History and Critical Thinking (HCT) offers a unique postgraduate platform from which to investigate contemporary issues through systematic historical enquiry. At stake in the actual writing of history is a political engagement with the social, material and environmental exigencies of the present. While the theoretical reflection on historiography can inform the analysis of contemporary architectural and spatial thinking, specific histories also remain valid sites of investigation. The ambition of the programme is three-fold: to provide the conceptual tools and resources to interrogate architectural histories and question how social, political, economic and institutional structures shape accounts of the built environment; to develop an understanding of contemporary discursive and material organisation from a historical, critical, cross-disciplinary and transnational point of view; and to highlight how architecture is entangled with other critical spatial practices and alternative forms of knowledge production and dissemination.
A programme of lectures, seminars, open debates, group readings and writing workshops enable HCT students to expand their disciplinary knowledge in a broad cultural arena and from a variety of viewpoints. We engage with philosophical texts and critical theories, and reflect on the political form within spatial, graphic and visual contexts. Students work to identify the links between material organisation, architectural agency and writing, and consider how these can all be used to address the historic plurality of lived worlds. Writing is central to the programme as a critical, cognitive, transformational and collaborative form of communication. We explore different modes of writing and also consider the communicative impact of drawings, photographs, film and literature. Students are encouraged to explore, adopt and adapt elements of disciplines and practices in their own writing, while preserving their own voice.
The historical and theoretical understanding that HCT graduates gain throughout the programme allows them to pursue doctoral studies, to develop their careers in other fields such as curation or journalism, or to become involved in research and teaching in architecture.
The programme takes place over 12 months: students complete six courses during Terms 1 and 2, after which they attend the Thesis Research Seminar and produce a written thesis in Terms 3 and 4. Courses examine specific histories and interrogate forms of architectural knowledge, modes of representation and techniques, institutional and educational practices, as well as spaces, subjects and norms of use. Historians, critics, philosophers, architects and artists contribute to the programme through the HCT and PhD Debates and Open Seminars, which this year will reassess histories, objects, and methods through a feminist lens.
HCT also provides research facilities and supervision to research degree candidates (MPhil and PhD) registered under the AA’s joint PhD programme, a cross-disciplinary initiative supported by all the Taught Postgraduate programmes.
Courses and events in Term 1 help students to reflect upon and challenge practices of historiography; to develop a deep understanding of the ideological, political and aesthetic issues inherent to the notion of modernity; to interrogate conceptual assumptions that have dominated modern architectural histories and criticism; to start exploring writing as a practice through which to think and to articulate ideas and arguments.
Courses and debates in Term 2 provide students with knowledge of the history of the discipline, primarily through textual and visual sources; expand disciplinary knowledge in a broad cultural and political arena and investigate modes of engagement with emerging issues. Joint MA and PhD Debates on History and Translation provide a venue for the exchange of ideas and arguments. Each week, guest speakers are invited to position multiple voices and make possible a process of thinking in common, by definition a pedagogical practice that differs from the seminar or the lecture. These sessions are open to the public. Using the concepts and processes of translation to discuss history will produce an interesting resonance with many of the talks and events on translation that will take place at the AA during the 2019–20 academic year.
As students begin to develop their theses in Term 3, their choice of topic, the organisation of their research and the development of their central argument are discussed during the weekly Thesis Research Seminar – a collective space where students learn about the nature of a dissertation through shared experience as a group. The thesis outline, objects of study and primary research questions are individually presented to a jury of invited critics in June. The Thesis Research Seminar will be supplemented by a reading and writing seminar/workshop with Anthony Vidler.
Term 4 is devoted to finalising the 15,000-word individual theses for submission in September. Informal presentations and individual tutorials provide students with support and guidance in the final stages of their research and writing.
TIM BENTON is Professor of Art History (Emeritus) at the Open University and has served as visiting professor in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, and at the Bard Graduate Center. He has co-curated several major exhibitions including Art and Power (Hayward Gallery), Art Deco 1910–1939 (V&A), and Modernism: Designing a New World 1918–1939 (V&A).
DOREEN BERNATH is an architect and a theorist trained at the University of Cambridge and the AA. She is currently Executive Editor of The Journal of Architecture and a co-founder of the research collective ThisThingCalledTheory. She teaches Diploma 22 at the AA and is a Director of Studies in the PhD programme and a Lecturer in History and Theory Studies.
MARINA LATHOURI studied architecture and philosophy of art and aesthetics. She has lectured at the University of Cambridge and has been visiting professor at the Universidad de Navarra (Spain) and the Universidad Católica in Santiago (Chile). Her current interests lie in the conjunction of historiography and politics, writing in architecture, city, land and political philosophy. She co-authored Intimate Metropolis: Urban Subjects in the Modern City (Routledge 2008) and City Cultures: Contemporary Positions on the City (AA Publications 2010) and has published numerous articles.
CLAUDIA NITSCHE is an architect, educator and researcher. Since 2020 she has been a PhD candidate in History and Critical Thinking in Architecture at the AA. She has taught architectural history and theory at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart and has worked for several architectural offices in Germany and Switzerland.
WILL ORR is a British-Canadian theorist and historian. In 2019, he completed a PhD at the AA, where he now teaches in the History and Theory Studies and as supervisor in the PhD programme. His research examines shifts in disciplinary and professional ideology from the 1960s to the present.
JOHN PALMESINO is an architect, urbanist and founder of Territorial Agency. He co-leads DIP 4 at the AA, has previously led the research of ETH Studio Basel and the Jan Van Eyck Academie Maastricht, and is a founding member of multiplicity, an international research network based in Milan.
Architectural Association is approved by The Open University as an appropriate organisation to offer higher education programmes leading to Open University validated awards.
The Architectural Association (AA) has been granted the power to award its own degrees. Taught Degree Awarding Powers (TDAP) give UK higher education institutions the right to award bachelor’s and master’s degrees. As of 1 October 2019, the AA has the right to establish new academic programmes and degree awards. Therefore, from September 2020 students admitted to the taught postgraduate programmes at the AA will be awarded AA degrees.