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Hidden Gems: A visit to the Architectural Association archives

March 7, 2013

Behind the respectable Georgian splendour of Bloomsbury’s Bedford Square lies an architecture school full of students with a reputation for producing innovative and radical designs. Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas are just some of the famous architects associated with the Architectural Association, better known as the AA.

I recently attended an exciting open evening there to celebrate the AA archive’s first birthday in its new home, 32 Bedford Square. Edward Bottoms, the archivist, gave an interesting talk about AA graduates who became art directors at the movies, some working alongside prestigious directors such as Powell & Pressburger, David Lean and Alfred Hitchcock.  The talk was followed by a wine reception and then – without wine in hand – we were invited to look around the archives, where selected works had been laid out to view, like precious architectural jewels.  Here is just a small selection:

Mehmet Konuralp, Year 4 Project, Office building Tottenham Court Road, London, 1963-64

Mehmet Konuralp, Office building, Tottenham Court Road, London (Year 4 Project), 1963-64

About 82 per cent of the AA’s students are from overseas, and the archives reflect this international student base.  For example, the work of  Mehmet Konuralp from Turkey, who produced a Year 4 project of an office building in Tottenham Court Road in the 1960s.  Konuralp graduated from the AA in 1965 and worked in London before establishing his own practice in Istanbul in 1968, where he has designed offices, art galleries and factories.  His award-winning buildings in Istanbul include the Sabah Newspaper Media Plaza (1988) and the Istanbul Highways Zincirlikuyu Facilities (1974-75).  He was a member of the grans jury for the Agah Kahn Foundation (1993-95) and received the Sinan Award in 2010 for lifetime achievements in architecture.

Paul Shepheard, 'Hotel Hank B,' (Year 5 Project, 1972)

Paul Shepheard, ‘Hotel Hank B’ (Year 5 Project, detail), 1972

After graduating from the AA in 1972 Paul Shepheard worked for James Gowan (1974-75) and then set up his own practice.  He is now a respected author, with several books published. What is Architecture (1994) is an essay about landscapes, buildings and machines, The Cultivated Wilderness (1997) is a collection of six essays on landscapes of different scales, from the global to the local, and Artificial Love (2003) focuses on machines and architecture.

Denis Sharp, 'London Group: A study of the West End,' 1954-57

Group project, including Joanna Le Fevre, ‘London Group: A study of the West End’
(5th Year Thesis Project), 1954-57

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Group project, including Dennis Sharp, ‘London Group: A study of the West End’
(5th Year Thesis Project), 1954-57

Dennis Sharp studied at the AA between 1954 and 1957 and produced a fifth year thesis project on the West End in conjunction with Robert Hart, Joanna Le Fevre, Michael McDoughall, Stuart T. Myers and Eric Le Fevre.  Dennis Sharp, who sadly died in 2010, was an important figure at the AA where he became Head of History Studies, Senior Lecturer and Vice-President.  He had his own practice, specialising in modern building restorations, and wrote some important books on modern architecture. Modern Architecture and Expressionism (1966) is a fascinating study of Expressionist architects such as Hans Poelzig and Erich Mendelsohn and he wrote the major work on the architect’s Connell, Ward and Lucas (1994).

Richard Sung Pei Lee, 'House in Hong Kong', 'Composer's Studio,' (Year One Project),1957

Richard Sung Pei Lee, ‘House for a Composer’
(Year 1 Project), 1957

Having fled Communist China, Richard Sung Pei Lee came to the AA in 1957 after spending a year at UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture, he graduated in 1963 and helped to set up  LGM Associates, a practice with fellow AA graduates, and later went on to teach at the AA.

The AA Archives

The AA Archives contain a wide range of fascinating material on the AA’s educational history and culture, including many student drawings and projects.  Cataloguing of the archives is underway, but only a small proportion of the material has been catalogued at present.  Any enquiries on the archives and on visiting there should be addressed to the AA Archivist.

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