05 July 2016
What are you trying to teach at the AA Visiting School Slovenia?
The key teaching and research theme of AA Visiting School Slovenia (AAVSS) is nanotourism. Its a new term, describing a creative critique to the current environmental, social and economic downsides of mainstream tourism. Nanotourism is a participatory, locally oriented alternative, which derives its core aspects from the locally specific characteristics of a particular environment. It stimulates interaction between user and provider through co-creation and exchange of knowledge. It’s not about scale but more about a projective ability to generate a responsible set of experiences from the bottom-up, using local resources and by involving the local community.
The teaching programme operates on the principles of learning by doing. We strive to teach each participant that we live in a world, where it is imperative to demonstrate self-initiated activities in order to open up a set of opportunities for yourself and the projects you wish to work on. We wish to demonstrate that design, in fact, is a series of decisions based on a set of carefully considered reasons for very specific intentions. Most of all, amidst the current digital movement, we wish to re-emphasise that architecture is done by people for people.
KSEVT as Playground – Lost in Space; Image credit: Ajda Schmidt
What kind of methods of teaching do you use?
The key teaching agenda of AAVS Slovenia is to research and promote the process of creation that reaches beyond ‘design’. The process is equally important as the final project itself. A simple process diagram is communicated to the students at the beginning of each course: ‘research’, ‘design’ and ‘make’ activities that are successively organised in a recurrent process, a closed circle that has to be perpetually repeated to generate refined, specific and sharp results. Following this bottom-up process of design development and starting with initial elements of research, decision-making and prototyping, these are gradually organised on higher levels of understanding in order to produce more complex structures and holistic design solutions. Each following iteration of the process loop therefore produces better and more precise results.
The students do research and development through three clearly defined entities: Place, User and Material. Place, as an understanding of space, culture, territory, time, visibility… User as a representation of social organisations, psychological values, individual and collective motivation… Material, as physical resource for making, with characteristics such as geometry, tactility, manipulability, structure, texture, availability, contextuality… While identifying, targeting and intensifying the individual specific elements of each entity, it is crucial to develop an understanding about emerging correlations among them. Stimulating and designing mutual influence and dependences between place, user and material, we develop an explicit conceptual common ground for each project. Ultimately, we aim for specific interventions that would provide both, the spatial and social triggers which would initiate change with the ambition for temporary or long-term spatial and social integration and user participation.
HangOut Vitanje, construction tools; Image credit: Ajda Schmidt
How does the process of teaching/research differ from conventional teaching methods? In what way is it innovative, unique?
The AA’s international character of carrying out a very diverse range of agendas, with tutors and students originating from different countries all over the world, make the AA Visiting School programme very distant from the oversimplified description of ‘educational colonialism’. Quite on the contrary, each Visiting School programme pursues its own distinct, highly focused agenda, rooted in a specific context and connected to the local communities of each location, led by AA tutors with local provenance and experience. This makes the AA Visiting School a principal example of a bottom-up, locally oriented and participatory programme – a true example of nanotourism.
What is the theme in 2015/16?
In 2016 we will carry out our third Visiting School programme in Vitanje and conclude the trilogy of case studies investigating the dialogue between KSEVT (Cultural Centre of European Space Technologies) and Vitanje. During our first 2 years, we have been undertaking intensive research into the relationship between the local community of Vitanje (just over 600 people) and the phenomenon of KSEVT, which, through its programme and activities, has attracted over 25,000 visitors annually. As a result, we have extracted synergies between them and investigated fresh potentials. We have developed eight collective projects, which offer an added value in dialogue between aspects of the local and the planetary, at the same time offering tangible products that offer concrete experiences of nanotourism.
Continuing the previous years’ agenda of nanotourist strategies developed for Vitanje and KSEVT, we will research, design and build diverse accommodation and experience modules for a newly set-up concept of a diffused hotel for Vitanje. The aim is to develop a set of experience modules in collaboration with specific individuals from the local community who will take part of the programme of the diffused hotel in Vitanje. As in the previous years, work will be carried out in KSEVT, which will transform into our living room, workshop space and forum for research and development of nanotourist strategies.
KSEVT hotel – From 2D to 3D sleeping; Image credit: Ajda Schmidt
In what way do you want to impact our world through your programme?
Searching for a relevant research and design topic for AAVS Slovenia, while facing the new realities of the Slovenian economy and landscape, we realised the potential of tourism as one of the rare industries that is still growing regardless of turbulent global economic conditions. Slovenia is one of the smallest and most naturally diverse countries in the world where only some tourism investments have really managed to relate to Slovenia’s rich natural and cultural potential. Many of them have in fact fundamentally failed in providing the visitors with a fully integrated experience of its diverse contexts. These investments have brought about extensive reduction of natural resources and have led to counter-sustainable tourist development strategies in an already small and fragile territory. Given such conditions, our point of critique is that too little attention is given to the idea of extreme local experience tourism. Based on the principals of ‘SMALL, LIGHT and GREEN’ ideologies, visitors are invited to ‘extreme architectures’, placed meticulously with subtle intervention into specific surroundings, aiming at magnifying the user experience for individual travellers and even provoking them to participate.
Nanotourism, a programme that we are continuously developing at the AAVSS and beyond, is a creative strategy through which we wish to change the perception and understanding of our contemporary world. We understand nanotourism beyond tourism: it is more an attitude to improve specific everyday environments and a strategy to open up new local economies.
What are your goals for the future?
In 2017 we will move the Visiting School to a new location, which will be chosen based on identified potentials for the development of nanotourist strategies. The positive experience and feedback from the previously executed programmes are giving us the necessary motivation and guidance for the development of this new programme at a new location, suitable for the research and implementation of nanotourist strategies in specific environments. Through our engagement, we wish to challenge and change the perception and understanding of specific environments, their local communities and its visitors.
HangOut Vitanje – Communal XL Lace Hammock; Image credit: Ajda Schmidt
What kind of students are you looking for to join your programme?
Above all, we wish to attract participants, that wish to further their knowledge and approach towards architecture, who are not bound by the conventional definition of the discipline itself. Self-initiative and the ability of being open towards different opinions and points of view is key for participation in the programme. Of course practical skills and the ability to execute projects at a 1:1 scale is imperative for the production of functional architecture, capable of long-term integration into its environment.
What is the application procedure like?
Applications for the 2016 programme can be made via the Architectural Association website (see link below). There you can also find all the other programmes available within the AA Visiting School. Applications are open to all students, young professionals and PhD candidates of architecture, art and design. We also encourage experts of other disciplines to join, who are not directly related to architecture but have a broader influence on the design of our collective space and society at large such as sociologists, economists and philosophers.
The benefit of a much more open application process is the establishment of a multidisciplinary working environment, which is why we encourage applications from a wide spectrum of disciplines. For a standard application, there are no special requirements. The programme is limited to 18 participants, due to the current sleeping capacity in Vitanje.
What is the advantage of an international group of students and teachers?
We believe that the teaching and learning process at AAVS Slovenia is deliberately a much more diverse experience than the conventional architectural curriculum. It is an opportunity to break away from usual habits of thinking and making architectural projects. Engaging Participatory Action Research1, employing ways of learning by doing, designing strategies and designing social events produces a dynamic and challenging environment to understand and develop architecture. The design process involves the inclusion of local residents in co-designing and co-creating strategies and solutions. At AAVS Slovenia, we understand architecture as a socially dependent phenomenon that involves social design principles and an awareness to design for society. Students will participate in intensive group work that brings to the foreground much more dynamic processes of creation, discussion and debate. Learning from your peers and colleagues who come from the other side of the globe is one of the most valuable experiences you can ever have as a student.
1 PAR is an approach to research in communities that emphasises participation and action. It seeks to understand the world by trying to change it, collaboratively and following reflection… (Wikipedia)
NOTE: The text partially refers to the article: AA Visiting School Slovenia: nanotourism, Aljoša Dekleva, Praznine n.07, 2014
For more information:
AAVS Slovenia Programme Brief
AAVS Slovenia Microsite
Like AAVS Slovenia on Facebook
Apply to AAVS Slovenia
Main image: DON’T PANIC – Vitanje Space Call; credit: Rok Dezelak
AA Visiting School Slovenia staff:
Aljoša Dekleva, programme director, AA Visiting School Slovenia nanotourism
Jakob Travnik, programme assistant, AA Visiting School Slovenia nanotourism