An interview with the tutors of the new Intermediate Unit 4: Arantza Ozaeta Cortázar and Álvaro Martín Fidalgo
27 January 2017 Architectural Association, London   AA Conversations spoke to new unit Intermediate 4 tutors Arantza Ozaeta Cortázar and Álvaro Martín Fidalgo to discover the ideas behind their dramatically titled brief 'Implosion'. The pair previously taught a unit as part of the AA Summer School for the past four years, and discuss the difference between teaching on the three-week course and the 32-week AA academic year, as well as how their personal experiences have shaped their attitudes towards education, research, practice and everything in between.    [caption id="attachment_6594" align="alignnone" width="360"]Sublime Oasis Intransit. AA Summer School 2016 Sublime Oasis Intransit. AA Summer School 2016[/caption]

What are the main ambitions of your brief this year?

Our main ambition is to detect areas of opportunity within the constantly changing European environment, and the development of a set of operative tools for a generation of architects that must seamlessly respond to it.

Growth and shrinkage have always occurred but today these processes are savage. Physical, political, economic, social and cultural boundaries are changing due to this radical and continuous fluctuation. Our brief addresses these transformative processes of territory, architecture, resources and players, from a local-scaled detection to a global framework.  

Contemporary architects - as implacable strategists - require an understanding of their role in re-shaping current understandings of consumption. By exploring this reality and immersed within the highly speculative environment of the AA, we imagine and build up possible and immediate drifts of the city where fiction and reality collide, stretching our work to its limit in terms of precision, fantasy and innovation.

  [caption id="attachment_6592" align="alignnone" width="360"]Sublime Oasis Intransit. AA Summer School 2016 Sublime Oasis Intransit. AA Summer School 2016[/caption]

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

We propose to first focus on the ecological understanding and interest of the urban construct –manufactured and natural at the same time; pursuing a migration of concepts and techniques from the Environmental Sciences that recognise change as inevitable. Then, through the immersion in today’s savage growth and shrinkage, we look off-grid and propose a journey through the available and hidden geographies of the imploding city of London where we will explore new forms of inhabitation.

  This is because inhabitation is not only construction but also adaptation; not only building up but also strategically placing; not only enlargement but also recovery.

We slide between the real and the fictional to define the identities of emerging territories and inhabitants, and design projects as flexible and adaptable working frames. We work with timelines, the main parameters and protocols of development, instructions, recipes, etc. This systematic feature of a project becomes a powerful communicative tool, which allows us to establish complex processes of negotiation and turn our unit into a common table up for constant negotiation. That’s how we practice and therefore how we teach.

  [caption id="attachment_6593" align="alignnone" width="360"]Eccentric London. AA Summer School 2015 Eccentric London. AA Summer School 2015[/caption]

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

Our Unit collects, registers and learns from the dynamics of ‘what is’ and ‘what is not’, reveals and speculates on the emergency of ‘what is being’, and so explores and builds up the extraordinary aspects of ‘what may be’ and ‘what may not be’.

  On one hand, our work is based on precise data pertaining to our current reality but launched into an immediate future, as a way of speculating on the emerging.   On the other hand, we like to say that we act as a gardener or builders of processes that think about the different states of a project throughout its life, and about how it is related to its changing environment. Projecting towards the future, our projects assume their own transformation, adaptability and dynamism.  

Can you tell us who your favourite architect is?

We can't choose a single favourite but we have certain preferred architects and not always the same ones. Our world of references is built up from disciplinary favourites of yesterday and today, to those works that don't belong exclusively to architecture. We like to look to the margins in order to redefine the boundaries of our thought and practice. We enjoy discovering new favourite practices and projects, learning from them and even acting like them. What we try to be is selective with the references we choose at every moment as companions; that's why we admire only a few lifeworks alongside many inspiring exceptions.

Shifting from teaching an AA Summer School Unit to an Intermediate Unit, what differences do you imagine you will experience as tutors?

The AA Summer School offers an intense environment of exchange, fast movements and immediate answers. The shift to an Intermediate Unit is mainly in terms of presence, continuity and exchange. We are jumping from the immediacy of thought and production, to a longer reflection on students’ hypotheses and an even greater finesse in the construction of their portfolios; from the definition of a project as a statement, to the development of detailed designs and prototypes; from the intensifying isolation of the summer, to the intense exchange between units, programmes and departments that comprises AA life. We really enjoyed the experience of teaching within the AA summer school, and now we feel excited about the opportunity to develop our speculations and production further within our Intermediate Unit.


Having won the Europan competition at a young age, do you feel it is important for students to take on challenges beyond their daily realm

At the moment we won Europan, we were simultaneously students as well as collaborators in national and international universities and offices. We both decided to complement our studies with experiences abroad and working in practice even before finishing our degrees. As educators, we like to say to our students that the real project is themselves, and that it is good to feel uncomfortable with what they are learning and doing in order for them to look for more and load their 'backpacks' with new and personal tools, experiences and dynamics of negotiation. As practitioners, we like to take on challenges beyond the daily realm of practice and are excited about the constant exchange between teaching and research.   For more information:

AA Intermediate 4 Unit Brief

AA Intermediate 4 Extended Brief


TallerDE2 - practice website


AA Summer School 2013

AA Summer School 2014

AA Summer School 2015


AA Summer School 2016

Sublime Oasis in Transit microsite