11 December 2016
New unit Intermediate 15 tutors Xristina Argyros and Ryan Neiheiser had a chat with AA Conversations to give us a closer insight into their new brief ‘The Athens Studio’ and tell us more about their intentions for the year ahead.
What are the main ambitions of your brief this year?
Architects are too often trained to work only on the projects that are given to them; the cleanly packaged demands of a unit, client, or competition brief. We’re challenging our students to step out into the city, formulate their own critique, articulate their own questions, structure their own brief, and then to test their own spatial hypotheses. Our ambition is an architecture of activism. Our unit brief is a call to action.
Athens is ugly, dirty, and noisy, but also diverse, beautiful, and alive. It is a city of fascinating contradictions and it is a city in crisis. There are pressing issues, unresolved traumas, and breaking narratives. There is much to be learned and much work to be done. We are immersing ourselves in this complicated context, studying its uniquely tangled socioeconomic, political, and spatial conditions, and asking ourselves how we can most productively engage in the conversation. Change is most possible during times of crisis. We’re hoping to take advantage of this current moment of ‘precarity’, crafting projects that are sensitive to the very real constraints of contemporary Athens, but that move beyond traditional logics to imagine radical alternatives to the present.
In what ways does the unit hope to tackle these challenges?
Our hunch is that the challenge of Athens is best approached through the lens of its civic institutions – its public spaces and buildings of appearance. Much has been written and proposed about the uniquely homogenous housing typology present across Athens – the polykatoikia. We’re choosing to focus instead on the moments of exception in the city. While we see this as a multi-year investigation, the focus this year is on the potential role of academic institutions to reorganize and reinvigorate the city.
More directly, we’re hoping to tackle these challenges by engaging in conversations with different voices from various disciplines– artists, foundation directors, journalists, curators, social workers- people and groups who, in one way or another, are operating in and on Athens. We’ve tried to expose our group of students to a wide range of issues and perspectives- often conflicting- motivating them to then take a position and formulate their own thesis about the future of the city.
Does your unit wish to question the ‘what is’, ‘what was’, or ‘what may be’?
All three, with a particular focus on the gap between the ‘what is’ and ‘what may be.’ We’re mining the pasts of the present, and the futures of the past, and seeking to define new futures for the present. We’re interrogating the unique conditions of the current moment in order to develop radical propositions for the very near future.