THE RIGHT TO THINK Review

by Moad Musbahi, AA First Year
11 December 2014 Architectural Association, London   Early Monday morning, the first day of Open Week, we entered the Lecture Hall to be greeted by a central arrangement of tables. Elia Zenghelis, visionary architect and educator, sat with his back to the windows peering down at the small Macbook placed in front of him. The Open Workshop on The Public Interior was open to 48 participants of which only 24 turned up. Being about to embark on an eight day workshop, he, in contrast to us, was seemingly unperturbed.   [caption id="attachment_3851" align="alignnone" width="360"]The Baths of Caracalla by Bill Sergison (H&U), Eles Anadon Vargas (H&U), Kathy Nekourouymotlagh (1st Yr)  and Meruert Zhakesheva (H&U) The Baths of Caracalla by Bill Sergison (H&U), Eles Anadon Vargas (H&U), Kathy Nekourouymotlagh (1st Yr) and Meruert Zhakesheva (H&U)[/caption] He began with the Acropolis by showing its formation, and then just as quickly he began to introduce Schinkel’s project for the Palace of King Otto that was envisioned for the top of it. This immediately set the tone for the workshop, a project which subverts hierarchy and what is impossible against popular notions of sterile cultural preservation. Moving on through the paradigms, they ranged from the Baths of Caracalla to Leonidov’s The New Social Club (the only unrealised paradigm, a point reiterated at every mention of the project). And this wouldn't be Zenghelis if he didn't introduce a project from Manhattan. In the presentation of Rockefeller Center, the interesting connection between a hotel lobby and a stage was highlighted as a possible ‘Public Condenser’. Yet most of this presentation, the longest of the twelve was devoted to videos of the Rockette Precision Dance Group. Loading two YouTube videos showing the exact moments of synchronicity, he points at the screen, ’here, here, this is Architecture’.   [caption id="attachment_3852" align="alignnone" width="360"]Cortile del Belvedere by Lili Carr (4th Yr. Dip.14) and Jesper Victor Henriksson (5th Yr. Dip.14) Cortile del Belvedere by Lili Carr (4th Yr. Dip.14) and Jesper Victor Henriksson (5th Yr. Dip.14)[/caption]
Ranging from Projective Cities to visiting students, as well as cutting a cross-section through the Undergraduate School from diploma to first year, eight of the 12 paradigms were chosen, of which only one group had the full contingency of four. Working within a group that spanned a variety of students from different years and programmes within the school produced a wide variety of approaches, coupled with an equal variety of understandings. The first presentation on that Thursday proved to be intensely eclectic and provided fresh perspectives on the history of the project and equally of the workshop brief. Curiously, I came across this letter recently that Elia wrote, published in a student paper, in 1975. Titled “A Revolutionary Suggestion”, it goes as follows, “[addressing the editor Martin Pawley] And please do not indulge in the pleasures of acting like your myriad fans, those victims of automatism who abandoned their right to think in order to recite better.” Looking back, taking the brief as ‘a point of departure’ was a wary note not to be that ‘victim of automatism’ even in the historical analysis. It was really just this ‘right to think’ that Elia had asked us for.   [caption id="attachment_3854" align="alignnone" width="360"]El Escorial by Eleonore Audi (4th Yr. Dip.6) and Konstantilenia Koulouri (4th Yr. Dip.4) El Escorial by Eleonore Audi (4th Yr. Dip.6) and Konstantilenia Koulouri (4th Yr. Dip.4)[/caption] Over the weekend the workshop began to take root in 32 First Floor Back, our studio for the week-long programme, with prominent remnants of the Thursday presentation still on the wall as a trace and a token of what was to come. The final rush for Monday quickly crept up on us.
The yellow of the El Escorial ‘proposal’, placed in a central position against the main wall captured the mood, a striking gesture, placed alongside the equally striking, but subtle curved cornice of the Cortile del Belvedere image. Other projects were more out-of-view. The inversion of depth and of flatness in the colonnades and glass facades of the Palais Royal image-manifesto was a picture that juror Tom Emerson from 6a Architects kept returning to and quizzing. Some were more overt in relation to their context, the final image of the wall in construction subverting the complete wall of the Bank of England. The final jury was fast and fleeting. Over the course of an afternoon, we moved from the small scale of individual people swimming in the Baths of Caracalla image to Tom Emerson bartering with Adolfo and Minh-Duc about their triptych - when asked which of the three they would keep, since the brief was to create a single image, the triptych generated much debate as Tom suggested keeping the upper image while Brett suggested the opposite.   [caption id="attachment_3853" align="alignnone" width="360"]Palais Royal by Raluca Beznea (3rd Yr. Inter.4) and Yana Petrova (Projective Cities MPhil) Palais Royal by Raluca Beznea (3rd Yr. Inter.4) and Yana Petrova (Projective Cities MPhil)[/caption] The atmosphere in the room at the end, of the amount that still could be said was palpable, and it attested to the interrogative and daring spirit that the workshop began with. It was a week that really focused on that ‘right to think,’ even with respect to such authoritative works of history that resist radical transformation.   For more information: Elia Zenghelis' On the Road of the Condenser lecture   List of participants and paradigms: The Baths of Caracalla by Bill Sergison (H&U), Eles Anadon Vargas (H&U), Kathy Nekourouymotlagh (1st Yr)  and Meruert Zhakesheva (H&U) Diocletian’s Palace by Runze Zhang (Projective Cities MPhil) and Valerio Massaro (Projective Cities) Cortile del Belvedere by Lili Carr (4th Yr. Dip.14) and Jesper Victor Henriksson (5th Yr. Dip.14) El Escorial by Eleonore Audi (4th Yr. Dip.6) and Konstantilenia Koulouri (4th Yr. Dip.4) Palais Royal by Raluca Beznea (3rd Yr. Inter.4) and Yana Petrova (Projective Cities MPhil) The Bank of England by Luis Ortega (5th Yr. Dip.14), Moad Musbahi (1st Yr.) and Sasha Savtchenko-Belskaia (3rd Yr.) GUM Deparment Store by Jaoh Utaisup (H&U) and Livia Klemencsics (H&U) Rockefeller Center by Xiao Von Chua (5th Yr. Dip.16) and Qian Zhang (H&U) National Congress of Brazil by Roberto Boettger Adaulo (4th Yr. Dip.11), Thuy Le (Fall Semester Visiting -Penn) and Xuecheng Wang (1st Yr.) Club of the New Social Type by Adolfo Del Valle (2nd Yr.) and Minh-Duc Le (4th Yr.)