NEW UNIT- INTERMEDIATE 15: THE ATHENS STUDIOInterview

An interview with the tutors of the new Intermediate Unit 15: Xristina Argyros and Ryan Neiheiser.

11 December 2016
Architectural Association

 

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.

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Ariel view snippets of Athens.

Q: 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.

 

Q: 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.

 

Q: 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.

NEW UNIT- INTERMEDIATE 15: THE ATHENS STUDIO

 

Q: Can you tell us who your favourite architect is?

 

We don’t have a favourite architect. But we do have a large, and constantly evolving, set of influences and inspirations that we look to as provisional models for the work that is in front of us. There are architects and artists and writers and scientists and engineers and historians that we look to and admire but also beautiful books, photographs, diagrams, and objects that we collect, and that we gather together on the margins of our thinking and making when engaging with a new project.

 

The-noli-map-of-Athens

The noli map of Athens.

Q: Having taught First Year previously, what differences do you imagine to experience shifting to Intermediate study?

 

The shift is mostly one of duration. Whereas in First Year we limited our explorations to six weeks in length in order to give students maximum exposure to a wide range of working and thinking, an Intermediate Unit opens up the possibility of a much deeper dive into the realities and constraints of buildings and cities. Both are challenging in their own way.

Q: The unit addresses the institution of the university in Athens- to what extent do you feel a city so entwined in history can radicalize an age-old institution into the modern era?

 

There is definitely a rich ancient history in Athens– from the Acropolis, to Pericles, and Plato’s Academy– but there is a common misconception about how old the city is. Most of what we see today was built in the last century. In that sense, the city is very modern. The same holds true for its institutions; they are products of the modern world yet they are spatially and theoretically outdated. Universities today can no longer operate as autonomous entities in the city. They need to question the established norms, critically evaluate their role in society, and propose new modes of learning as well as new collaborations between academia and the city. Particularly in Athens, where the economy is at a halt, academic institutions have the power to become engines of social and economic change and re-invention. As a model and way of thinking, this has a relevance and potential application that goes well beyond the current crisis in Greece.

The-alternative-noli-map-of-Athens

The alternative noli map of Athens. Work by current Inter 15 students.

For more information:

Intermediate Unit 15 Brief
Intermediate Unit 15 Extended Brief
Neiheiser Argyros Website