Penndesign London AA visiting program

My computer crashed when I was writing this post a while ago, so I was kind of discouraged to rewrite this post for the longest time, but here I am again rewriting it after 4 weeks of not posting anything new!

I've been thinking about writing a post about the program for a long time, and also what to include, since my past posts have been dreadfully long and full of pictures. This time I'm going to try the opposite, and be succinct with pictures and talk more about the program including in some pro tips and what I wish I knew before taking a semester at the AA.  If you find mistakes please just tell me so I can correct it! This post will be split in these parts:

 

Intro

The previous paragraphs in this post have been written a while back, and my blog has started to get stagnant so I guess It's a good time to stop this laziness. It's the first day of school, and I've been asked multiple times "How was the London program?", and quite frankly I wish I had finished this blog a long time ago so I people could just visit here for my perspective on the program. I guess I had more time to think in retrospect about our semester in London. I will also write another blog soon about the places I visited in london here

**Pro-Tip - MAKE SURE TO VISIT A LOT OF BUILDINGS DURING LONDON OPEN HOUSE

Usually the first or second week of class! Search it online if your taking the program and just got to London. Places to go visit:

  • Lloyds building (wasn't open this year)
  • Foster + Partners( Adrian dropped his portfolio here during the event)
  • City Hall ( By Foster + Partners )
  • The Gherkin ( By Fosters+ Partners)
  • LSE
  • Trellick tower ( Requires sign up in advance but worth it)
  • Free London Eye ride ( sign up in advance)
  • etc.

Anyways enough of going off topic! Since schools in London have shorter semesters, the UPenn London AA starts a bit later than the normal 700 studios in Penn. (Approximately 10/1, but our own studios with Homa starts 9/17 with a short intro to the AA on 9/15). Living is also not accommodated by the school, so we had to look for short term leases on our own. ( Housing costs range from 150 pounds[275 USD] a week to 400 pounds[600 USD] a week, depending on location and size). In general most of us took 2 other electives along with our required studio course. Most of us also traveled a lot during the weekends because of the close proximity to amazing countries!  

Front door of AA wioth Didier Faustino's temporary sculpture

Front door of AA wioth Didier Faustino's temporary sculpture

The lady who gave us the intro described AA as "a box of chocolates"  you might have too much chocolate but remember to do your work for studio!

London AA walking tour from benny

Some courses also allow students to visit the AA Hooke Park Campus~

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Environment

AA is located inside a few adjacent row apartments at Bedford Square

AA is located inside a few adjacent row apartments at Bedford Square

So how's London? London is great! That's the short answer, but really there is a lot to see and do in London, just that everything is kind of expensive. I've been eating at a Japanese fast food restaurant called "Wasabi" near AA since a meal is only 5 pounds[7.5 USD], Wasabi is pretty much everywhere in london which made it really convenient for me. These fast food japanese restaurants seem to be quite popular in london. There are multiple restaurants like this rapidly expanding throughout london, and I love them!

WASABI- I ate the curry there every day for a while..

WASABI- I ate the curry there every day for a while..

AA is also located near Oxford street, one of the largest shopping districts in London

There is a lot of brutalist architecture in London, and there are a few interesting projects near the AA. ( Cover them in my later post)

 

I'm starting to miss london as I continue to write this post see the images of the streets in London.

China town is also located about a 10-15 minute walk away from the AA which is really convenient!

Finally I forgot to mention that the closest tube near the AA is Tottenham Court Road. The tube station was under construction for the central line for over half the semester, but in the end they fixed it just before the semester ended. This didn't affect me because I usually use the nothern line anyway, but what to take from this is that the infrastructure repair speed in the UK is extremely slow! They took about half an year to fix an escalator near my tube station. Still slow repair is better than no repair, and the public transit in london is definitely cleaner and better than that of NYC.

Tottenham Court Road metro escalator

Tottenham Court Road metro escalator


Facilities

":AA is like a box of chocolate" and that box is a maze connected through adjacent row houses near bedford square! I actually love how AA connected, and how people circulate through these tiny pathways within the school. Our studio is located on the top floor of 39 Bedford Square ( called 4th floor in europe but the 5th floor in the states), so walking up to studio is a small work out who those of us who aren't really fit. There are two computer rooms at 39 bedford square and we are also right next to the AA DRL program with Patrik Schumacher. 

 

Another thing I must mention is that AA actually closes at 10 PM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NO ALL NIGHTERS which is kind of bad for people who work faster after midnight(me), but we usually just continue work at home, and london underground also closes around midnight, so I guess that's why they close the AA.

Entrance to our studio

Entrance to our studio

Climbing up to the 5th floor where our studio space is located

Climbing up to the 5th floor where our studio space is located

Fab Lab and Computer labs

I've actually never used the CNC milling machine there, but I heard you just have to prepare a file and let the operators take a check and then get on the queue. Laser cutting is a different story, they have an intense online sign up system every night at 9pm( really 9:03 pm) and people fight to sign up for hour long slots on the four laser cutting machines offered. There are also no penalties for not showing up!

 

** Pro-tip: Use the middle button to spam laser sign ups with new tabs popping up, instead of pressing back page. 

** Pro-tip 2 : Outsource to ABC image to print higher quality boards and avoid the AA print queue for reviews

These pictures will give you a sense of the corridors in AA. I didn't take a picture of the cafeteria in the basement, but it is another cheap option for lunch (4-7 pounds) and the food tastes... really healthy

AA Cafe- You can casually catch Patrik Schumacher drinking coffee here

Lecture hall

Lecture hall

Kuma san

Kuma san

Kengo Kuma's Lecture at the AA

 

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Elective Courses

As Penn penn students, we can either take history classes or media study classes at the AA. It is important to note that these elective courses are mostly undergraduate courses, and would not be as challenging and rewarding as the graduate electives offered at Penn. That is not to say that they are not good courses, just not as challenging as you would expect them to be. Just imagine yourself taking courses with people 3-4 years younger than you. In general the courses were still very good~you can contact me for the list of courses that are provided by the AA.

 

This is a sketching class that I took, where we went to museums every Wednesday morning to sketch sculptures and objects to frame whatever we felt were important. I know I know, you might think " This guy went all the way to AA to take a sketching class???" Yes I did, but I also got to become a part time student and save some money for my last semester!

AA Media Studies Jury

More Work

More Work from Media Studies

Part of my theory paper on Ex Yugoslavian monuments

Part of my theory paper on Ex Yugoslavian monuments

I didn't want this post to be too long so I made slideshows for the pictures from the media studies jury!

 

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Main Studio

 

Finally probably the most important part of this post! Our studio in the AA was led by professor Homa Farjadi along with her two instructors Eleni Paulidou and Pierandrea Angius. Homa was extremely helpful and insightful as a professor, and both eleni and pierandrea were great instructors and showed up each week for our desk crits in this room:

Main Desk crit room

Main Desk crit room

Our projects were based on investigations on Andrea Branzi's "No Stop City", a continuation of archizoom from the 70s. The brief states that "Design is not meant to be a humanist remedy for alienation, but recognizes alienation as part of the life of the city. Our projects seek to discover radical concepts which achieve a catatonic space in architecture. 

Pierandrea pensive, staring at shiwei and yuhang's no stop car park

Pierandrea pensive, staring at shiwei and yuhang's no stop car park

These are the studio rooms, where we were split up into 3 different rooms. We used a larger room for presentations and mini reviews.

Guheng and Homa

Guheng and Homa

I personally like the studio space at penn much more, but I've recently heard about the rat stories around penndesign... so maybe I might like the AA studio space more then...The inspector actually comes clean the room every day at AA... 

Our Study models during the semester

Final Presentation~ 

Final review after party!

 

The semester just ended like that, and I felt extremely empty. I guess this was the end of our experience in AA! It was definitely one of my most memorable semesters in my student career, and also an amazing year for me of travelling and falling in love with brutalist architecture. 

                                 

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Conclusion

London is a beautiful city, filled with great architecture everywhere. I would recommend this program if you want to experience living in this world class city for 4 months! Just remember living is quite expensive!

Transportation is quite convenient in London, and there is also a 7 pound up limit for travelling, after that everything is free that day.

It was definitely a fun semester for all of us, although we didn't really travel together that often. Pictures above are from Congee's birthday party~ we are missing a few people from the pics

AA Year end party, honestly the happy hours at penn beat it.

Slow time lapse video

Bedford Square

Bedford Square

So here it is, the final conclusion of this post. Would I recommend people to go to AA? Yes if you want to be able to travel around europe, and also discover London. Homa is a great professor who actually cares about her students, she respects and listens to the ideas of her students and gives really insightful comments. Homa is very knowledgeable and will give great suggestions, but it all depends on what one puts on the table for her to comment on. There are a lot of a distractions in London, such as the need to travel each weekend ; and I agree, people who take the program should travel as much as they can handle to experience architecture outside of school and also work hard on studio at the same time. One other thing that may be a deciding factor for people who want to go to AA, is finding out who the other people going to AA are. In our case we were really disperse, it seemed like everyone was doing their own travelling after the first week, which wouldn't be as fun as going places together in a group. AA electives are all undergraduate courses, but if you are social enough you can meet a lot of other students in the computer lab, library or the cafe. Don't expect to make a lot of friends from AA being shy and not talking to other people on your own.

Anyway here are my Pros and Cons of the Program:

Pros

Cons

  • High Living cost
  • Shorter AA Semester ( 14 week with 10 week electives)
  • Electives are undergrad classes
  • Need an extra effort to meet people and make connections

 

I finally found time and motivation to finish this post!! Thanks to all those people who've been asking me about the program and mentally stimulating my laziness. Feel free to contact me for more information!

-Ian Liu

1/13/2016 3.AM ( as always)  

10 PM to 3AM~

 

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