AA accused of "destroying its own cultural mission" over redundancy plans

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Architectural Association accused of "destroying its own cultural mission" over redundancy plans

Staff cuts could put the publishing and exhibitions operations at the Architectural Association school at risk, prompting outrage from leading architects and writers.

All six members of the AA's publications department and the two employees in its exhibitions team are among sixteen members of staff threatened with redundancy, according to a report in the Architects Journal last week.

If the cuts go ahead, they could mean the closure of the school's magazine and exhibitions programmes, including the much-loved in-house journal the AA Files.

Writer and broadcaster Tom Dyckhoff described the news as "gruesome" and "madness".

"The Architectural Association's books, magazines and exhibitions are vital to the UK's architectural culture," Dyckhoff wrote on Twitter.

Architectural publishing house Circa Press said the proposal was "mindless cultural vandalism" and warned that the AA was "destroying its own cultural mission".

"Virtually everything that makes the AA special is embodied in the work of the publications and exhibitions teams," the publisher tweeted. "The AA is being hollowed out intellectually and nobody seems able to prevent it."

Based in Bedford Square in central London, the Architectural Association School of Architecture is the UK's oldest independent architecture school and widely regarded as one of the most influential in the world. Famous alumni include Zaha Hadid, Rem KoolhaasRon AradBen van Berkel and Peter Cook.

Architects, curators and publishers reacted with dismay to the news of potential cuts.

"One of the things that has made the AA special is its role as a cultural hub," Justin McGuirk, chief curator at London's Design Museum, told Dezeen.

"Exhibitions, book publishing and a world-class journal have been central to the school's intellectual life and its reputation, and it would be a huge pity to lose that dimension."

Architect, think tank founder and former member of the AA faculty Liam Young said the exhibitions and publications teams were "fundamental" to the school's identity and "must be fought for".

"It is critical that the AA maintains its visibility as the authors of content not just the purveyor of degrees. The AA is a platform," Young told Dezeen.

"During my time as a member of the AA faculty I have always had the potential to publish a book, curate an exhibition, or run an event that has defined my experience here differently from all the other universities I have taught at," he added.

"The AA has been a place where students aren’t coached to produce that last projects of their life as students but are giving the platform to produce the first projects of their burgeoning careers."

Critic and author Owen Hatherley told Dezeen the AA's restructure "should be strenuously resisted by anyone interested in architecture."

"For decades now AA Files has been publishing the sort of sensitive, detailed, theoretical and surprising research that architecture – a discipline so often strangely ignorant about its past, especially its recent past - needs," Hatherley said.

Hatherley was one of many who spoke up in support of the AA's editorial team.

"Tom Weaver's work there as editor has been especially rare and valuable. Its possible closure isn't the only reason to be worried about the AA's 'restructuring', but it's among the most alarming," he added.

Irénée Scalbert, who sits on the board of the AA Files, also voiced his support for the long-time editor of the AA Files.

"Tom Weaver fought for the magazine for 10 years, transforming both its contents and its appearance to make it the most successful architectural magazine worldwide," Scalbert told Dezeen. "To remove him would be crassly irresponsible."

Some questioned the logic behind the decision to focus on the departments that champion the cultural commitments of the AA. In its founding charter drawn up in 1847, the AA gave itself a "mandate to promote architecture through publishing".

"Got to say, that AA business seems spectacularly short-sighted," tweeted RIBA Journal co-curator Charles Holland.

Others bemoaned the potential loss of the exhibitions team.

"Amazing to think that if the AA stops doing exhibitions there won't be a single venue in London committed to showing the best young architectural practices from across the world," tweeted Ellis Woodman, director of the Architecture Foundation.

The staff cuts have being proposed under interim director Samantha Hardingham, who took up the role as interim director in August this year. Previous director Brett Steele had held the post for 11 years before he left to take up the role as head of arts at the University of California.

The school is currently advertising for a new director. The application period ends today.

Although the final decision on job cuts has yet to be made by the AA, some commentators felt that the AA Files fate was already sealed.

"Deeply upsetting news that the often marvellous, witty, thought-provoking, and beautifully produced AA Files is to be no more," said historian and writer Otto Saumarez Smith.

Not everyone was surprised by the news, however.

"I am struggling to share the hysteria around the AA gallery news," tweeted designer, critic and Dezeen columnist Phineas Harper.

"The AF shut down its small gallery and three years later engages an audience measurable in the tens of thousands. Why is nobody more optimistic about what might come next for the AA?"

The AA ranked at number 7 in the schools category of the inaugural Dezeen Hot List.

Photograph is by Jeremysm.