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MA Thesis Presentations, 2009

by Braden R. Engel

The AA’s graduate Histories & Theories of Architecture course gathered on the 23rd and 24th of June this year to formally present their thesis research. Each student then had the summer to compose their work into a written dissertation due in September. Co-directed by Mark Cousins and Marina Lathouri, this year’s course consisted of fifteen candidates from various backgrounds. They were confronted with criticism and guidance by a group of judges made up of Robert Maxwell, Brian Hatton, David Dunster, Murray Fraser, Douglas Spencer, Kirk Wooller, Emanuel de Sousa, and myself. Because the presentations come at a pivotal moment between research and writing, the manner in which each student prepares and departs from the event is absolutely crucial to their theses, as well as their general education.

This pivotal moment renders the student a fulcrum upon which the weight of their thesis lies. Balancing on the fulcrum is what I call the interface of presentation. The interface is that invisible and dimensionless barrier between the presenter and those to whom he presents. The goal, obviously, is to communicate as clearly and succinctly as possible the primary issue or topics of the thesis, while letting the argument unfold equally persuasively. The interface is shaped upon criticism and questioning. Depending on how the student handles each blow from the jury, the interface is pierced, shifted, and bent, sometimes entirely tipping over and shattering. But the students are in control of their presentations, and the hope is that they maintain a balance that preserves and even strengthens their support of the thesis. What remains is an impressed and perforated interface standing on the fulcrum.   

I speak of this from experience, having completed the same course in 2008. This year’s class was much bigger than the year before, and one inherent advantage of this is a greater diversity of thesis topics. This year’s theses generally took the form of theoretical investigations, examinations of “the city,” historical research, and critiques of various techniques and practices within the discipline of architecture. Each inevitably overlapped with others while maintaining an impressive individuality of the student’s particular topic, as well as their research methods. 

The theoretical investigations, while diverse in content, were similar in their emphasis on the discourse of architecture and what it means to conduct a thesis within it. The discourse on the object (and subject) in the city, architectural effects, the influence of Colin Rowe, and the development of critical theory in architectural education were all addressed, indicating the focus on the role of theory in the twentieth century. Examinations of “the city” – a justifiable enterprise in itself due to the ambiguity of the term – more or less took the form of providing different means by which to understand the city within the architectural discipline. From “urban boundaries” and “forms of urbanity” to formal conceptions of the city and the role of infrastructure in typology, the particularity of each thesis was carefully mapped and dictated by the student’s own rigorous analysis. While the topic of architecture in early twentieth century Iran was the most straight-forward example of “historical” research, it touched on several themes just as the other theses operated within historiography themselves. Not the least of which were the various critical views given on techniques and practices largely taken for granted in architecture today. Such theses addressed the influence of the architectural brief, the joint or connection in art and architecture, photography, drawing, and even comics.

At the end of the day the student is left with an interface that bears the record of a play of criticism, skepticism, questioning and answering. How each student utilizes it will show in their written dissertation. The interface of presentation, after the event, is a clue to the final development of the thesis; for it is not only an interval between presenter and jury, but also research and writing. All theses were presented professionally, with class, which is testament to both the influence of the tutors as well as the confidence and modesty of each student, ensuring a good finish to their course as a new one now begins.        

2009 M.A. Histories & Theories candidates: Imelda Akmal, Beatriz Cifuentes, Mollie E. Claypool, Ryan T. Dillon, Ronny Ford, Kevin Gu, Srivalli Pradeepthi Ikkurthy, Niloofar Kakhi, Natasha Lyons, Marlie Mul, Lorcan O’Herlihy, Aldo Urbinati, Natre Wannathepsakul, Ishraq Zahra, Zaynab Dena Ziari.