NEW UNIT – INTERMEDIATE 13: Oracles for EuropeInterview

An interview with the tutors of the new Intermediate Unit 13: Peter Swinnen and Flavien Menu

30 October 2015
Architectural Association, London


AA Conversations caught up with Flavien and Peter, tutors of new unit Intermediate 13, to discuss their intriguing new brief ‘Oracles for Europe’ and see what their plans are for the year ahead.


What are the main ambitions of your brief this year?


We focus on the societal and spatial effects and affects of large-scale perennial exhibition models, such as documenta, MANIFESTA, la Biennale di Venezia, La Bienal de la Habana, The Korean Gwangju Biennial, … and even the one-off Great Exhibition (London, 1851) and its predecessing parisian Expositions Universelles.


Our main question is: can (temporal) cultural infrastructure reach beyond a mere exhibiting reflex and offer competitive positions to the realm of social and civic capital vis à vis contemporary policy making and politics? Our spatial case study will be Brussels, Europe’s de facto Capital City. A city the EU is spatially leasing, but refusing to engage with.


The active backdrop of both our analysis and architectural endeavours will be Europe’s incremental identity crisis.


Portret van bouwmeester Peter Swinnen, foto: Jimmy Kets

Unit Master Peter Swinnen. Photo: Jimmy Kets

In what ways does the unit hope to tackle these challenges?


We try to be as reality-driven as possible. This year’s project is in fact a parallel track – or a prequel track – to an existing European program for a new “biennial” in Brussels from 2020 onwards.


Students will be asked to critically engage themselves within the realm of spatial design, cultural speculation and policy making. To top this all off students are encouraged to reflect on the role of the architect, which we feel is evolving towards a “space producer” rather than a self-centered genius author.


Can you tell us who your favourite architect is?


It’s more about an architectural attitude than just a favorite architect; an attitude that pairs cultural production, social pilot projects, integrated education and architecture as a pre-emptive policy making tool. Architects who have managed such a complex rendering of the professional discipline are rather scarce.

NEW UNIT – INTERMEDIATE 13: Oracles for Europe

Names that spring to mind are Gordon Bunshaft (SOM), Auguste Perret and Hugh Maaskant. They all managed to pair an urgent and critical architectural attitude with a truly impactful practice.


Greek Momentum

Greek Momentum


The ideas of urgency are prevalent within the brief. How do you expect to establish this sense of necessity within the projects?


Our two keywords are “urgency” and “impact”. Each move, action or design impulse by the students will be weighed against these two touchstones. We will train them in stating why something is socially urgent and civically impactful, paired with the greatest attention to a maximized level of imagination.


Does your unit wish to question the ‘what is’, ‘what was’, or ‘what may be’?


Logically, the “What may be” can only make sense if a thorough knowledge of “What is” and “What was” is mastered. We wish to proceed in that order.


Unit Master Flavien Menu

Unit Master Flavien Menu


For more information:

Intermediate 13 Unit Brief