Academic Commons
Architectural Association – Intermediate Unit 15, Academic Year 2018-2019
Xristina Argyros + Ryan Neiheiser

Rafael’s “School of Athens” painting offers a utopian vision of a free, open, informal, and common space for learning. It is an inbetween space. Neither inside nor outside, not quite a room, but also not simply a space for circulation. It is monumental, but also generous, and almost casual. It is not a classroom, and yet we see scholars and students debating, teaching, and studying. Although we typically think of learning taking place in the classroom, educators and architects have recognized for thousands of years that learning also takes place in the space between; in the hallways, on the stairs, at the café, in the quad, and in the streets. Socrates taught in the Agora. Plato founded his Academy in the olive grove outside of Athens and often taught while walking. Medieval colleges were organized around a communal courtyard.

Universities today are contradictory spaces of intellectual curiosity, corporate competition, liberal debate, managerial bureaucracy, cutting-edge research, political manoeuvring, and creative output. They are engines of economic development and juggernauts of gentrification. They are bastions of radical thought and safeguarders of tradition. Universities exist at the scale of the building, the campus, the small city, and the transnational corporation. They have been, and remain, complicated and vital institutions.

Joseph Rykwert argued in 1968 that the university, like the temples of ancient Greece, the baths of the Romans, and the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, was the institutional archetype of the 20th century – in urgent need of critical reformulation. With protestors pouring out of the campus and into the streets, architects in the 60s and 70s were experimenting with radical new forms of university architecture at the scale of urban infrastructure, blurring the boundary between object and field, student and citizen, institution and city. And yet in the years since, there has been a marked retreat from this ambitious thinking, with architects primarily focused on the design of individual and autonomous university buildings, often with little concern for engaging with the surrounding city.

This year Intermediate 15 will attempt to critically reengage the two scales of thinking, seeking out new architectural strategies for simultaneously designing the university in the city, and the city in the university.