OPEN JURY: Work-in-progress Review

by Brett Steele, AA Director

06 March 2013
AA Director’s Office, London

 

This past Open Jury is the 15th that has been organised. We’ve reached a milestone. Farshid, Robert Mull and I were commissioned by my predecessor to organize the first ever Open Jury at the AA in 1997 to much discussion, particularly amongst Diploma School jurors, about whether work of the school should be exposed mid-year. I think there were a lot of us in the school at the time who thought it would actually be quite nice to see the work of the school in progress and for tutors to have a conversation amongst themselves.

 

As we’ve thought about the Open Jury over the years, what we’ve come back to is to try to imagine what students would find interesting in that sort of a setting. It’s not like a unit jury which is hyper-focused on an agenda and that year’s output but more on the question of how you might position (or not) the argument of the work before the project itself fully develops. I thought, across the day, there were some really interesting examples of that. Additionally, a key part of the event is about demystifying a discussion of work amongst tutors which has led to this model where a conversation is held between unit masters and students. It will be interesting as we go forward to think about, as somebody suggested the other day, whether it could be student-led at one part of the year and tutor-led at another.

 

The Open Jury flier
Image Credit: Print Studio

The text space group, not surprisingly, was one of the more self-conscious of the sessions. It was a topic where it would be very easy for people to comment on because it’s clearly outside of what one would normally set as architectural agendas. People interested in that topic tend to be textual in their alignment with the universe. I only saw the first half of the session which had three very different kinds of groups.  I summarised these as the group who basically said “this is where I am” with text at this point of the year which was Intermediate Unit 1, a classic Intermediate Unit error – to give us a chronology of the year and make that self-justifying like a road movie which is only interesting if it ends in a spectacular fashion. The second group was the “this is what we know” group which is Diploma Unit 14 who gave a mini-lecture on both the history of architecture, the known universe, the written word and religion or the word of God – interesting, slightly scary for its certainty but a fascinating expression of the archetype as a figure of certainty, which you could say runs as deep as the history of religion. The third group “this is how we differ” was Diploma Unit 9 in that they formatted the work with enough consistency and a very selective sampling of the work so they were very comparable. I thought it was interesting that they were using words to differentiate not the unit’s position from other positions but the individual portfolios from one another. The discussion at the end of that session was insightful in that Monia, Maria and Natasha were prompted by Mark’s first question about the presence and role of text to distinguish the different text forms in the three presentations.

 

Energy in the morning in the Lecture Hall was a really engaging conversation between Graduate programmes and Intermediate Units where energy was approached as a kind of cultural topic more than just a technical issue within architecture. The breadth of approaches was really fascinating; on the one hand, the extreme mystical tourism of Intermediate Unit 3 who went up the river in Brazil as far as they could go until they ran out of transport, energy and money versus the heavy reliance on Energy within the design platforms that Intermediate Unit 5 totally depend on in their Premiere movie making. Then there’s the more measured analytic approach from the sustainable people in the SED programme in the Graduate School. The surprising thing about the Energy group was the role that fabrication and technology was playing within different programmes in different ways. Things that Intermediate 3, 6 and 5 shared was a real belief in making. Jeroen (van Armeijde – Intermediate 6 Unit Master) in that conversation made a really good point about how all of the units were also tapping into some view of nature as a way to create a complexity which the projects then work through. All three of the Intermediate Units leave the studio deliberately – Inter 6 flees to the workshop or Hooke Park, Inter 5 flees the unit space to go make movies on machines that are powerful enough to do lots of rendering that they definitely can’t do on their laptops while Inter 3 flees the unit space to go up the river on some Heart of Darkness type of fantasy. The question is then how and on what terms do you then come back into the unit space to produce the actual portfolio? I unfortunately missed the tarantula in Dip 18 but I heard it was well reported in the session!

The set-up for the day was a little uneven in its success but its aim was to give every session some sort of organising concept because otherwise it’s just random lottery talk. The morning was organised into Agendas while the afternoon was through Geographies. The difficulty with the Far-Away Places theme is of course that people really love their far-away places more as a concept – if they’re going to Mars, they really just want to talk about Mars. With European Destinations, all I really wanted to do was get the project of Europe on the table for discussion. We are living through a time where Europe is going through a bizarre transformation that is either a collapse or a Renaissance – we just can’t yet tell which. The pairing of Diploma Unit 4 and Intermediate Unit 11 in this room was interesting because they look at Europe at such extreme scales – the body in Ibiza on the one side and the coast of Europe on the other side. As for Hometown London, the secret of this theme was of course that it’s the most foreign of all destinations for a school like the AA. It is, after all, not an accident of history as to why an international school like the AA would emerge in London.

 

There was a great deal of overlap in the Hometown London discussion: overlap of literal sites and of proximity between sites and Bedford Square. Inter 13 is maybe as far away as any of them doing projects in the City, Inter 2 is at Kings Cross, Inter 10 is behind us in No. 33, Dip 10 is not far away with the large model that they are building towards the City of London and Diploma 11 is just up the road at Euston. We’re dealing with people who are all a few hundred metres away from here, which poses all sorts of interesting questions about what it means to have a site that’s so accessible: does that create a different type of project? Does that create a knowledge of the city that otherwise a school like the AA doesn’t have? The irony of the AA is that everybody from around the world flies here so we can then go back and work all over the world – it’s a really funny feature of the school. It’s like London denial. One of the greatest accidents of planning in this session was our new Intermediate Unit 10 –the +1 unit – being the child of Diploma 10 and Diploma 11 – Valentin (Bontjes van Beek, Intermediate 10 Unit Master) having studied under both of them!

 

The DRL vs. Diploma 6 mash-up that I saw late in the afternoon in the Lecture Hall was interesting because it posed what seemed to be kindred spirits in two different bodily forms. The Dip 6 team was making movies of their travels and trying to turn them into projects whereas the quasi-scientific animators of the DRL, presented works set in the future, like Diploma 6 did, but with a very different sensibility driving it. The way I described it is that Diploma 6, is a group of people who are clearly afraid of being in rooms so they spend as much of the year as possible being outdoors in weird environments versus the DRL gang who seem to be people who are afraid to leave their studio. It was the basis for a good discussion particularly around the filmic sensibility of the former group versus the animation instincts of the latter. Tobias (Klein, Diploma Unit 1 tutor) made an interesting point about the kind of projects that were unfolding and the difference between them – a rigorous science versus a sloppy science – which I thought was a really nice phrase. Each can be used in its own way; both of those universes are immersed in a total fictional future that they are trying to achieve. I was struck by the amount of storytelling in both groups and that whole question of storytelling today was one of those unexpressed things that appeared throughout the day.

 

The Open Jury made me come back to what I often think about architecture schools – they’re places where groups of people watch other groups of people talking about groups of people. You had this odd phenomenon where a group of critics watched students present and then talk about their work in a room in which everyone else is watching. You realise that all the real learning is taking place in that back half of the room even though all of our attention is on the front half. Of course, the argument would have to be for a school that the core knowledge is actually the ability to listen to, learn from and react to that whole performative dimension of architecture and architectural knowledge. The core project of an architecture school isn’t making architects – that’s the mistake too many schools make – it’s making audiences. It goes back to an old theory of knowledge from the early 20th century that knowledge is only that thing which people treat as knowledge. There can never be criteria which we apply to say this is architecture and this isn’t – it’s impossible. The only way to gauge that is to do a lot of over-your-shoulder, across-the-table, around-the-room, sort of scanning to try and understand what matters to people and what doesn’t. It has to be the case that people believe that that’s teachable. For me, it’s teachable simply by putting students in that setting over and over and over again – from weekly tutorials to presentations to open juries to end of year tables and honours presentations. I was stunned when I looked back at my notes and thought, there’s a hundred people here just watching four people talk – the project isn’t even on the wall anymore.

 

To summarise, I thought one of the most peculiar consistencies across the day was that it was three different rooms, all generous enough for the very big audiences that were there, which distinguishes it from the old days where we were packed in closets like the South Jury Room, but they were rooms full of people and discussion and not architectural work. In every case but a few, all we saw was what a projector or a screen chose to share with us. I think, as was pointed out in several of the sessions, that makes for a very different kind of architectural culture today than what we’ve known in the past. The negotiation of that reality is going to be an interesting project for the next few years. It’s a weird thing and I’m a little uncomfortable with it.

Intermediate Unit 5 presents in the Energy session
Image credit: Valerie Bennett

 

Watching a session in the Rear Presentation Space
Image Credit: Valerie Bennett

 

Peering into the Text Space session in the Soft Room
Image Credit: Valerie Bennett

 

For more information:

AA Events List – Term 2, Week 5