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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.

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

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Against Architecture

In his book Against Architecture: The Writings of George Bataille, Denis Hollier discusses the very first entry to the journal Documents published 91 years ago in May 1929 and dedicated to architecture. He quotes the following text, which reads:

It is, in fact, obvious that monuments inspire social prudence and often reveal real fear. The taking of the Bastille is symbolic of this state of things: it is hard to explain this crowd movement other than by the animosity of the people against the monuments that are their real masters.

Bataille says something astonishing here. He inverts the conventional order. These monuments are not symbolic or historical in quotation marks.

Monuments are our rulers.

I thought about this as Edward Colston was rolled into Bristol Harbour like a tin can and I thought about the Albert Memorial too, that pompous Gothic style Victorian homage to empire by George Gilbert Scott with a too heavily gilded Albert presiding over hideously cliched ethnographic representations of the continents at each corner. It's a profoundly racist monument to British and European superiority. And I have to walk past it everyday on my way to work.

Whether or not you think there is something inherently despotic in that kind of figurative sculpture, Bataille's question is deeply resonant. For Bataille, the Law Court, the Magistrates Office, the Parliament, the Church 鈥 and by implication architecture as such 鈥 exercise power over people in the same kinds of ways. Architecture is a monument.

I first read Documents and Hollier's book about it around twenty-three years ago during a third year architecture studio. At the time, the reaction it elicited in me, was a kind of destructive fervour toward the profession and so the irony of writing this short text from the position of leading a school of architecture is not lost on me. But it does make me reflect on how different this particular school of architecture has become in the five years that I have been here.

That sense of difference has become acutely powerful in the last few months as the profession, the discipline and all of its institutions are confronted with their own racism. Building an actively anti-racist institution should be the primary goal of any school. It's a struggle that will have to be waged across multiple fronts at once. It will be awkward, uncomfortable, embarrassing and violent in the special way that institutions of higher education can be. We have started that process in our own way, with a clear sense of how far we have to go and how long it will take.

For George Bataille, architecture was always oppressive, the only option available to it was whether it would convert that violence into a public spectacle of destruction, or repress it through a veil of social order.

But other kinds of architecture are available to us, architectures of empowerment, of repair, of maintenance and care and we are doing everything that can be done to pursue them. The field is changing at last, the events of recent months have only accelerated a process that started years ago. The jolt delivered to us architects by 2020 has been a long time coming. Long may it reverberate.

鈥 Adrian Lahoud, Dean of the RCA School of Architecture

[END]

Show

What is a graduation show in the Age of COVID-19? How can the ideas, politics, techniques, designs, and ambitions of the graduating students be presented, represented, collected, storied, mashed-up, reconsidered, regurgitated, and consumed again? What terms, keywords, and windows open onto others? RCA2020 is an attempt, if not to answer those questions, then to give new parameters to what it is to exhibit, discuss, and join together in this moment of disconnection. RCA2020 is a platform that collates the Events, Collections, Stories, and projects of the graduating students from the MA Architecture, MA Interior Design, and Postgraduate Research programmes. Playing the Cheshire Cat to our Alice, the digital artist Farzin Lofti-Jam has produced 6 Curated, Computed Collections 鈥 a journey into the rabbit-holes generated from a machine-readable dataset of these student projects. This project toys with the idea of curated collections by using the database as a discursive form. Guided by six invited critics, 6 Curated, Computed Collections produces a series of infinitely regenerable views on the work. Looking From a Distance, Models, Fifteen Critical Texts, Colour, Coming Soon, Humans/People.

For further reading, see the new online repositories of graduating work: Folios from MA Architecture, and MA Interior Design.

[END]

Curating as research

As Paul B. Preciado has noted, as we break out of our lockdowns, we are also trying to understand what we can learn from this virus. After finding ourselves restricted in our surroundings and usual way of life, we have been forced to question how we are to learn from within an architectural field, which seems structurally complicit to many of the problems highlighted by quarantine. If we understand architectural practice as expansive, multi-disciplinary, and multi-faceted, then it is not unusual for architects to turn to other disciplines and practices in search of answers or direction. Both researchers and practitioners have for some time now been critically rethinking architecture and challenging the role, or agency, of architecture.1

Only in the last decade, however, following the global recession, have we seen the emergence of a new group of practitioners and scholars who are actively pushing the understanding of architecture as a broader field of intellectual inquiry through the practice of curating. Through the lens of architecture they investigate our most pressing social, political, cultural, and ecological concerns through the exhibition of architecture, questioning its conventions and modes of representation, as well as its position within wider intellectual and disciplinary debates 2. As Yesomi Umolo, one of this generation of curators, has noted:

A lot of the thematics that we've touched on [in the Chicago biennial] have been activated in the last several months, especially in the US, thinking about the city, the forms of violence, forms of agency and advocacy. I think that is because the way we approached the biennial was about the living conditions of cities. We were responding to those living conditions as things were evolving, as we were not just speaking to architects and practitioners about existing projects that could be developed as a result of the biennial. Sometimes biennials are retrospective, they deal with a condition that we've just passed and it's a way to take stock. But in some ways, this biennial has prefigured a very significant moment right now. I think because there always were residues of this moment, especially in the last two years, and in terms of some of the agencies that were really defining how people understand their kind of urban experiences. It's been interesting for me, especially thinking about questions around acknowledgement, not just acknowledging land and territory, but acknowledging forgotten histories and acknowledging complicity.3

The Curating as Research project aims to clarify curating beyond the conventional understanding including as a form of research. This first phase of this project engaged with thirty architects, curators, and researchers operating at this intersection, whether independently or within existing institutions. These interviews, together with their related research agendas, exhibitions, projects, and platforms, comprise the first step in articulating methods of curatorial research, while also identifying the frameworks and institutional arrangements that are supporting this kind of research-based practice.

Exhibitions, installations, and their associated related media, have been seminal in the conceptualisation and transformation of the architectural discipline. Critical scholars have read the history of architecture through the exhibition4, while others have investigated the exhibition itself as an object of study.5 Research on the aesthetic and political relationships between architecture, curating, and public display has been conducted through project commissions, as well as more wide-ranging editorial overviews of what has become an increasingly contested set of terms and practices within our discipline.6

The growing relevance of exhibitions within the field of architecture has developed in parallel with an increasing demand for the disciplinary recognition of research-based practices.7 Institutional experimentation within practices, postgraduate programmes, and museums have led to a new generation of researchers and curators investigating and contesting the contemporary through curatorial platforms. In response to what are now established institutions, smaller-scale agencies, collectives, organisations, platforms, galleries, offices, studios, duos, and individuals are reframing the understanding of research and curating from within practice.

I see the act of curating as a form of restitution that has to intersect a relatively broad audience. Research is much more difficult because it never has an end. It doesn't really matter how complex, deep, and layered research is, you need several formal translations to actually make it something that is able to communicate from multiple standpoints. (...) While research builds the foundation of a larger discourse, curation is a form of public restitution of that discourse.8

Rather than defining curatorial research practices, Curating as Research looks at the strategies and tactics of these curators as a system of knowledge production within our field.9 By publishing an open-access digital archive, we aim to make this research process public, sponsoring conversations between a diverse group of scholars and practitioners interested in building new knowledge about this field and a wider audience. By sharing these primary sources online, we hope to establish a platform for further collective investigation on the contemporary.

At the core of curating and research is the understanding of looking at things through an architectural lens, which is what really defines the projects and how we work them. It's not so much talking about architecture, but rather talking about other problems through architecture. Even though I work as a researcher, and as a curator, what feeds into them is this understanding of things through architecture.10

During the following months, we will be sharing these initial conversations as the first iteration of our open archive. The interviews will be published as individual cases together with a description of the set of relationships that cut across these cases. We will use the lessons from this first phase of interviews to collectively develop new questions. Through the lens of curating and research, we hope to expand an understanding of the exhibition as a form of mediation and site of research, the political economy of event-based exhibitions, decolonial institution building, as well as enacting pedagogical experiments to take place within and outside the RCA.

Both research and curating increasingly deal with and are challenged by questions of authorship, collaborative work and public relevance. (...) Whereas research doesn't necessarily presuppose the imperative of making findings available to a larger public, as it is too often understood as an exploration that is pursued in preparation for something else, the curatorial is inevitably connected to the quest of a public discussion.11

The Curating as Research archive will provide a forum for ongoing discussion on this mode of practice. It will distinguish different forms of expertise at the intersection of curating and research, opening up discussion around new possibilities for this practice in our post-pandemic reality. We will ask, in turn, what contributions these ways of operating within our field make to propose new formats, develop new critical concepts, open new trajectories of investigation, and expand the very territories of the discipline?

The goal was to put together an exhibition on the architecture of the global South, that didn't just mean including work in an exhibition that hadn't been included previously, [but on] how to decolonize the very definitions of architecture that we are familiar with, that we are using. To be very committed to the kind of consequences of that decolonization. And the way that I pursued that project was to take a much broader, expansive understanding of architecture as spatial environmental modification. That allowed us to not only include things that hadn't been included before, things like the geography of the Atacama Desert, or the (Ngurrara) painting from Western Australia. It also allowed us to reconfigure people's expectations of what an architectural practice might look like and where on Earth it might reside.12

鈥 Eleni Han and Guillermo Ruiz


  1. Borasi, Giovanna, 鈥淭he Other architect鈥, lecture at The Berlage, 20 December 2019. 

  2. Burns, David and Spurr, Sam. 鈥淗ow to Be a Good Witness: The Architecture Curator.鈥 The Routledge Companion to Criticality in Art, Architecture, and Design, edited by Christopher Brisbin and Myra Thiessen. London; New York: Routledge, 2018. 

  3. Yesomi Umolu, Artistic Director Chicago Architecture Biennale 2019, in conversation with co-curators Sepake Angiama and Paulo Tavares, 9 July 2020. 

  4. Cohen, Jean-Louis. 1999. 鈥淓xhibitionist revisionism: exposing architectural history鈥. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. 316-325; Bergdoll, Barry 鈥淩eviewing architectural exhibitions: exhibiting ideas 鈥 curating history鈥 article by Eve Blau and Barry Bergdoll in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 57, September 1998, p.256-257, 366; For an overview see Bergdoll, Barry. 4-15 May, 2020. 鈥淎rchitectures on Display: On the History and Contemporary Approaches to Exhibiting Architecture.鈥 The Berlage Masterclass. 

  5. Wasiuta, Mark and Molinari Luca. 鈥淓xhibitionist Revisionism: Exposing Architectural History鈥, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. 

  6. See Phillips, Andrea, Andrew Renton, Lisa Le Feuvre, and Edgar Schmitz. 鈥淐urating Architecture.鈥 Project. Curating Programme, Department of Art, at Goldsmiths College, December 2008; Anyone Corporation. Fall 2010 鈥淟og 20: Curating Architecture.鈥 

  7. Till, Jeremy. 鈥淭hree Myths and One Model,鈥 2019. http://www.jeremytill.net/read/126/new-introduction-to-3-myths-and-one-model. 

  8. Ippolito Pestellini, founder of 2050+ and curator of the Russian Pavilion at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale, interview with the authors, 1 June 2020. 

  9. O鈥橬eill, Paul, and Mick Wilson, eds. Curating Research. London: Open Editions, 2015. 

  10. Tania Tovar, Director Proyector, interview with the authors, 1 June 2020. 

  11. Marina Otero Verzier, Director of Research 鈥 Het Nieuwe Instituut, interview with the authors, 15 April 2020. 

  12. Adrian Lahoud, Dean of the School of Architecture, RCA, curator of the 2019 Sharjah Architecture Triennial, interview with the authors, 13 May 2020. 

[END]

Media Studies

Where does history reside? Is it embodied in the bronze, iron, and marble of our cities' monuments? Logic says no. At best monuments are memories, and subjective memories at that. The destruction of a monument or the removal of a name from a building cannot delete history, the monument simply doesn't possess that power. Yet, political leaders from the governor of Mississippi to the prime minister of the United Kingdom have come to the defence of racist monuments and against those who have challenged their presence in our cities. Why do they insist that statues (or memorials, flags, etc) are fundamental to the history of a place or a people? Maybe we're asking the wrong questions. Instead of defending or destroying monuments, perhaps we need to ask, what is a monument? In a recent New York Times editorial, poet Caroline Randall Williams stated that in her "light-brown blackness" is the evidence of generations of sexual violence inflicted upon Black women. "If there are those who want to remember the legacy of the Confederacy, if they want monuments, well, then, my body is a monument. My skin is a monument."1 She challenges those who defend confederate monuments to see in her skin the legacy of history. She absorbs the blunt force of contemporary debate around these statues into her own body.

Media Studies at the School of Architecture endeavours to engage these issues. In 2017, we researched the histories of monuments in London to uncover the structural violence they perpetuate. We expanded our work to include other public representations of power and violence. We sought out unseen monuments and responded with interventions that exposed hidden histories, engaged in diverse interpretive methodologies, and proposed new ways of seeing (and not seeing) monuments. Michael Piderit examined ideas of mementos and memory by digitally scanning and reproducing bricks from the Roman boundary wall in London in progressive stages of detail. Emmy Bacharach questioned the erasure of women's bodies and the invisibility and undervaluing of women's work by staging a performance of care at the "Women of World War II" memorial. Mary Anderson subverted the political gaze of statues by enclosing them within mirrored boxes, creating a loop of infinite visibility. Marie S酶ndergaard Ramsing and Christopher Fischlein created a new monument to the forgotten colonial histories of Denmark through the creation of jewellery featuring remnants of broken Danish porcelain.

鈥 David Burns, Coordinator of Media Studies


  1. Williams, C. R. (2020) 鈥榊ou Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument鈥, The New York Times, 26 June. 

[END]

Exhibitions

SoA Stories asks a complex question, what do machines see when they see student work? This experiment interrogates the exhibition as a media format and new found immersion in screen based technologies, articulating the collective social benefits of curating an experience that both questions and celebrates their new distributed community. Exhibitions are one of the ways in which to read how staff and students at the SoA are thinking through architecture's role in reframing institutional practices, contesting and confronting environmental catastrophe, emancipating ourselves from colonial structures and dismantling systemic racism and injustice.

Exactly two years ago, Manifesta 12 in Palermo showed the power of experience and community that an exhibition is able to produce by using a city to tell a story at a planetary scale. The work of Ippolito Pestellini and his colleagues at AMO through the Palermo Atlas, as well as his fellow creative mediators, explored the political dimension of architecture across twenty-eight locations showing how curatorial practices can orchestrate a multifaceted engagement with the city as a site of operation, a field of intellectual research, a space of geopolitical resistance, and an aesthetic experience. It also gave birth to a larger research brief in the form of ADS8: Data Matter with Marina Otero Verzier and Kamil Dalkir.

Just a year later, Adrian Lahoud turned the inaugural Sharjah Triennial toward global south with a commitment to decolonise our understanding of the environment and its violent transformations. The exhibition Rights of Future Generations engages with this process of decolonisation, while using the platform of the Triennial to launch, through thirty-one new commissions, collectives, research groups, and long term inquiries to continue that mission beyond the timespan of the exhibition. Almost in parallel, through the curatorial leadership of Beth Hughes, the Seoul Biennale's exhibition 'Collective City' explored how modes of collective practice and action can challenge current paradigms of development in our cities and resist dominant systems of spatial production.

Environmental concerns have been front and centre within the School of Architecture. The students of ADS 7: Something in the Air with Marco Ferrari, Elise Hunchuk and Jingru Cyan Cheng addressed the politics of the atmosphere through ZKM's Critical Zones exhibition which opened its doors this July.

Through the work of Cooking Sections, the trees of New York City became a site to reveal the inherent contradictions of conservation practices. Their work within ADS3: Refuse Trespassing Our Bodies, Metabolising the Built Environment explores how to live and care ecologically. Ideas on the financialisation of the environment are also present in the forthcoming investigation on the impact of Salmon farming to be presented in Tate Britain, Salmon: A Red Herring. This year's engagement with the Serpentine Gallery's General Ecology made students not only advocates and narrators of our climate futures to the sound of Brian Eno, but ultimately rethink the notion of working together and developing a new collective practice out of that experience.

Looking forward to our postponed future, Pestellini's now 2021 Russia Pavilion in Venice is a reconsideration of institutions altogether, transforming from an exhibition to an ongoing editorial project that invites us to rethink the public role of institutions during a global crisis. It seems like an opportunity for the RCA community to draw from some of these early histories, as we reconvene in a post-pandemic future, reengineer possible constituencies and forms of collective action, and indeed reframe architecture's role in reestablishing how to live together, and live well.

鈥 Guillermo Ruiz

[END]

Turning Point

The most powerful image I saw this year was not in a student project. It was a nurse holding a rough, handwritten sign to a window. She was explaining to the family on the other side of the window that she was going to hold the hand of their relative as they died from COVID-19. Like the edges between the images of two faces, that pane of glass, which separated the family from their relative, is a kind of emblem for all of our experiences this year. Existing in a state of separation, of what David Burns once called Co-Isolated, and what Alphonso Lingis called The Society of Dismembered Body Parts many years ago. Hands that would touch each other are now insulated, recoupled to computer keyboards and computer screens.

I often think about that nurse and the act that she completed for the patient. Not only on behalf of the family that could not be in the room for fear of infection, but as someone that recognised their responsibility toward others. And it reminds me, though in a different way, of the kinds of care practiced at a distance by this community over the last months. A care without calculation, without a ledger. In the coming months or years, what will happen to the incredible social movements that have seized the world recently is impossible to say. What I am certain of, however, is that the solidarity forged between us all will be vitally important in as yet unnamed and unforeseen ways. We will look back at 2020 as a turning point. Who would have thought that we would be the ones to see the end of one era and the beginning of another?

鈥 Adrian Lahoud

[END]

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