Architectural Association, London
“City-Architecture” PhD program in Design

The program “city-Architecture” asks for an innovative and radical understanding of the discipline of architecture in light of the problems and questions that characterize the contemporary city.
In the last decades we have witnessed the increasing divergence between the practice of architecture and the reality of the city. While architects have narrowed their focus on ‘design’, the city has been mapped, represented and discussed as an elusive condition overwhelmed by its unsolvable complexities and contradictions. Arguably, the divergence between architecture and urbanism represents one of the fundamental impasses in proposing a coherent spatial project.

The program is based on the assumption that today there is an urgent necessity to re-unite architecture and urbanism. In this way the discipline of architecture can be reassessed as a body of knowledge that is intimately connected with the development of the city itself.

The goal of the program is not to understand “architectural knowledge” as symptom of something else, but to use such knowledge as a research tool. In other words the question posed by the program is no longer to learn from the city in order to change or improve architectural design. The ambition of the program is to learn from architectural knowledge and its history in order to understand the city it self. As Walter Benjamin noted the great advantage of architectural knowledge is that it constitutes the possibility for pursuing a material history of the world. Architectural knowledge is here understood not as a static set of principles but as an ever-changing conceptual and practical apparatus that manifest itself into concrete objects and spaces. The program seeks to understand the city from the material and spatial dimension implied in architectural knowledge itself.
The program is organized around two parallel lines of research: on one hand the development of an individual thesis, and on the other the participation to organized events, discussions, and collective design interventions in the form of theoretical projects and speculative scenarios.
The program encourages risky and rigorous speculations on the question of what form the city can assume and provides to these speculations a background of intense historical and theoretical thinking in the form of seminars, colloquia, and a yearly symposium.

1. Program Methodology

As stated above “PhD in design” does not mean that the main output is not a written thesis. However the main difference with a traditional PhD program is that this program understands architecture first and foremost as “tecnique” as a material practice and as a social praxis. The program methodology will be largely based on attentive close reading of architecture through text and analytical and interpretative drawings. Such close reading does not aim to knowledge of architecture per se. On the contrary it is through the close reading of architectural elements either in the form of buildings or drawings that the social and political logic of the city reveal itself in all its concreteness.

2. To whom the program is addressed

This PhD program is intended for researchers in architecture, urbanism and other subjects related to the theme of the city. These researchers must already have experience in conducting independent investigations and study in their respective field. In the selection process, priority will be given to those who have an interesting and provocative research hypothesis related to the theme of reformulating the theoretical core of the idea of the city. Prospective researchers must all be able to support their hypothesis with an already mature and coherent body of work in the field. Acceptance of candidates into this program will be made on the basis of a clearly formulated research hypothesis as well as previously, and significantly, produced research.

3. Structure of the Program

The program is organized as a set of parallel activities: individual thesis, seminars and presentations and design seminars. This program organization is meant to encourage as much as possible collective discussion among the participants.

Individual thesis: will take the form of a consistent and radical investigation on a chosen topic related to the relationship between the city. Collective research consists in active participation to seminars, presentation and discussions.

Seminars and presentations: Every month participants will be asked to participate to a two-day charette of seminars and presentations. The seminars will be delivered by an invited guest who will be asked to show her/his in-progress research and debate with the participants topics related to her/his research and more general questions of methodology and overall research project.

Design seminars: To strengthen the speculative aspect of the research the “Architecture and the City” will organize every year a design seminar in which participants will collectively engage in the production of a speculative project. This project will take the form of a book and exhibition.

Candidates will eventually be encouraged to test their research by teaching an intensive theory seminar or design course within the AA undergraduate or graduate program.

5. Verification
At the end of each year, every candidate must present the results of his or her work as a draft manuscript. The supervisor will assess the progress in the program by the development of the thesis as well as considering the results of other publications and conference and symposium participation.

6. Production and accountability
The PhD program is meant to produce knowledge through a systematic and rigorous policy of print and online publication. A fundamental program policy will be that each candidate’s presentations from seminars, lectures, symposia and colloquia will be delivered both orally and as a publishable written text. In the event that this is not done, candidates will not be allowed to present.

7. Duration of the program and facilities
The duration of the program is three years, including one year for the writing and final editing of the dissertation. During this time, each candidate will take part in all program events.

Pier Vittorio Aureli (Head of the Program), Jingru Cheng, Samaeh Moafi, Olivia Neves Marra, Davide Sacconi.