by Manijeh Verghese, AADipl(Hons)2012 Editor of AA Conversations
04 June 2014 Lecture Hall, Architectural Association   “One of the roles of Council is that we may elect as honorary members illustrious or distinguished persons as from time to time we may determine without subscription - what generosity! These shall have the same rights as members and shall be limited in number to 100 - so it’s exclusive as well,” said Frank Duffy, AA Council’s Vice President, paraphrasing from the By-laws of the AA Constitution.   This explanation of Honorary Membership was a nice note to begin this annual event, underlining the importance of honouring selected individuals for their contribution to architecture as well as in some cases, to the AA itself. While these events sometimes tend to turn into meetings of the old boys club, harking back to the better times of yesteryear and bemoaning any changes to the school that have taken place since, this year’s instalment proved to be a refreshing change.   The speeches were brief but amusing, touching while critical, looking to the value of the AA as an institution in the future by building on its past. Honoured that evening were Paul Finch, Peter Wynne Rees, Stuart Lipton, Christina Smith, Kenneth Frampton, Phyllis Lambert, Paul Oliver and Michael Sorkin. Of the list of eight honourees, four were in attendance to collect their certificates and a gift from the Association, presented by the AA Council’s Honorary Secretary Yasmin Shariff. The rest made their apologies and had written a few sentences to accept their award, that Frank Duffy read out to conclude the evening.   [caption id="attachment_3240" align="alignnone" width="360"]The Honorary Members Evening was held in the Lecture Hall Image credit: Alexander Furunes The Honorary Members Evening was held in the Lecture Hall
Image credit: Alexander Furunes[/caption] Paul Finch, who has edited nearly all of Britain’s major architectural titles from Building Design to the Architect’s Journal to the Architectural Review, was the first to accept his membership with a hilarious speech about wild Christmas parties for Building Design in the lecture hall, and winning the Plane Award multiple times after inviting Cedric Price and Will Alsop to many of these legendary events. The AA is such a unique and special place because “it is possible for the students to throw out the leader. This is quite impossible in any other academic institution in Britain where people can only be thrown out by boring people in BHS suits, but here it can be done by the untrained minds of people who just think something’s not quite right,” he said. “The current period of calm waters, smart people and a growing kind of internationalism is just another phase that the AA is going through.”
[caption id="attachment_3241" align="alignnone" width="360"]Paul Finch giving his acceptance speech Image credit: Alexander Furunes Paul Finch giving his acceptance speech
Image credit: Alexander Furunes[/caption] This provocative statement hovered in the air but was soon dissipated when former city planner and now professor at the Bartlett, Peter Rees took the floor. He opened with the quote by Groucho Marx, “I would never join a club that would have me as a member,” which elicited laughs from the crowd over the slipping standards of the AA now that they were letting in planners. After taking us through the varied reactions to his news of receiving an honorary membership as a result of the usual misconceptions around the meaning of the AA, mistaking it for the vehicular or the alcoholic variety, he also mentioned how he wanted to attend the AA for his degree. He was prevented from doing so by his father who refused upon hearing it was only a diploma - a point that seemed especially relevant given the recent referendum on Degree Awarding Powers.   Rees went on to describe the importance of the AA in contrast to the Bartlett, “Because after all the AA is the essential outlet - if you have a job at the Bartlett, you need somewhere to unwind; you need somewhere to experiment.” His recent Night School session, titled Sex Marks the Spot, is evidence of this, where he lectured on urban morphology through tracing the sexual antics that have defined and shaped London over time, even inviting audience members to place pins onto a map where they had had a particularly raunchy experience.   The next honouree, Sir Stuart Lipton, made evident the expansive nature of architectural practice. As a developer, he mentioned working with both Paul Finch and Peter Rees, a journalist and an urban planner, which was interesting to illustrate the many players within the profession who all work together to realise projects that shape a city. He also picked up on Paul Finch’s earlier point about the current period of ‘calm’ at the AA. However, he elaborated to say that the lack of rioting he was critiquing was not internally within the school but rather externally at government level, inciting the AA to make David Cameron remember ‘the A word.’
To conclude his speech he said, “I’d like to say how much fun I’ve had working with Paul, as well as with Peter. When we were both very active in CABE, we had a little theme: getting architecture into the bloodstream of the nation. When I think of the task today of housing, or public space, or civic buildings, we are in a period when regretfully, they all seem in decline, so I’m going to enjoy my membership here, rioting, fighting and trying to join in what I hope will be a bit of civic uprising to get architecture back”   [caption id="attachment_3242" align="alignnone" width="360"]Honouree Peter Rees with AA Council's Hon. Treasurer Paul Warner Image credit: Alexander Furunes Honouree Peter Rees with AA Council's Hon. Treasurer Paul Warner
Image credit: Alexander Furunes[/caption] Christina Smith, the last to accept her honorary membership that evening, gave an emotional speech talking of how she became involved in architecture through the development of Covent Garden, as well as how she first met Alvin Boyarsky and got involved with the AA, where she has been a member since 1972. As an active member of council over the years, and a longtime supporter and benefactor of the school, giving us dynamic spaces like the Diploma corridor, her honorary membership was well deserved and her speech showed her familiarity with the day to day life of the school. She responded to Paul Finch and Sir Stuart Lipton’s concerns that the AA was too calm by saying, “I’m not sure that I totally agree about the peaceable bit but I do want to thank Sadie (Morgan), Alex (Lifschutz), Keith (Priest), Jim Eyre and Brett (Steele) who have headed up the school and the association, particularly during all the very difficult times we have faced in the past few years. I’m also not sure when I started calling AA people ‘we’ instead of ‘them’!”   That evening, the people in the lecture hall being honoured showed how much they care about both architecture and the AA, not just in the past but in the present and future.It was a nice reminder of the value of being in this unique place and its importance within the architectural profession as an incubator of ideas and opinions. “Whatever was going on - it was going on about fifteen years earlier in this room actually, with an extraordinary run of teachers and students, which continue to this day, somehow or the other getting ahead of the zeitgeist rather than merely reflecting it,” said Paul Finch to conclude his speech. “This is a terrific programme and long may it last!”   For more information: AA Honorary Members' Evening 2014 AA Council AA Membership To nominate an Honorary Member