AA Files Xed?

Architects protest AA publication staff cuts

Education International News
Architects protest AA publication staff cuts. Pictured here: Pages from AA Files 74. (Image via AA/Composite by AN)
Architects protest AA publication staff cuts. Pictured here: Pages from AA Files 74. (Image via AA/Composite by AN)

Since the Architectural Association (AA) announced it would slash staff from its publications division last week, the architecture community in Britain and abroad has expressed deep concern over cuts that could impact the AA Files, the school’s influential journal of record.

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has obtained copies of letters to the AA sent by alums, former teachers, design curators, and others. In a letter to AA Board of Trustees President David Porter, the three curators of MoMA‘s Department of Architecture and Design expressed “strongest concern” over the closing of the AA Files and the school’s publications and exhibitions departments.

Martino Stierli, chief curator; Barry Bergdoll, curator; and Sean Anderson, associate curator asked the AA to wait until a new director is appointed before making drastic changes to the institution.

“While we do not have a full understanding of the complex situation that the school is facing in this difficult moment, we nevertheless unequivocally urge you to consider whether it might not be possible to work with interested parties to see if there is another solution,” they said.

The cuts come as the AA searches for a new director after director Brett Steele left in 2016 after 11 years of service. Interim director Samantha Hardingham has handled operations since Steele’s departure.

Alum Peter Wilson, founding principal of BOLLES+WILSON, expressed “shock and horror” at the decision to get rid of the AA Publications department. (Editor’s note: The AA hasn’t confirmed whether the division will be shut down entirely.)

Writing to Hardingham, Tim Benton, professor emeritus of art history at the Open University and longtime AA instructor, addressed the difficult role of the interim director but asked the school to find a different money-saving alternative to staff cuts. “The AA has always published and exhibited,” Benton said. “To downgrade the reputation of the school is not a wise move and those who decide to dumb down an historic institution should also be held accountable.”

Porter commented on the school’s process in an email to AN: “No final decisions have yet been made in respect of AA publications or indeed any other function subject to restructuring proposals,” he wrote. “Every effort is being made to ensure the essential value of these functions will not be lost.”

AN has reached out to Porter for additional comment on staff cuts, but has not heard back at press time.

In a five-page memo from August, before staff cuts were announced, Archigram founder Peter Cook lamented the school’s direction and what he sees as a cultural shift towards put-together “‘corporate'” Ivy League–type students.

“Whatever happened to those picky, witty, contentious, interesting, resourceful, Identifiable [sic] AA types? Did they die out?” Cook asked.

The letters are collected here for public review, and AN will add to the folder as more letters reach our inbox.

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