event.   [caption id="attachment_2383" align="alignnone" width="360"] The directors of the Global Schools gather on day two of the summit at the Hospital Club[/caption] When the event began, the different directors who presented created a vivid cross-section through the  the sheer diversity of the Visiting School. The narration of their experiences ranged from the Tehran School’s director almost being sent to jail, to three students who directed a community building project in rural India, to a slick video of 3D scans produced by students at the Ottawa Visiting School, to a dramatic trailer by the directors of Unknown Fields hinting at their future research on global sea trade.  This is just a selection of what was presented since if I were to describe them all, I would run out of space in the same way that the handful of directors overshot their allocated 5 minutes, finding it too short a time period to share their entertaining, sometimes shared but otherwise unique experiences.   For more information: List of presenters at the Global Summit Visiting School Prospectus Follow Visiting School on facebook Follow Visiting School on twitter Priji Balakrishnan on Projects Review 2011-2012