An interview with the tutors of the new Intermediate Unit 12: Taneli Mansikkamaki & Max Turnheim
8 March 2018 Architectural Association, London   AA Conversations spoke to the new unit Intermediate 12 tutors Taneli Mansikkamaki and Max Turnheim about their year so far working on the brief, 'Isolated but Connected' and their future intentions for the unit.   Q: Choose one word to describe your unit so far.   TM: Hmm, I almost prefer not to. Real? But I have to also add that I feel slightly reserved to answer this question as this one-word-architecture is in a nutshell the kind of stuff that I am trying to avoid in the unit. MT: Difficult. On the one hand, the conjunction of extremely rapid technological advancements and the relative slowness of architecture’s possible reaction makes for an extremely difficult subject. On the other hand, one must not forget Le Corbusier’s famous caption next to the second of the ‘Four Typologies’. It describes the bare parallelogram and is marked as a “very difficult (satisfaction of the mind)”.   Q: What one piece of advice would you give to students inside and outside of your unit?   TM: Close your eyes for a moment. Listen to the city you are surrounded by for a full minute and then try to make a decision according to what you hear; not only according to what you see. Everyone is so dependent on the visual culture, it is the medium that gets the most attention but also gets most easily recycled and copied. Whether you like it or not, you are working in an institution which can have a huge impact to the surrounding world through an informal influence so you should only make projects that you truly believe in. MT: Examine how social structures are tied to the partition of space. Get excited by the possibility of modifying this partition.   Q: As a new unit, what attitude would you like to represent by the end of the year?    TM: I support an education that focuses on the everyday materials and architecture and how we can make things better by consuming less. I get excited by all simple discoveries and strategies that might have a tangible and positive impact to our environment regardless of how small they are.      
MT: We are in the middle of at least a double crisis. On the social front, inequalities have grown consistently over the past 40 years. On the ecological front, time has almost run out. Parallel to this crisis is an extreme acceleration of technology. How does architecture, as an extremely slow craft, fit in there, without archaic nostalgia nor childish metaphorical rococo?   Q: How has your role as a tutor influenced your own work?   TM: I was just opening my practice AGO when I got to know about the opportunity to teach here in the Intermediate school. To start up a practice and a unit at the same time meant that they quite naturally become inseparable. Similarly to the unit; I’m working with these tiny models at the moment. They are metal maquettes of buildings and geometric abstractions describing spatial sequences. Their scale kind of fits perfectly to the precariousness that London offers, as they can be easily carried with. MT: The immediate and very practical consequence of teaching at the AA while having my practice in Paris is a constant uprooting. The first-hand experience of international commuting has had an influence on my work as it constitutes as much an idealised condition (the cosmopolitan), as much as it is a very real and exhausting one. Belonging to two cities (or none - or one big one) doubtlessly takes a central place in architecture’s concern.
Q: How has your unit responded to the ‘modern metropolis’ in the first term?   TM: Yes, this was I think super interesting. So, we asked our students to record and evaluate the city we live in by picking things, attributes and instances which represent the best or most enjoyable experiences of it. There was never really a real commitment to make this into a forced narrative or to formulate projects with them but just to try to identify some real positive things from the city which would resonate with us for the rest of the year. I was anticipating that the unit would choose something between crypto-raves and molecular bars but the results were much more ordinary than extra-ordinary. MT: The modern metropolis is in a sense an unavoidable question. Continuously constructed since the 18th century, it is the direct consequence of capitalism and has since expanded into a continuous territory, itself layered and tied together by the already familiar data mesh. The question we ask our students this year is: “is it thinkable to escape this condition at all?”   For more information: Taneli Mansikkamäki is AGO Max Turnheim is UHO