An interview with the tutors of the new Intermediate Unit 16: Salwa Mikou and Selma Mikou
05 December 2016 Architectural Association   AA Conversations caught up with new unit Intermediate 16 tutors Salwa and Selma Mikou to get a closer insight into their new brief ‘Architecture as a Lever for Transformation’ and see what their intentions are towards the year's projects.   Q: What are the main ambitions of your brief this year?   The main ambitions of our brief are to develop with students the concept of a ‘spatial city’ through a three dimensional urbanism which aims to express new types of social organisation and a new urban reality. As our concepts of ‘living together’ evolve, along with new ways of working, consuming, and being entertained, we invite students to think about reinventing uses and creating new spatial hierarchies through a plural, multifunctional building.   We believe in architecture as a lever of transformation and we explore open processes of superimpositions; juxtapositions to blur scale and scope, to create conditions for encounters and collective living, as well as places of impromptu activities and of movement, which refer to the ‘dynamic labyrinths’ of Constant‘s Babylonian City.   The aim is to investigate the idea of regeneration and resilience in programmatic, urban, and architectural forms.   Q: In what ways does the unit hope to tackle these challenges?   We have chosen a site in Paris' arrondissement 13 that condenses multiple varieties of urban morphologies, ranging from ‘immeubles de rapport’, to Haussmanian buildings, towers from the Seventies and contemporary open blocks, to experience varied urban strategies and contrasted skylines. [caption id="attachment_6470" align="alignnone" width="360"]CONSTANT-PLAN 'Constant plan'.[/caption] Working on skylines and inhabited bridges led us to explore the notion of ‘spatial urbanism’, creating a spatial construct which aims to raise inhabitant uses- a framework on piles allowing flexibility, alternative programs, and bringing a strong social dynamic.   We are interested in spatial strategies that formalise and mix layers of ‘stable and unstable spaces’ as well as ‘spaces which serve and are served’, vertical and horizontal circulation, structural systems, voids and masses, spatial sequences and connections, to create a metropolitan building.   Following Yona Friedman’s vision, we design a structuring metropolitan building floating above Paris, a bridge building conceived as an aerial structure which contains a plurality of usages and amplifies them.   Each project develops its own reflection on the programme and use values it proposes regarding the site analysis and interpretation. The projects use functional diagrams, connecting schemes, and architectural figures to illustrate their imaginary construction.   Designed as a laboratory of spaces and atmospheres, they are sequenced through a dynamic architectural process in continuity of the public space to amplify the urban flow.
Q: Does your unit wish to question the ‘what is’, ‘what was’, or ‘what may be’?   Our unit is interested in individual and collective relationships to time and space, analyzing “what was” and “what is” and working on “what may be”.   Architecture has both a social and a human role. To be able to invent new spaces for new uses and transform the world, architects have to accompany and even anticipate social changes.   It is important to contextualize the project in order to grasp geographical, historical, social, and cultural issues of the site, as well as its imaginary aspect.   In our unit, the site analysis is both thematic and sensory: we explore people and traffic flow, scales, density, uses, urban morphology, and we combine them in an intuitive and prospective process of conception.   Q: Can you tell us who your favourite architect is?   We very much like architects who refer to phenomenology and deep meanings such as Sigurd Lewerentz, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mies van der Rohe. What is interesting is to see how these architects’ projects have evolved according to new systems of thought, and how deeply they have influenced their architectural language- Klippan Saint Peter Church, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Seagram building are great examples. [caption id="attachment_6468" align="alignnone" width="360"]FRIEDMAN-YONA The unit references work from visionary architects, such as this image by Yona Friedman.[/caption] We are also very much interested in visionary architects such as Iakov Tchernikhov, Yona Friedman, and Constant.
[caption id="attachment_6469" align="alignnone" width="360"]IAKOV-CHERNIKOV-5 The unit finds inspiration from many architects, for example work as seen here, by Iakov Chernikov.[/caption] Q: Teaching a unit together as siblings (twins, even), in what ways do your approaches to architectural study differ or remain similar?   As twin sisters born in Fez, an imperial city with powerful architecture- its mazes and labyrinths, its contrasts of light and shade- we both have had from an early age a profound relationship with architectural and urban space. After graduation, our professional experience took place in two great but radically different international agencies.   What is interesting when we teach together is to offer our complementary vision to students to enrich our approaches to architectural study with different ways of thinking.   Q: The unit’s investigation into ‘the transformation and resilience of particular territories’ is intriguing. To what extent do you feel resilience in today’s more ‘throw-away’ approach to architecture can be found in the unit’s proposals of ‘dynamic labyrinths’?   Our unit envisages a building as the expression of specific and temporal needs, and thus as a pretext for amplifying uses and giving more. We are interested in unstable spaces- spaces for social encounters- these event fields that make a building remarkable, flexible, and ‘intemporal’.   When spaces are designed to take account of society’s evolution- connecting plurality of uses, offering spatial sequences, trajectories of movement, and allowing a sense of freedom- then they live forever.   For more information: Intermediate Unit 16 Brief Intermediate Unit 16 Extended Brief