Despite having been a Bartlett boy, and with fond memories of its workshop courtyard turned into a great moshpit for the summer show, I’ve always had an enduring preference for the AA one. It was always about the terrace- my favourite spot, overlooking the strawberry fountain in the basement; listening, from blurred recollection, to some Mariachi band on the library terrace
I’d gone there once with a football fanatic friend of mine in 1998, fresh from my having procured for him two tickets to the World Cup final in Paris. He was in such a frenzy of excitement, he’d actually broken out in hives, and when he disappeared off the terrace I presumed he’d gone to off to apply emollient. He came back half an hour later with a half empty bottle of champagne effusing about talking the beautiful game and drinking with ‘that fat man on the roof there, smoking a cigar, sitting between those two babes’. Good old Cedric Price - he was always so cross-disciplinary.
So what are we to expect from this year’s AA show? Well, the press images are through and I’m glad to say that, unlike the Bartlett, we are very light this year on social commentary- no robotic metaphors I should be aware of, or estuarial sewage refineries powered by photosynthesising plankton. Hell, we’ve even got some structures to talk about, despite Patrik Schumacher not encouraging that kind of thing (see the DRL’s Vertical Ground project). Nozomi Nakabayashi, for instance, standing in her Hooke Park Big Shed, contemplating her lack of drainage detailing; and EMTECH display their rather more ornamental CNC take on a WWII Anderson shelter.
Back in the land of cloud-cuckoo, we have Diploma 1 student Wesley Perrott’s ‘Arcadian Nightclub’- a cyber-utopian world of perpetual play’, looking like an explosion in a Yayoi Kusama factory. Despite its early gaming graphics, there’s much to be pondered in Diploma 6 William Gowland’s ‘Here be Dragons’- an architectural meditation on GPS and its creation of a ‘virtual’ world parallel with the physical one. A bit of a one-liner, but I liked the thought of his ‘imaginary protest icebergs drifting through autonomously navigated shipping lanes’. And then there’s a few throw-back, ‘curve ball’ projects. There’s a satisfying underwhelming quality to Diploma 14’s Doyeon Cho’s Oxford Street student housing, recalling Marilyn Vriesendorp’s conjugal Manhattan Towers in ‘Delirious New York’; but here it’s ‘No Sex, we’re British’, the towers have gone, and London outside looks like the kind of bang that was in fact, a whimper.
And Rem still proves he’s too Kool for School, being referenced heavily in Dip 3’s Fung Tsui’s inhabited wall linking Troy’s Acropolis with its surroundings- call it the ’ The Voluntary Prisoners of Gladiator’, and Intermediate 13 Richard Leung’s ‘City Think Tank- a heterotopia challenging the existing values of the City of London’. This last one I hope we’ll see built, with a working title like ‘The Involuntary Prisoners of Speculation.’ It could even be the new Goldman Sachs HQ.
It’s easy to draw simplistic conclusions from the odd image, and here it seems to be all about big gestures. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m hoping that by the time I see it on the wall, these projects are worked into to the point where we see them becoming propositional forms through the extension of a thought process, rather then just representations for their own sake. Price once said ‘Architecture is too slow in its realisation to be a problem solver.’ But he was a fast liver- I’d say better slow, than not at all…