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Architectural Association Archives

The significant role played by architecture schools in the formation, propagation and transmission of architectural culture, theory and practice is the central concern of the Architectural Association’s recently opened Archive, which moves this month to new premises at 32 Bedford Square

The cataloguing of both the administrative records of the Association and the educational records of its school, including a substantial collection of student drawings, posters and ephemera, dating back to the 1840’s, aims to make available to researchers a wealth of material related to the social and intellectual history of architectural education.

The pages of AA Council and Committee minute books alone (largely complete from 1851 onwards) constitute a fascinating document, tracing educational theory at the AA from its origins as a campaigning association of ‘professional youth’ engaged in ‘self-education’, to a cutting edge architecture school - all set against the backdrop of the developing profession and the embryonic RIBA examination system.

Architects’ Revolutionary Council poster, c1975. Led by Brian Anson, the ARC campaigned vociferously against the RIBA and what it saw as vested interests within the architectural profession

Architects’ Revolutionary Council poster, c1975. Led by Brian Anson, the ARC campaigned vociferously against the RIBA and what it saw as vested interests within the architectural profession

Additionally, assorted curricula, lecture notes, project briefs, etc, provide insights into the practical teaching methods employed via the progression of educational models from the Arts and Crafts, to the French and American Beaux Arts, through to Alvin Boyarksy’s ‘hot house’ unit system of the 1970s and 80s. Shedding light upon the interaction between architecture schools and the wider architectural profession, the Archive also serves to document student-led movements and initiatives.

One such instance being the late 1930s revolution at the AA led by a group of highly politicised students, whose infamous ‘Yellow Book’ of 1937 has been described as one of the first modernist educational manifestos in this country and whose calls led to the development of the UK’s first curriculum and methodology based upon modernist principles.

Professor John Frazer and Peter Colomb, Unfolding Caravan, 1969. Fifth Year project recently donated to the AA Archives

Professor John Frazer and Peter Colomb, Unfolding Caravan, 1969. Fifth Year project recently donated to the AA Archives

Complementing such textual records, the AA Archives holds a treasure trove of graphic material including drawings, paintings, posters, ephemera, medals and models. Whilst some items, such as works by GE Street, Charles Barry and John Ruskin, were historic gifts by members or institutions such as the Royal Architectural Museum, the greater proportion of the collection consists of portfolios of AA student projects. These drawing present a fascinating panorama of student design ranging from the 1870s’ Class of Design to the Diploma Honours submissions of current students. Historic inconsistencies in collecting and the previous lack of an established formal archive mean that there are considerable gaps within the collections - with original student work by Rem Koolhaas or Zaha Hadid, for instance, being notable by their absence.

Consequently, the Archive is actively acquiring AA student work to supplement its holdings, with recent acquisitions including the celebrated ‘Zone’ New Town project of 1951-2 by Sir Andrew Derbyshire, Pat Crooke and John Voelker, the former citing the project as a formative influence for the design philosophy expressed in his University of York Heslington Campus. Other recent additions have included early work from Otto Koenigsberger’s ground breaking Department of Tropical Architecture, student projects by Prof. John Frazer, pioneer in the field of evolutionary design, and work by Prof. Andrew Holmes and Diana Jowsey.

Diana Jowsey, Holiday Homes, 1971. Fifth Year project under Peter Cook, recently donated to the AA Archives.

Diana Jowsey, Holiday Homes, 1971. Fifth Year project under Peter Cook, recently donated to the AA Archives.

One of the guiding principals behind the Archive’s collecting has been to attempt to reflect the broad panoply of student life, with cataloguing embracing not just the Diploma portfolios of star alumni but also material which records the social and political context in which architectural education occurs. Correspondingly, the Archive preserves student cartoons attacking the RIBA’s examination system of the 1880s alongside satirical pantomime scores of the 1920s, records of post-war excursions to modernist sites, and provocative, anti-capitalist unit posters from the 1970s.

With the AA’s long history, there is a sizeable backlog of material to work through and at present only the first year of a long-term cataloguing programme has been completed and a description of the AA’s core governance and administrative records made available via the Archives Hub - the JISC-funded gateway UK University and College archives. Cataloguing phase two, consisting of the AA’s graphic materials and educational records is now underway and will be an ongoing process, working concurrently with the challenge of capturing and maintaining over time the born-digital CAD files of contemporary student work.

To donate to the AA archive please contact Edward Bottoms (edward@aaschool.ac.uk) at the Architectural Association on 020 78874049

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