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The RCA School of Architecture is a unique site for experimentation and research in architecture, interior, city and environmental design. The opportunity to work alongside designers and fine artists in a concentrated, postgraduate-only environment forms a core part of the School鈥檚 ethos. Students in the School of Architecture benefit from a broad network of professional practitioners and are encouraged to take part in live projects in international contexts. The School鈥檚 faculty represent important spaces of practice and research in contemporary architecture. We support students with bursaries and prizes related to their activities as well as sponsored internships, work placements, research projects, and exhibitions.

Contact:
Tracey Moore
School General Manager
Royal College of Art
School of Architecture
T: +44 (0) 2075 904 206
E: soa-admins@rca.ac.uk

School of Architecture
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MA Architecture
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MA City Design
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MA Environmental Architecture
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MA Interior Design
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MRes Architecture Pathway
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MPhil / PhD Architecture
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Design聽by Studio Ard
Developed by Nono Mart铆nez Alonso

Experiment

And the plan is to invent the means in a common experiment launched from any kitchen, any back porch, any basement, any hall, any park bench, any improvised party, every night. This ongoing experiment with the informal, carried out by and on the means of social reproduction, as the to come of the forms of life, is what we mean by planning; planning in the undercommons is not an activity, not fishing or dancing or teaching or loving, but the ceaseless experiment with the futurial presence of the forms of life that make such activities possible.1

An experiment carried out by ourselves and others on both ourselves and others. The work of Stefano Harney and Fred Moten points toward a horizon and a scenography. Or, better yet, scenes filled with horizons 鈥 any basement, any hall, any improvised party. Planning in the undercommons is fugitive, prolonged, ongoing and everywhere. Every night. Architecture, in all its manifestations, is a study in these horizon-filled spaces. One that touches life through the spaces and environments life both depends on and within which it can flourish.

Our school is an ongoing, collective experiment made up of students, parents, support staff, cleaners, administrators, teachers, friends, researchers, colleagues and collaborators. This experiment exists along multiple timescales, in different forums and across a wide range of formats. That鈥檚 already a lot. It鈥檚 mainly polyphony, sometimes cacophony. We might make a building, write a novel, or shoot a film. Our commitment and engagement with the issues that provoke us is shared, even if that pursuit leads in radically different directions.

The following is less an exhaustive reflection of our activity, than something like a mixtape 鈥 a compilation of polyphonous cuts that seem relevant and important to the way we think about design and architectural education right now:


  1. Stefano Harney & Fred Moten, "The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study" (2013) 

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Environmental Architecture

Unlike conventional fossil fuels like oil, coal and gas, the renewable energy sources of solar, wind and geothermal power need a storage medium. Electric vehicles, laptops, cell-phones and many other technologies that facilitate our contemporary existence depend on high-performance lithium-ion batteries for storing energy. 70% of the world鈥檚 exploitable reserves of lithium are located in the 鈥渓ithium triangle鈥 that comprises the salt flats of Uyuni, Bolivia; Atacama, Chile, and Hombre Muerto, Argentina. The companies that extract lithium in these salt-flats have built hundreds of evaporation ponds and recovery plants, laid kilometers of access roads and highways and developed myriad infrastructure. In doing so, they have continued the history of extraction in the Atacama that started with the colonial quest for gold, which was then superseded by the extraction of nitrates and later gave way to the extraction of copper. Students in the MA Environmental Architecture are examining the effects of the lithium extraction process, not simply as a system of watercourses, aquifers, soil, flora and fauna, but rather as complex social material ecologies in which these desert oases are acknowledged as playing an essential role for indigenous peoples.

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City Design

Every week, 350,000 foreign domestic workers occupy Hong Kong鈥檚 elevated walkways. Hailing from the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, these domestic workers occupy large sections of the city in a powerful, exuberant display of agency. These women spend six days a week living in other people鈥檚 homes, sleeping on kitchen floors while working in precarious and unregulated conditions in order to support family members back home. City Design students have been participating in workshops held in Hong Kong, which examine the evolution of mixed-use buildings in conditions of extreme density. This research investigates the iterative relationship between financial/legal protocols, building forms and the organisation of domestic space, such as the unique composite building types that have emerged around those transport nodes linking Hong Kong to Central Europe, or the contemporary 鈥榤ega plinths鈥 which will integrate Hong Kong into the One Belt One Road silk route mega-project.

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Work

The abandoned and inaccessible district of Varosha in Famagusta, Cyprus is the exhibit for a museum-at-a-distance. The site for the museum is in the adjoining town of Deryneia. Due to ongoing political disputes between Cyprus and Turkey, it is impossible to physically enter Varosha. All access is remote. Pippa Oakes in the MA Interior Design explores alternative ways for its expelled residents to return via telescopic viewing systems. Joy Matashi, also in the MA Interior Design, is working on a project that seeks to reclaim craft processes in Nigeria. At present, international companies own the means of producing regional textiles and sell those products back to the producers and their community with an added premium. Joy鈥檚 work examines the collaboration between loom weavers and braiders in the Wuse Market, which allows them to adopt hybrid processes that disrupt the copycat culture of luxury commercialism currently undermining regional traditions of craft, experimentation, ownership and identity.

While it remains a body of water and continues to be worshipped as a deity 鈥 the Ganges River now has the legal status of a human. Drawing on contemporary discussions of 鈥楻ights of Nature鈥, Saijel Taank in ADS7: Ecologies of Existence is following the ramifications of a 2017 State High Court ruling in India that declared the river Ganges and Yamuna Tributary as 鈥榣egal and living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities鈥. Manifesting the disconnect between social life and the design of spaces and environments, the Ganges is simultaneously divine, contaminated, gregarious and infrastructural. Another MA Architecture student, Jade Blanchard-McKinley from ADS8: Domestic Institutions, is studying the organisationally complex and hugely profitable criminal sex-trafficking industry that has been operating between Palermo and Nigeria for more than two decades. Working alongside activists in the Ballaro neighbourhood, where everyday shop-fronts conceal sex workers, Jade鈥檚 project evidences the way architecture 鈥 houses, shops, rooms and roadsides 鈥 can become tools of incarceration, isolation and violent exploitation.

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Domestication

Twenty years ago the Guggenheim Bilbao opened its doors to the world and led an urban revolution in the 鈥榗reative city鈥. Twenty years on, research shows that culture-led regeneration increases urban inequality. In cities like London, financialised land and housing markets contribute to culture鈥檚 expulsion from the city. 35% of grassroots music venues have closed since 2007, 58% of LGBTQI venues since 2006, and a projected 30% of artist studios by 2019. MRes Architecture students are asking what comes after the creative city? Their study looks to two sites in the North London Borough of Haringey. The Wards Corner Regeneration plan to close a Latin American market sparked a UN Human Rights investigation that warned this closure 鈥榬epresented a threat to cultural life鈥. Less than 500m away, Tottenham is the pilot for 鈥楥reative Enterprise Zones鈥 that is intended to lure and retain creative industries in London. The students are asking what counts as culture in a site that both erases and props it up?

Shelter reduces life to biology, to survival. When it comes to architecture鈥檚 role in the refugee crisis, managing the 鈥榰ndesirables鈥 鈥 as Michel Agier describes it 鈥 would be more accurate. Or, domesticating the ungovernable, as Ghassan Hage might say. Drawing on both of these writers, PhD student Kamil Dalkir examines the processes by which various identities 鈥 including the internally displaced, refugee, illegal immigrant, detainee, asylum applicant, deportee 鈥 are ascribed to persons in flight from their countries of origin. Working at the intersection of architecture and law, Kamil鈥檚 project focuses on the Syrian population that has been displaced both within Syria and across Europe since the civil war began in 2011.

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Research

Research in the School of Architecture is organised around distinct collective projects. The first two 鈥楢rchitecture and Social Movements鈥 and 鈥楾he Intergenerational City鈥 were launched in 2017, with further projects to follow in the coming years. These research projects have the following purposes:

  1. To shape spaces of common interest
  2. To create long-term support structures for research
  3. To meaningfully link teaching and research activity
  4. To provide channels for the maturation of ideas
  5. To offer opportunities for the maturation of students and staff
  6. To multiply formats and sites of investigation
  7. To approach research systematically through multi-year projects
  8. To build platforms for long-term partnerships with collaborators
  9. To maximise the relevance and impact of research activity

RCA Senior Tutor Godofredo Pereira and the psychologist Susana Calo are collaborating within the Architecture and Social Movements project to examine the history of institutional analysis by studying post-war experiments in psychiatric care. The object of this study 鈥 the Centre d鈥櫭塼udes de Recherche et de Formation Institutionnelle (or CERFI) 鈥 was a collaborative composed of psychiatrists, architects, urbanists and artists who saw care institutions as 鈥榠ll and in need of help鈥. They seized on an opportunity to expand mental health care beyond its traditional sites to include other forms of collective equipment, such as educational facilities, social clubs and nurseries, factories and offices. By moving the site of care from the hospital to the city they sought to de-privatise and re-socialise the problem of mental health.

On 17 and 18 November, 2017, we hosted the first Existential Territories research symposium on 鈥楢rchitecture and Subjectivity鈥. The series will continue for three years with one event per term, with the mandate is to explore propositional forms of existence through architecture.

The abstract for ET1 made the following claim:

Every architectural proposition embodies a form of sociality. Architecture is nothing if not a set of proposals for organising human attention, habit and ritual. Far from being a mere response to pragmatic needs, architecture is 鈥 and perhaps has always been 鈥 a tool for the construction of subjectivity. An architectural project implies a model of the human character, a specific distribution of the innate and the cultivated, the desirable and undesirable, the normal and the pathological. At the same time, the relationship between subjectification and architecture is neither straightforward nor mechanical. The future鈥檚 infrastructure is a site of political conflict between financial, legal and semiotic forces.

The event brought together Michel Feher (Zone Books), Felicity D Scott (GSAPP), Pier Vittorio Aureli (AA), Mark Wasiuta (GSAPP), Susana Cal贸 (NUC), Ross Exo Adams (Iowa State), Samaneh Moafi (AA), Hamed Khosravi (TU Delft), Anna Puigjaner (RCA), Platon Issaias (RCA), Maria Sheherazade Giudici (RCA/AA), Marina Otero Verzier (RCA), Tarsha Finney (RCA), Godofredo Pereira (RCA), and Adrian Lahoud (RCA). The symposium presentations can be viewed here.

Our second Existential Territories event, 鈥楢rchitecture and Anthropology鈥, will explore the intersection of both fields through recent work on technical/financial and human/non-human semiotics. Can we understand the effects environments produce outside of phenomenological models of experience or linguistic models of communication? What new concepts and theoretical frameworks are necessary to understand our immersion in complex systems of signs?

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Commitments

What scenes should we align ourselves with? What horizons should we orient ourselves toward? Our partnership with the Municipality of Barcelona, launched in 2017, is borne out of a mutual curiosity to see what is possible when an emancipatory social movement is elected to municipal government and then embarks on a programme of social experimentation and innovation. What happens if we align our work as architects, teachers and researchers with this space of political experimentation? An experimentation that brings the institution into contact with its outside 鈥 with what is beyond, or before, or below it. While this particular experiment is located in Barcelona, ultimately it does not matter where those alliances are formed. But rather that those alliances are formed. It is just as likely to be a kebab shop in Blackpool, or a community centre in Haringey.

In April the MA City Design: Intergenerational Cities and ADS7: Ecologies of Existence partnered with StART Harringay, the Architecture Foundation and Walmer Yard to host a two day workshop examining alternate models of housing, focusing on cooperatives, community land trusts and other forms of shared ownership. Working across housing activism, architecture, economics, finance and law, the aim of the event was to explore affordable, community led procurement, management and ownership models for the UK. To make a home more than 鈥榡ust a place where people live鈥. Can community groups actively build communities as well as housing? What role can the design process play in enabling a complex and productive negotiation of difference?

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Study

When I think about the way we use the term 鈥榮tudy,鈥 I think we are committed to the idea that study is what you do with other people. It鈥檚 talking and walking around with other people, working, dancing, suffering, some irreducible convergence of all three, held under the name of speculative practice. The notion of a rehearsal 鈥 being in a kind of workshop, playing in a band, in a jam session, or old men sitting on a porch, or people working together in a factory 鈥 there are these various modes of activity. The point of calling it 鈥榮tudy鈥 is to mark that the incessant and irreversible intellectuality of these activities is already present.1

In another refrain Harney and Moten challenge us to return to the dialectics that organise work 鈥 design/research, intellectual/non-intellectual, practical/theoretical, form/content. While distinctions are important, we refuse to carve things up in the same way. Theory is inherently practical. Not only because it is always inclined toward agency and purpose, but also because any study depends on basic practicalities 鈥 time, support, space, and infrastructure. Similarly practice is always latently theoretical, building its own concepts and speculations according to its own terms, even if they remain implicit. Conceptual thinking doesn鈥檛 belong to the academy. It happens everywhere, always. Reading groups, studio, the Art Bar . . . any kitchen, any back porch, any basement, any hall, any park bench, any improvised party, every night.


  1. Stefano Harney & Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, 2013. 

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