by Sylvie Taher, Histories and Theories tutor at the AA, and freelance architect and writer
13 June 2016 Architectural Association   In the past years of the Writing Prize, there has always seemed to be an underlying theme that drove the entire student body towards a given thesis. These underlying themes, sometimes very tangible, other times quite subtle, changed from year to year. One year it was the role of the architect and his or her relation to a private narcissism. Other years it was the potential of the alternative narrative type: story telling, diary entries, even the odd touch of poetry. But this year there was no underlying theme, not even a subtle one. What defines this years winners is their independence – at the very least their lack of inter-dependence. Each winner of the Writing Prize in the First Year and Intermediate School and the Dennis Sharp Award in the Diploma School not only created and drove their own work to its unique conclusion, but did so in a manner which was in tune with their chosen thesis: narrative was used where narrative was needed, academia where it was needed, and in an odd an unexpected turn of events, even the image itself was used to contentiously underline a salient point or two. [caption id="attachment_5939" align="alignnone" width="360"]Photo by Ping Ping Lu Photo by Ping Ping Lu[/caption] In first year, Luke Decker won for his piece titled ‘Neue Nationalgaleri’ in which he placed Mies van der Rohe alongside Joseph Albers as a means through which to study the grid, the plan, and even the notion of boundary. Starting with the seminal quote by Albers “to design is to plan and organize, in order to relate and to control” Luke interwove the works of the two creative greats to unravel his own personal view of the architectural plan.
In second year, Toh Zi Ken won for essays written in both term 1 and term 2, titled ‘Classicalish’ and ‘Interiorish’. What struck the jury about Toh’s writing was that in the act of adding the suffix ‘ish’ he had succinctly and quite remarkably identified one of the underlying tensions of all historical writing: how to apply boundary to any given body of work. Suffice it to say, jurors recommended he consider writing a book at some point in his career. In third year, Hana Shokr won with ‘The Line that Can’t be Tamed’ in which she introduced Athanasiois Argianas’s Song Machine 19 as a means through which to consider the architectural line. The essay interwove theory with personal introspection, and the jurors could not help but be charmed by the combination. Arguably she won us all over as she wrote: “Architectural lines are drawn with the natural fear of knowing that they may actually develop into a building.”   In the Diploma School, the Dennis Sharp Award for Excellence of writing was awarded to two students. Fearghus Raftery won for his thesis titled ‘The True Time Image’ which is a true testament to what a student can achieve within the confines of 8,000 words. Somewhere along this remarkable thesis, Newton, Einstein, Muybridge, Deleuze, and a GPS system were all discussed. One would think this might lead to confusion – it didn’t; we were enthralled. Stefan Jovanovic won for his essays titled ‘The Generosity of Violence’ in which a specific moment of Pina Bausch’s Ein Stuck was unraveled to reveal the (at times quite violent) relationship between audience and actor. Truth be told the jury did consider whether the essay would have been improved by a title reversal – ‘the violence of generosity’ – that however may simply have been a inevitable reaction to a very generous piece of writing.   What then does this say about where we stand as writing architects today? More specifically, what is it that we as architects expect to achieve through our writing? We are not writers, we are not academics, we are not even journalists. Why then the desire to express ourselves through words? And what can the words do for us that the image, the drawing, or the model cannot?
[caption id="attachment_5941" align="alignnone" width="360"]AA_HTS_Writing_Prize_2016.05.04_Ping_Ping_Lu-4 Photo by Ping Ping Lu[/caption] What was unique about this year’s winners was that almost no one attempted the ‘one size fits all’ solution. And yet in the generosity of spirit that comes with not providing an answer, we found in each of the winners a genuine desire to engage with what writing means to them, as architects. In many ways, this is what the Writing Prize has long been aspiring to do. It has never been a matter of simply awarding the best students of History and Theory. Like all creative endeavors, there is no correct answer, only a good answer, and, if we’re lucky, a remarkable one. All the students selected this year provided exactly that- a good answer to a personal inquiry into the meaning of writing in architecture.   For more information: List of Writing Prize winners AA Writing Microsite Luke Decker's First Year Writing Prize Winning Essay Toh Zi Ken's Second Year Writing Prize Winning Essay (1) Toh Zi Ken's Second Year Writing Prize Winning Essay (2) Hana Shokr's Third Year Writing Prize Winning Essay Stefan Jovanovic's Dennis Sharp Prize Winning Essay Fearghus Raftery's Dennis Sharp Prize Winning Essay HTS Writing Prizes 2015 by Sylvie Taher HTS Writing Prizes 2014 by Zainab Dena Ziari