Lecture date: 1996-06-20
A symposium jointly organised by the AA and the Alvin Boyarsky Memorial Trust to coincide with the publication of The Idea of the City, in memory of AA Chairman Alvin Boyarsky. The publication evolved from a 1990 symposium on the city held at the AA in celebration of Alvin’s life. ‘Ideal Practice: Architecture in Education’ is structured around Alvin’s role in setting up an alternative model to the relationship between architectural education and architectural practice. Moderated by Robin Middleton, the symposium includes short presentations by Zaha Hadid, Dalibor Vesely, and Peter Wilson.
NICHOLAS BOYARSKY: Before being a book, the content had the status of an underground publication in Xerox form, as the economic support came unfortunately very late. Its theme is education, in which Alvin was certainly interested. Education allowed to take an architectural idea to the edge, to an extreme and then see where it could go. His contribution to that realm might be to have taken the risk of freeing a situation from ordinary controls: academic, administrative controls, for instance, and then allowing a culture to take place. I have decided to open this event with a quote of a conversation Alvin had with Rodrigo Pérez Gómez in 1983: it is entitled anti-curriculum: “I’ve always felt that curriculum is a horrific thing. It’s a rigid pattern, it’s done and other people have to carry it out, and like this they walk around in each other’s shoes, like dead men. This has a stuntifying effect on the teachers, and after a while, teaching becomes really automatic. It seems to me that the students respond with a low level of energy as a result. The opposite of this is a kind of anarchy, which I believe in wholeheartedly. The best definition of anarchy is that people are responsible for their own welfare and their own progress through society and life, with a minimum of hindrance. I’m an anarchist, in the following sense: you set up a situation which is well serviced and you provide a platform for teachers that teachers work on their own script, their own activities, propositions, and problems. Teachers quite often produce open-ended situations. This is the kind of anarchy which I think is healthy. It’s not a destructive anarchy. People don’t throw bombs at each other, but it is a sort of anarchy that individuals contribute to the sum of activity and the work of the school. Everybody is inventing all the time. It is often stated that the world of the AA changes every three or four years, and looks entirely different. I don’t see it that way, I see incremented change all the time, it is a cast of characters, it is a development of the individual teachers and of the individual students. From my point of view, it can be corrected by adding someone who believes in ‘this,’ or who does ‘that.’ Although it is volatile, self-correcting and has its own energy, it is also in a way, manipulable. I can manipulate it just a little bit by adding something from someone. I think that is the basis of the anti-curriculum.”
ROBIN MIDDLETON: I would like to start by talking about the teaching of history in architecture, which I understand can provide a basis for the understanding of the possibilities of architecture, which have changed remarkably in my lifetime, and particularly at the AA. When I was first trained as an architect, history was a very rudimentary affair, in a way. I went to a school of architecture which had been sustained on the ideals of Le Corbusier, thus its history course was focused entirely in ancient Greece and on the Italian Renaissance. Unfortunately, one would not have contact with any real architecture. This was mediated through Banister Fletcher, which meant reducing all architecture to some miserable diagrams appearing in one page containing plan, section, elevation and some details of the column. That does not take one very far. Locally, there were people like Rudolf Wittkower, who wrote a book called ‘Architecture Principles in the Age of Humanism’ or Colin Rowe, who changed the whole way of thinking about architecture itself and architecture in relation to architecture in the past. He offered a whole way of looking at a buildings as well. When I started operating in general studies at the AA, Alvin was not just encouraging risk (as Nicholas Boyarsky mentioned), he was in fact opening up all possible ranges of choice. Choice is a very important aspect of the whole teaching here, both in general studies and in the unit system. If one looks at the events list of the time, there was far too much happening: up to three lectures every night. But there was not very much of a common culture, there was a sudden diversity, too many new people in London at the same time and nobody knew where to place them. In