RCA architecture course to move away from "paper architecture" - new dean


Dezeen Wire: new Royal College of Art dean of architecture Alex de Rijke will steer students away from proposing unrealisable "paper architecture" and instead focus on how their ideas could be built (+ movie).

In an interview with Dezeen at the RCA Show 2012 last month, de Rijke said: "Historically [at the RCA] there's always been a very strong agenda on paper architecture - the speculative, the work that is provocative but not necessarily make-able."

In future, "Students will be encouraged to speculate not just about future uses or programmes or places, but actually speculate about how they will be built," de Rijke says. "Material experiment will very much become part of the course."

De Rijke, of UK firm dRMM, was appointed to the role in September 2011 following the retirement of Nigel Coates in May.

Watch him give a tour of work by this year's graduates in our other movie filmed with him at the show and see all our coverage of Show RCA 2012 here.

Movie: tour of Architecture at Show RCA 2012
with Alex de Rijke


  • d

    So were not gonna train architects to be architects anymore? Sound like a good idea! /sarcasm

    • amsam

      I think it's the opposite actually, but thanks for trying.

  • johnny

    Good to see someone wants to apply architectural education. In recent years the ‘real world’ and the educational world have become far to distant. If you visit the architectural exhibitions you will see some wonderful drawings and models that are incomprehensible.

    This tricks us into believing that there is more too them that we can understand, but I can tell you as a recently graduated student this is not true. Do a nice drawing for your crit and you may get destroyed but come then end of the year it can be post-rationalised to make both you and your tutor look good.

  • sanellia

    Just watched the video from the RCA 2012 Show and from what I’ve seen this promised transition from “paper” to “buildable” hasn’t started yet. Is it for the next year?

  • Woycester83

    Love the chinese project and drawings !

  • H-J

    We need unbuildable paper utopias to be developed at our architecture schools, where else will there be a time and place for this? Only like this there might be a chance that something of this paper architecture seeps into the built reality. The paper architecture of today might be buildable tomorrow.

    • Jim

      The paper architecture of the 1960s is still paper architecture. We need much more emphasis on pragmatism and theory rather than pie in the sky. The schools in Spain or Switzerland provide this and have given their respective countries some wonderful architects.

      • H-J

        I have to disagree. The paper architecture of those days and of today inspires current and future generations and the paper architects themselves to push things forward. Paper architecture is theory by drawing instead of words.

        • sid

          This could get messy – BUT – paper architecture done by great architects is brilliant thinking by people who understand architecture and city/social planning etc. Students (some of which) have no architectural professional experience, isn’t great paper architecture it is science fiction. It is the same reason people get emotional about conceptual art. The originators had great skills and were choosing to work in a different way. They had the skills to do traditional paintings and chose not to use those skills in that way.

          Students making strange buildings that cannot be built – because that’s what fashionable – isn’t what the great 60s architects were about. This actually shows a lack of creativity.

  • Paper architecture moves us toward new almost impossible things… I hope, student's imagination won't be stopped…

    • sid

      I agree with the “almost” part. I think that’s a good place for people to work towards. Any further than that and you can specify great glass elevators with skyhooks.

  • jordanjlloyd

    The last scheme was fantastic, not only for its very human scale but a successful translation of Chinese phenomena in an English context (and translation into a believable project). The two tower proposal's I'm less keen on, due to either a shaky narrative or the lack of programmatic density. The second scheme involving the previously unbuilt highway way intriguing but I do wonder if we are just replacing one redundant infrastructure project with another.

  • Colonel Pancake

    The strongest incentive to ditch paper architecture in schools is that it forces students to learn the least desirable but most practical skills of building first, which can then later inform paper architecture through an intuitive understanding of physics and assemblage.

    Most paper architecture wouldn't exist if the designers understood construction, structure, tectonics, etc. It is wildly radical in form and creativivity merely because it operates on a plane of naivety in the designer's mind.

    Architecture is about firmness, commodity, and delight. If one wishes to abandon the two former for the latter, why then shall we call it architecture? Merely because it's made of concrete or steel? Hardly, I say. Let's call paper architecture what it is: sculpture fit for hypothetical habitation.

    • H-J

      What you suggest, Colonel, in a way makes you eliminate the impossible before you even dare dreaming of it. That, at best, would lead to optimized engineering of the known and not to new architecture…

      • sam

        Why does everything have to be so black and white? I Don’t think anyone is saying let’s turn architecture into advanced engineering solutions or to stop creativity and dreaming. If people are genuinely presenting Avatar-like floating buildings – waiting for that technology to develop! – that is a hard sell. When all boundaries are removed and the skill sets outsourced… then what is the difference between an Architect and Science Fiction Writer? What gives anyone’s point of view any credibility at all? There are a million Japanese comics out there that push boundaries further than these concepts.

        Surely architecture is about the inhabitants of the system/structure. If a concepts loses sight of them (the client ), then it’s a failure in my honest opinion. If there is no insight in how to bring it to fruition or how to begin that change in systems then it has lost that sight and become an work of fancy – effectively designing for a generation of people so far in the future and removed from us, we cannot understand the needs of them at all anyway.

        Lets get real! Bbut not too real.

    • Absolutely agree. It seems like the "function" part of architecture has been missing from much of the conceptual work we've been seeing.

  • mike

    Speaking as an RCA graduate: it is really important to explore the practical/pragmatic as well as the extreme concepts. It is one thing to create a rendering or computer model but creative people are often energised by constraints that are part of physically building something. I am looking forward to seeing what is produced personally.

  • Andrew K

    Ok. At first the headline got me somewhat perturbed as I find lots of value so called "paper architecture". However, upon listening to De Rijk's statement, I feel that dezeen was incredibly inflammatory in it's title. He doesn't discount it in lieu of investigation.

    I've transcribed the brief statement as follows:

    "Where is architectural education going? I mean here at the RCA there’s been a very consistent and considered challenging of preconceptions in architectural education for the last 16 years under the previous professorship of Nigel Coates. I just came here in January so, in a sense, I’m inheriting very strong agendas here. Historically, there’s always been a strong agenda on if you like paper architecture: the speculative, the work that’s provocative, but not necessarily makable, or at least not demonstrated. So one of my ambitions, if you like, for the course, is to overlay that, if you like critical and political sensibility with an agenda for making. Students will be encouraged to speculate not just about future uses or programs or places, but actually speculate about how they will be built. And material experiment will very much become part of the course."

    It makes me think that Dezeen has much more of a pedagogical agenda in architecture than I previously thought.

  • Howard

    Perhaps he should email the Bartlett!

    There are many schools of architecture that attain to the so called paper architecture, in an attempt to second themselves to the Bartlett. But the schools which shall produce architects that will build tomorrow have strong emphasis on construction and build-ability. Much like European schools, not fanciful pretentious crap produced by so called ‘world class’ schools. People need to understand this is the real world.