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Records of the Architectural Association Inc

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 1968
Held at: Architectural Association
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Full title: Records of the Architectural Association Inc
Date(s): 1851-
Level of description: fonds
Extent: c500 cubic feet of records, c2000 drawings
Name of creator(s): Architectural Association (Great Britain)


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Architectural Association (AA) was founded in London in 1847 by a group of young articled pupils led by Robert Kerr (1823-1904) and Charles Gray (1828-?). Inaugurated primarily as a reaction against the prevailing conditions under which architectural training could be obtained, the AA has since developed into one of the most important and influential architectural schools in the world. The first formal meeting under the name of the Architectural Association took place in May 1847 at Lyons Inn Hall, London, immediately following a merger with the Association of Architectural Draughtsmen. Principal amongst the AA's early aims was the development of a system of mutual aid by 'the association on the largest scale, of the entire body of our professional youth, for the end of self education.' Initially, Friday evening meetings were held, alternating between papers given by invited speakers and design sessions (later named AA Class of Design) at which members would bring solutions to design problems. Affording the opportunity for the forging connections, these meetings also acted as a forum for discussion, debate and campaigning for reform in architectural education and practice. In 1859 the AA left Lyons Inn Court and moved to 9 Conduit Street, Westminster, which it shared with the Royal Institute of Architects (RIBA) and the Architectural Union Company. The AA's Class of Design was there supplemented by the Voluntary Examination Class (1862), later named the Class of Construction & Practice (1867), an Elementary Class of Design (1869) and a Class for Instruction in Surveying and Levelling (1869). To these core classes, were added a Class for the Study of Colour Decoration (1872) and a Class for the Study of Architectural Science (1874). The AA's prospectus or 'Brown Book' was published annually from 1861 and a library was formed, its first catalogue being published in 1869.

Following the introduction of the RIBA's compulsory exam in 1882, the AA experienced a vast increase in student numbers and an expansion in the number of classes held. This growth, coupled with the demands of the new examination system, prompted the AA to re-examine its 'mutual' system of study. Under Leonard Stokes (AA President 1889 -1891), the AA underwent a major structural re-organisation which laid the groundwork for a systematic, methodical course of study and the eventual founding of a day school in 1901. The immediate success of the Day and Evening Schools were such that in 1906 the RIBA granted exception from its Intermediate Examination to all students who successfully passed two years in the Day School and two years in the Evening School. During this period, the AA began to move away from an Arts and Crafts influenced approach (the AA had also operated a short-lived School of Handicraft and Design from 1895 - 1909), towards a Beaux Arts curriculum, influenced by French and American educational models. In 1903 the AA was gifted the premises of the Royal Architectural Museum, at No. 18 Tufton Street, Westminster, where it was to remain until 1917 when it moved to Nos. 34-35 Bedford Square, Bloomsbury. The war period also saw women permitted to enter the school for the first time, with the first female students graduating in 1922.

Following the closure of the Evening School in 1920, the AA Day School course consisted of 5 years of study, the completion of which meant exception from part 1 of the RIBA's Final Examination. 1920 also saw the Association incorporated as a Limited Charitable Company and carry out the purchase, the following year, of the lease on No. 36 Bedford Square. Subsequent re-modelling and construction work in Bedford Square including a first floor Memorial Library (1921), designed by Robert Atkinson (1883-1952) and dedicated to the 96 AA members killed in the war and a Studio Block (1926-8) designed by Easton & Robertson. Whilst interest in American educational practice continued after the war, the AA increasingly came under the influence of Dutch and Scandinavian architectural developments and it was not until the late 1920s that the first serious debates over the continental, French and German, Modernism took place within the school. However, by late 1930s a series of internal clashes resulted in the banishment of the classical orders and the replacement of the Beaux Arts curriculum with team work, the unit system and an approach based upon modernist ideals and theories. The Second World War saw the school re-locate to Mount House, Barnet, before returning to Bedford Square in January 1945, under Raymond Gordon Brown (1912-1962). The student population shot up to an unprecedented 461 by January 1947, as service-men and women were gradually decommissioned, and the AA took over a bombed site on Tottenham Court Road, (No. 4, Morwell Street), erecting a 40 foot Nissen hut and establishing a Practical Training Centre). Robert Furneaux Jordan (1905-1978) replaced Gordon Brown as Principal in 1948 and succeeded in raising the AA's profile internationally as a progressive, modernist school, with Prime Minister Clement Attlee, and Frank Lloyd Wright addressing successive AA Prize-giving ceremonies. Other visitors attracted to the school in this period included Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius (1883-1969), with Alvar Aalto (1898-1976), Ernesto Rogers (1909-1969) and Enrico Peressutti (1908-1976) all teaching short courses. Permanent AA staff included a significant contingent of leading young British modernists, including Peter Smithson (1923-2003), James Gowan (1923-) and John Killick (1924-1972), teaching alongside established figures such as Ove Arup, Arthur Korn and Sir John Summerson. An important development from this period was the 1954 formation of the AA Department of Tropical Architecture (Department of Tropical Studies, from 1961). Under the leadership of Otto Koenigsberger the department arguably founded the field of climatically responsive, energy conscious 'Green Architecture'. With the advent of the 1960s, graduates including Cedric Price and Peter Cook joined the teaching staff and the school became perceived as the hub of Archigram - arguably the pre-eminent architectural neoavant-garde of the 1960s and early 1970s. This influence combined with the work of students such as Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, Piers Gough and Michael Gold conspired to produce what Peter Cook has termed the 'Electric Decade'. Negotiations were begun by the AA Council in the early 1960's to incorporate the AA into the state education system by merging with Imperial College of Science and Technology. In the face of vociferous student and staff protests Imperial broke off negotiations in February 1970 citing concerns at the nature and intentions of the AA school community. The AA Principal, Michael Lloyd, and the AA Council, led by Jane Drew and John Denny, prepared for closure and the winding up of the school. Nevertheless, students and staff mobilised and a search committee for a new Chairman was established, resulting in the election in 1971 of Alvin Boyarsky, director of the International Institute of Design, an itinerant architecture summer school. From 1971 until his death in 1990, Alvin held autocratic sway over Bedford Square, transforming the AA into a major international cultural institution. With the removal from the AA of UK student grants in the early 1970s, Boyarsky focussed upon making the school a global concern. A highly ambitious programme of exhibitions and publications were embarked upon and the annual Projects Review and Prospectus initiated - all designed to publish and promote the school on the international stage. Boyarsky also made changes to the AA's unit system, modifying and extending it to create a competitive market-place, where tutors, all on one year contracts, had to 'sell' their units to students - who in turn underwent a gruelling process of interviews by the tutors before acceptance into their choice. Over a twenty year period Boyarsky succeeded in creating a hot-house atmosphere, attracting and nurturing outstanding academic staff, including Robin Middleton, Charles Jencks, Elia Zhenghelis, Bernard Tschumi, Peter Cook, Dalibar Vasely and Daniel Libeskind. Talented students were co-opted onto the staff, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid and Nigel Coates all following this route.

The AA's Graduate School flourished, following its inauguration in May 1971, and by 1977/8 was offering six courses consisting of Housing Studies, Energy Studies, Social Institutions and Theory, History Studies, Conservation Studies and Graduate Design. Also serving post-graduate students during this period was the AA's Planning Department (1964-1984) and the Professional Practice course (1976-). Following Boyarsky's death in 1990, Alan Balfour was elected to the post of Chairman, to be succeeded 5 years later by Mohsen Mostafavi, who was to remain in the position until 2004. During this decade the finances of the AA were placed on a secure, stable footing and the Graduate School was developed and enlarged with the addition of the Design Research Laboratory (DRL) in 1997, followed in 1999 by the Landscape Urbanism programme, and the Emergent Technologies and Design (EmTech) programme, in 2001. With the accession of Brett Steele to the position of Director in 2005 the school has expanded to a student population of over 650 full time equivalent students, over 80% of which are from overseas. Alongside the AA's Intermediate and Diploma School, the Graduate School has continued to grow, currently contributing one third of all AA students. Similarly, the AA has also seen a considerable development in its global programme of short term Visiting Schools, which now take place annually in nearly 2 dozen cities worldwide. In terms of property, the AA has also expanded, acquiring Hooke Park in 2002 and from 2005 purchasing leases on no. 16 Morwell Street and nos. 32, 33, 37, 38 and 39 Bedford Square, thereby consolidating the AA onto one campus. Alongside the school, the AA's global membership association flourishes, with over 3000 members supporting the AA's high-profile public programme of lectures, symposia, conferences, exhibitions, site visits and events. Today, the AA remains the only private architecture school in the UK and operates as a participatory democracy with students, staff and members electing a governing Council and taking an active role in the selection of the AA Director. The AA's fiercely guarded independence has permitted the school great freedom and flexibility, nurturing a climate of experimentation and cutting edge architectural practice, which maintains the AA's reputation as one of the leading international architecture schools.


Scope and content/abstract:

The Architectural Association Archives comprise of the administrative and educational records of the Architectural Association Inc. (1847-), encompassing material related to the AA's governance, legal and financial operations, property holdings and educational activities. To date, less than one quarter of all the AA's archival records have been formally catalogued, with the focus of phase one of the cataloguing having been upon basic administrative records, including Council and committee minute books and agendas, constitutional records, Registers of Directors, property leases and vital company documents. Phase two of the cataloguing process is ongoing and is focused upon the educational records of the AA school, its staff and its students.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

As the original order of the records has been largely lost, records have been arranged according to the Architectural Association's functions. Arrangement is therefore into two sub fonds reflecting the administrative and educational functions of the Association.

Conditions governing access:

Unrestricted access for AA students and members. For all other categories of users the purchase of an Archive Readers' Pass is required.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for more information.

Finding aids:

A preliminary box listing is available for consultation in the AA Archives.

Archival Information

Archival history:

A portion of the AA's surviving archival records were first gathered together in 1988 and housed in the basement of 10-11, Percy Street, WC1. Following an inspection and advisory letter from the Royal Commission of Historic Monuments, an external consultant was hired in 1990 to make a preliminary arrangement and listing of this material. The records were then transferred to the AA Library's book-storage area at 16 Morwell Street, WC1 in 1991, before being stored from 2001 until 2007 at Olympic Removals, Waltham Abbey. A further inspection and advisory letter from the National Advisory Services of The National Archives, took place in February 2007 and the AA Archives were formally constituted later that year (Council Minutes, 15 October, 2007), with a full time Archivist being appointed in 2009. Upon the retirement of the AA Secretary in 2007 further significant deposits of archival material, previously held within the Secretary's Office and storage facilities, were incorporated into the AA Archives' holdings. These were augmented in August 2010 with material from the AA Chairman's Office, previously held in storage at Hooke Park, Dorset, from 2004 - 2010.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Architectural Association Library, 2007

Allied Materials

Related material:

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:

Date(s) of descriptions:
June 2011

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