SASKIA LEWISOpinion

The Expansion of Foundation

This year the AA Foundation has doubled in size from 24 to 48 students following an unprecedented 80% uptake of offers that we made last year. This growth has been tremendously exciting — for both students and faculty alike.

 

AA Foundation students documenting Rome
Image Credit: Takako Hasegawa

 

I liken the way students develop their own passions, interests and work throughout the year in Foundation to a petri-dish experiment, in which the varied ingredients and influences are combined and mixed together in different formulations. We aim to deconstruct preconceptions and invite everyone to engage both intuitively and intellectually, honoring the casual glance as much as the academic polemic. We look to produce our work fearlessly and delight in proposing the material as abstract and the tangible as hypothetical. We take risks, make mistakes, upend assumptions and use visual and verbal tools to contemplate and negotiate terminologies and boundaries. We attempt to seek out unchartered territories and the unknown pleasures they offer. The result is an individual portfolio that reflects the benefits of this experimentation, with each student leaving Foundation with a bespoke mixture of skills and creative work.

 

Foundation students sketching
Image Credit: Takako Hasegawa

 

While some students start Foundation with a clear academic ambition but few skills, others arrive having studied architecture elsewhere but with an arrested sense of creativity. Others use the year to decide whether architecture is for them or if they are best suited to a different creative field. In the past Foundation students have gone on to study fine art, filmmaking, animation, engineering, planning, archaeology and chemistry. The majority of students take the opportunity — if offered — to continue on at the AA into first year and beyond. We embrace this diversity of ambitions and skills and are delighted to have attracted so many students who are creative, open, receptive and enthusiastic to our processes of experimentation.

The academic arrangement of the year sees a series of skills-based workshops strategically embedded in a series of briefs that the student pursues with reference to their own interests. These skills are immediately required in order to develop ideas and proposals for the brief so the students practice the skills delivered immediately and quite naturally use them to suit their own purposes. Our increased number of students means we have refined our academic structure, by running tutor groups and juries in parallel with one-another and running repeat days of skills workshops. We try to hold our juries in the Rear Presentation Space every few weeks so that we can all take a broad look at the work developing within the studio as a whole on a regular basis.

 

AA Foundation Drawing on the Beach
Image Credit: Takako Hasegawa

 

 

This year the cohort is divided into four tutorial groups of 12 students, with each group working with different pairings of tutors for each project and students working across groups for collective projects. In this way students benefit from the varied interactions and avoid a tendency to attach to one voice of authority. These tutor groups will dissolve at the end of Term 1 and be reshuffled for Term 2 to give students a chance to benefit from the diverse dynamic of such a large group.

 

The Foundation faculty shares our students’ passion for different aspects of the subjects we discuss — we all teach what we love. Our core team of Takako, Taneli, Umberto and myself are joined by a series of frequent visitors: Alison, Andre, Flora, Leith and Pascale, together with a number of other experts who come and go according to the focused subject at any time. We are also fortunate to continue our longstanding work with Sue Barr and Joel Newman who teach within projects and workshops and introduce the group to the worlds of the Photography Studio and AV department within the school.

The teaching team is absolutely essential and is the core of why the growth of Foundation has been a very happy and successful one so far. We have had exceptional support from Brett who has always been very enthusiastic about the course and resolutely committed to maintaining the tutor to student ratios in order to support the intimate intensity of conversation that we use as our key. This combined with enthusiastic commitment from our tutors who set aside time while we established the new numbers that would be joining us this year and kept their working week flexible enough to accommodate the new academic rhythms of this much more populated year. We greatly benefit too from the continued support of Monia in First Year who greatly enjoys working with the students who progress from Foundation.

 

Photographing Rome in the rain
Image Credit: Takako Hasegawa

 

This year’s cohort has been incredibly open to the expansion. While one would assume a larger group would denude the intimacy of the studio, this hasn’t been the case. There appears to be a freedom in numbers that leaves students to be fiercely true to their own character. This freedom also provides an antidote to any creative inhibitions, with the students finding it easier to take risks with their work and participate communally in critique. Students are more immediately open to discussing each other’s work, commenting, giving their opinion and assuming responsibility for both their own work and others.

 

AA Foundation Group Photo
Image Credit: Takako Hasegawa

 

With such large numbers we were curious how our field trip to Rome would work. We found, however, that we were able to explore and investigate the city at a scale and intensity that had never been possible previously, allowing us to chart Rome at great speed (while having time to meet Charlotte Rampling in a restaurant). Some students responded enthusiastically to getting up at 5.30 am to repeatedly revisit their sites before our daily itinerary began. Our larger numbers allowed us to introduce students to a depth of fragments of the city that cross-referenced history, politics and art movements against the wealth of daily observational research they brought back to the studio in Bedford Square. We conducted a whispering test in the Pantheon gallery, using Mallarmé’s words, steeped ourselves in the baroque by listening to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor while visiting Santa Maria della Vittoria, gathered the colour palette of Rome and made experimental drawings on the beach in Ostia. We are at a fantastic point in our genesis.

 

For more information:

Foundation Brief

Foundation microsite