The Architectural Association (AA) was founded in London in 1847 following an article published in Builder magazine by Robert Kerr and Charles Gray, who called upon other students to take their training into their own hands. They were unhappy with the vocational training they were receiving through being articled in private practice, a flawed system that gave highly uneven results. The AA's beginnings were modest with members and invited guests being asked to present their work at regular meetings, as well as the organisation of design sessions based on mutual critique. In 1862 the system was formalised through a voluntary exam, which was to be the start of the model of learning and testing that has contributed towards the professionalisation of architectural teaching. At this time AA also began publishing an annual prospectus, Brown Book, and later a monthly journal, AA Notes. After having discussed the admittance of female students in 1893 and 1905, the AA finally admitted women in 1918.
The contemporary history of the AA is dominated by the figure of Alvin Boyarsky who led the school out of a period of crisis following its near merger with Imperial College. Boyarsky was chairman of the AA from 1971 until his death in 1990 and under him AA became the international and globally oriented institution it is known as today. Since losing its government grant, the school had to change its student demographic from being mostly British students, mostly grant-aided, to being over ninety percent international students by the end of Boyarsky's tenure.
Boyarsky's main contribution was the establishment of the unit system, an educational model that is now followed in architecture schools across the world. Instead of a standard curriculum, the AA allowed tutors to construct their own educational structures, with students free to choose the approach that most interested them. The AA thus heralded the move from modernist orthodoxy to a much more pluralist system. Boyarksy encouraged debate, and sometimes conflict, between the units, so that work was always subjected to a variety of opinions. The AA in the 1970s and 1980s also hosted key architectural lectures and debates, becoming an international hub for the development of architectural discourse. Many of the world's most famous architects, including Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid, emerged from the intense environment that the AA constructed.
Edward Bottoms, 'AA History', AA School of Architecture, http://www.aaschool.ac.uk/AALIFE/LIBRARY/aahistory.php [accessed 20 May 2010].
Andrew Higgott, 'Searching for the Subject: Alvin Boyarsky and the Architectural Association School', in Mediating Modernism: Architectural Cultures in Britain, (London: Routledge, 2006), pp. 153-188.
Grahame Shane, 'Alvin Boyarsky (1928-1990): obituary', Journal of architectural education, 45 (3)(1992): 189-190.
Irene Sunwoo, 'Pedagogy's Progress: Alvin Boyarsky's International Institute of Design', Grey Room, (34)(2009): 28-57.
"I don't think the problem of architectural education is to
teach people to be almost proto-professional operators because
that's for them to work out as they go out into life. The problem
is to actually produce witty people who've got lots of
conversations echoing in their ears when they leave, they've heard
a lot of conversations, they've seen a lot, they've met people who
are on their way up into the world."
- Alvin Boyarsky quoted in, Irene Sunwoo, 'Pedagogy's Progress: Alvin Boyarsky's International Institute of Design', Grey Room, (34)(2009): 53.
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