The University in the City
Architectural Association – Intermediate Unit 15, Academic Year 2017-2018
Xristina Argyros + Ryan Neiheiser
Athens is a city of contradictions: A city at the center of European identity and at the edge of the “western” world; A city with massive influxes of voluntary tourists and involuntary immigrants; A new city that thinks it is old; A city defined as much by its amorphous sea of generic white buildings as by its perfect monuments of architecture. Above all Athens is in crisis. Many are looking for an economic or political solution, but the space of the city goes overlooked and under examined. It is both a city in need of immediate work and the contemporary European city that most dramatically embodies the urgent, alarming, and intractable crises that face our cities today. This year we are once again immersing ourselves in this complicated context, attempting to render legible a city that is stubbornly difficult to grasp, and revealing new opportunities for intervention.
Change is most possible during times of crisis. We’re hoping to take advantage of this current moment of precarity, crafting projects that are sensitive to the very real constraints of contemporary Athens, but that move beyond traditional logics to imagine radical alternatives to the present. Although much has been written about the polykatoikia, the modernist building typology par excellence whose endless repetition has paradoxically resulted in an un-modern formless city, we’re choosing to focus instead on the moments of exception in the city. Architecture has the power to break the monotony, to register difference, and to frame spaces of collective exchange and debate. Creating more “public space” alone isn’t enough. The challenge of Athens is best approached by rethinking its civic institutions, the monuments and voids which orient us in the isotropic fabric of the city.
This year Intermediate 15 will continue to rethink the institution of the University, starting from the hypothesis that the architecture of academic institutions is uniquely able to reorganize and reinvigorate the city. We will examine how these institutions are currently manifested in Athens, identify and critique emerging models and historical precedents, and imagine radical new propositions at both the urban and architectural scale. Only by reinventing these institutions – both their logics and their forms – can we reinvent the future of the city.