Comparative Notes on Architectural Educations at the AA and in China

By the AA Wuhan Visiting School Co-Director – Jingru Cyan Cheng:


The Architectural Association (AA) is a school that celebrates the different visions of architecture. The diversity and clarity of each vision offered in this school are globally unique. When first entering the ‘AA world’, the difference between these two academic environments was a great culture shock to me. I came to realise that the AA’s uniqueness is mainly attributed to each unit or programme pursuing their own vision of architecture, put forward not only by tutors but also by students, thus, contributing to the diversity found in the school.

The education I have received at the AA was in pursuit of ‘principles’ at both architectural and urban scales. Therefore, I understand research as a dialectic process that considers phenomena and essence, the universality and fragmentation of the architectural discourse, which can be conceptualised through different fundamental architectural and urban models. One needs to understand that architecture exists and acts far beyond physical buildings. Architecture can be seen as concrete manifestation of political, economic and social forces in an era. In other words, one can gain an idea of an era through its typical architecture. Therefore, architecture mediates between knowledge and built environment. For example, I believe that there is a political aspect to architecture, that the built environment can educate people and can imagine how a well-functioning and harmonious society should look like. Architecture constructs an idea of what ought to be rather than what is. Therefore, an architect is someone inventing a common language or a common system of principles that can be shared.

The conventional architectural education in China is focused on techniques, materials and spaces, which are important, yet only one means of embodiment. It trains architectural practitioners capable of realising the physical forms of architecture. On the other hand, the AA provides an education that questions and radicalises knowledge of the architectural discipline. Architecture is considered also as thoughts that reflect on a time in history or in the future, beyond its limitation by physical form. Following from this, many AA works should be seen more as a political and social manifesto than just design solutions. Besides the actual research produced, this is what I learned from the AA. An insight more valuable to me than the research itself.

Note: Excerpt from an article by Jingru Cyan Cheng published in ‘Urban Flux “, 2015 (05): 94-77





AA是一个不同建筑观百花争鸣的大舞台。对我来说,AA的独特性正是在于它所营造的这样一种学术环境:支持各种态度鲜明(甚至是对立)地实验性探索方向。这里必须要提的是,中国学生对AA的普遍认知容易停留在侧重参数化设计的DRL课程上。而事实上,DRL只是AA数十个diploma单元和研究生院不同专业中的冰山一角。因此,仅通过参数化设计去理解和定义AA的建筑教育是有失偏颇的。刚进入AA的时候,与国内大学迥异的建筑教育环境带给我的影响几乎可以被看做是一种文化冲击(culture shock)。后来我慢慢意识到这种差异性来源于AA diploma教学体系中的单元模式(unit system)。每一个单元之所以能成立都是因为有着自己鲜明的特色和与众不同的态度,能为整个AA这个大舞台带来不一样的观点。 每个单元在各自的研究框架下每年提出不同的单元议题(unit brief),由老师和学生一起推进发展。当然,每个学生在接受这些观点和方法的时候都会因为个人的文化、教育背景等的不同而得到属于自己的东西。所以,下文所表述的建筑观仅代表我的个人观点,以图为了解AA的教学思想提供提供一个窗口。

我所接受的AA硕士教育追求理性的历史叙事,追求透过现象探求本质。往往当现象被追问到本质的时候才具有社会的普遍性,才具有普世的指导意义。 在这样的语境下,建筑的意义早已超越了房子或者说物理上的构筑物这一定义。 广义上说,建筑是知识与建成环境之间的媒介。由此,建筑可以被看做是它所在的时代中政治经济等要素的物化体现。举个例子,当建成环境能够向它的使用者展现合理、和谐的社会愿景的时候,建筑就具有了一层政治意义。从某种程度上说,我们可以通过建筑探讨“应该成为的样子(what ought to be)”而不是“是什么样子(what is)”。这也是为什么从一个有代表性的(typical)建筑身上我们能够窥视一个时代。这样,建筑师职责则是提炼或者创造能被大众理解与使用的建筑语言和体系。



注:节选自程婧如发表在《城市空间设计》2015 (05): 94-97的文章,有删改。