London’s Architectural Association is undergoing the sort of dramatic change all schools of architecture periodically experience. They will be taking on a new director in the fall, Eva Franch i Gilabert, who will bring a new culture and pedagogy, and parting ways with their current leader, Samantha Hardingham.
Now Mark Cousins, one of its most distinguished lecturers, is ending the Friday afternoon lectures that he has been delivering for thirty years. He plans to focus on putting these weekly talks onto the written page. These talks, for anyone who has ever attended them, are singular events of erudition and scholarship, delivered without notes and that, in the age of social networking, seem a relic of an earlier period. In fact, Cousins decided to devote his final talk to the ‘lectern’ as a way of wondering if in-person presentations will still have an audience or even value when digital screens and smart phone screens replace live events.
This final Friday lecture started late because the person meant to introduce Cousins, Jeffrey Kipnis, was AWOL, and was quickly replaced by psychoanalytic and feminist writer Parveen Adams, who did a fine job of introducing Cousins. A few minutes into the lecture, Kipnis arrived, and Cousins claimed this “was not planned but I think determined” and told him he could do the introduction “in the men’s lavatory!”
Cousins launched into his presentation on the lectern defending scholarship and study over all other values. This final lecture, like all of Cousins’ Friday afternoon talks, was, in the words of astute observer Yael Reisner, “mostly without notes, never a slide, and hardly standing next to the lectern… scholarly delivered and associatively interlaced with his idiosyncratic and insightful way of observing the world; deep, wise, humorous (and) generous. As ever, full of inspiring anecdotes told in an original and playful use of words, in a trial to further clarify an idea. Thus, for example, one of the stories this time was how every spring, when he prepares the coming autumn lecture series, dreaming about it gives him the ‘emotional weather’ so he knows he is in the right place.” She adds, “All that will be terribly missed, and being in the room with Mark Cousins in real time will never be the same as watching him online.”
In a way this final lecture brings to an end the legacy of AA director Alvin Boyarsky, who was head of the school when Cousins began the weekly events. But many of these lectures live on as YouTube videos.