Each of the three venues is laid out as four interconnected rooms of thematically grouped drawings. The first room presents European Radicals—like Archigram and Coop Himmelb(l)au—of the late 1960s and early 1970s when Boyarsky, then associate dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago, ran the International Institute of Design Summer Sessions in London. The next room features drawings of mythical histories and futures—including by Daniel Libeskind, Lebbeus Woods, Alexander Brodsky, and Ilya Utkin—its sofa and rug referencing the AA’s club-like atmosphere. The third group, the “Modernists”—Bernard Tschumi, Zaha Hadid, and Rem Koolhaas among others—shares Constructivist roots. The largest space showcases the breadth of drawing practices by AA teachers and students like Peter Wilson, Peter Salter, Nigel Coates, and Jeremie Frank, underscoring the range of AA unit pedagogies and visual languages. Visitors can begin here or with European Radicals—a curatorial strategy allowing both discursive and historical perspectives. The more site-specific Kemper and RISD installations included multiple openings from one room into another; one could see Tschumi’s prints in the “Modernist Room” while viewing Greene’s work in “European Radicals;” or OMA’s work while looking back at Superstudio’s prints—foregrounding the act of framing and viewing and emphasizing historical links between the AA’s architectural generations.
The exhibitions and catalogue present a visual feast and compelling historical research. Many drawings are now iconic—such as Hadid’s The World (89 Degrees), also an allegory of the AA’s internationalism, and Tschumi’s Study for La Case Vide: La Villette, emblematic of AA stars’ career shifts from drawing to building. Some, such as Jeremie Frank’s The Macrophone, are less familiar but similarly virtuosic in technique. The catalogue, designed by Michael Worthington of Counterspace Design in Los Angeles, is itself a hybrid of book and drawing—its cover unfurls as a long segment of Michael Webb’s 06 0/P2 drawing. Full-page close-ups of key drawings precede Marjanovic’s historical essay, followed by short texts about each drawing and author. Marjanovic’s long, well-researched essay examines Boyarsky’s and the AA’s history, pedagogies, and drawing practices in a broad cultural and theoretical context, highlighting drawings as artworks and objects of debate—and as publishable and saleable assets in an image-centered global architectural culture.
Marjanovic notes that the importance of drawing emerged after Boyarsky became AA chairman, when then-Education Minister Margaret Thatcher removed state funding for the AA’s mainly British student population. Boyarsky’s solution to the crisis was to refocus on the ability of drawings to travel the world, represent architectural discourse and recruit self-funding international students. The focus on images was supported by a powerful publicity machine (AA Publications) and a unit system rewarding successful individuals with published monographs—leading to international prominence for AA figures like Hadid, Koolhaas, Tschumi, Libeskind, and Wilson. The square “Box,” “Folio,” small square series, and the journal AA Files, all finely produced and printed, were powerful institutional endorsements. The square publications resembled those of the Bauhaus, whose reputation too rested on exhibitions and publications. Also, the AA unit system of students working with specific faculty echoed the Bauhaus workshop structure; however, Bauhaus workshops centered on material and function (wood, glass, graphic design, etc.) whereas AA units focused on drawing and discourse—the ambience Boyarsky desired.
Ambience extended beyond teaching through drawings. The most elegant rooms in the AA’s three Georgian buildings in London’s Bedford Square were galleries devoted to exhibiting, circulating, and consuming drawings. Debates emerged in critiques, and the bar and restaurant; students worked at home—the school was for image circulation and consumption only, paralleling the emergence of art galleries showing and selling architectural drawings as commodities and, more broadly, the rise of media-driven post-Fordist economies.
That it took 25 years to revisit the Boyarsky legacy is telling not only of the now-unquestioned ubiquity (if digital) of drawing and the global influence of the AA unit system, but also of the controversies after Boyarsky’s death when the AA was in transition, and architectural education shifted to accommodate new practical and digital opportunities. Current negotiations for Drawing Ambience to travel internationally will refocus attention on an important formative moment in 20th century architectural education and on larger cultural questions facing architectural education and practice.