Academicism Lives On – Alvin Boyarsky, Caroline Tisdall, Peter Cook, Kenneth Frampton, Leon Krier

Lecture date: 1976-11-29

Alvin Boyarsky on the International Institute of Design, the ‘academy’, architectural education, and his own programme for the AA that puts him outside of the academic fold. Caroline Tisdall on power structures, the resignation of the 1970s, and an educational model communicable to a wider community concerned with issues not disciplines. Peter Cook on containers. Q & A chaired by Cook, featuring Boyarsky, Tisdall and Kenneth Frampton answering lengthy responses from the audience.NB: Begins in mid-discussion. Missing section of Q & A following Leon Krier’s response.


ALVIN BOYARSKY: I have a certain disgust for the contemporary academic situation. The existing institutions, while acting as repositories for fantastic resources–people, equipment, money, and experience–they also have various harms, such as the isolation of the institution and of the people within. Besides, the difficulty of making any expense that has not been previously budgeted, makes impossible, or too costly, to propose something for the day after; something you might have thought of the day before. This kind of angst came during my period in Chicago, just after 1968, when I received a travel  grant. At that moment, it seemed clear that the academic institutions in society were about to transform; somewhat they did–what is unclear to me is to what effect. At that moment, around 1969-1970 architecture schools in France, for instance, revealed that the Beaux-Arts system had disintegrated, and they were all starting newly without any tradition. In Italy the situation was even worse, were Universities had been opened up for everybody who wanted to come; for instance, now (1976), the school of architecture in Rome has around 20.000 students, Florence 7000 or 8000, Turin has over 2000 students, and architecture diplomas have become liberal-arts degrees. Some schools in Germany or Switzerland, while being highly organized and well founded, have the same malaise that it is noticeable in the United States; that people turn up in academic quarrels and become isolated from each other, waiting for the outside world–whatever that might be. In Vienna, a lot of activity, noise, and ideas were being provocated, similarly in Japan. In retrospect, what I tried at that moment was to set up an institution, the International Institute of Design, which would offer a platform for people to talk, to come into a sort of a marketplace for ideas, and for a brief period of time (six weeks). Possibly, through the contacts they make, and through the information it would be there available, and the problems they would be introduced to; those coming would probably have enough material for some time to work on, and operate with outside their own practice or academic institution. What was also required was a mixing of problems; of very local problems, with those typical for many countries of the world at any one time. For instance, the issue of the redundancy along waterfronts and international harbours of the cities, which is a conversation which is equally truth for Rotterdam, as it was for New York or Chicago, Liverpool or London, would be able to develop some comparatives and conversations. Or problems regarding developing countries. This was essentially anti-institutional, anti-academic, it was an attempt to find a possible substitute for everyone’s education. All those people, like West-coast Americans that were trying to drop out and develop an alternative society; or those in the arts avant garde movements, might be given a platform to raise this issues and might be given the opportunity to meet each other. This institution would be self-financed, costing practically nothing, which could seem some kind of dream, but it actually worked; it is how utopian socialist European institutions are organized. In the anglo-saxon countries, Britain or the United States, it was possible to get funds for architects to finance not the institution, but the modest fee of the former, so people could come. It was also possible to use, shamelessly, the resources of the city, which I did in London: the ACA, the Bartlett, the AA would provide their facilities, libraries, rooms, typewriters. It was actually possible to move in, for six weeks, several hundred people and use unused situations in the city: all that became the modus operandi. It was also possible to get funds to do research projects.

Above all, it was not a novel idea, but the novelty was that it worked fabulously well, and when I was invited in 1971 to pick up the chairmanship at the AA, I had to make a very difficult decision. The institution at that moment was supported by 30 countries, with almost 90 sponsors, built up with tradition and style, and it was getting ready to become something more




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