AA Diploma 16 – Homo Urbanus
Diploma 16 is a film-based unit at the Architectural Association that is composed of fourth and fifth-year students. The unit aims to provide tools of sensitive observation by exploring cinema as a language in itself – not as a pedagogical, illustrative or purely informative visual tool – in order to question the living conditions of today’s Homo Urbanus.
In its first year, Diploma 16 was based in London, where students underwent a solitary field trip to a city of their choice, amongst them Mumbai, Tokyo, Genoa and Jerusalem. Immersed in a foreign environment for two weeks, the students were encouraged to collect filmic observation, conduct interviews, sketch, and create mental cartographies of their new urban setting in order to uncover the cultural, political and economic layers that are at play. These representations of urban behaviours and practices were then brought back to London, where they were made into a film that was wholly self-produced, from research to editing and sound mixing. Using this method of visual anthropology and engaging fieldwork, students were encouraged to take an approach which is highly subjective, which resulted in a range of films that were incredibly personal. (Films from the 2019-2020 academic year can be viewed here: http://www.bekalemoine.com/aaschool_dip16/index.html).
Ila Bêka, Louise Lemoine and Gili Merin, AA Diploma 16 Homo Urbanus
The extraordinary circumstances of this year provided the unit with an incredible opportunity to explore the fragile and rapidly-evolving social conditions of the Homo Urbanus during the pandemic. Rather than being in London, most of the students were based in their own familiar setting, set in a position to observe their immediate environment for a prolonged period of time. To address the urgency of this crisis – which so heavily impacted our understanding of collective and urban life – we chose to focus on the theme of vulnerability in the various forms it manifests in the city. Unlike other architecture students in 2020, our students were encouraged to leave the confines of their home and engage, safely, with the outside world at a time when it was least likely to do so. The first weeks were dedicated to the transformation of their sense of familiarity with the place in order to gain a critical distance: film and reading seminars as well as short filmic exercises were taken in order to gain a critical distance from the place they know best. Once this was achieved, students could re-acquaint themselves with their hometowns as sensitive observers, and discover an acute local urban condition to focus on.
Du Hao, China, 14.50″
Voices Of Modern Ruins
Taek Gyun Won, South Korea, 13.20″
A Dissolving Rurality
Aijie Xiong, China, 15.27″
Each of these films focused on an urban case-study, utilised a different methodology, and learned from a variety of textual and filmic reference – becoming the architectural project. Resulting from an embodied and direct experience, the students produced their own theoretical tools rather than compiling abstract data into a distant analysis. That said, this method is entirely new to many of the students, who develop a set of new skills: techniques of anthropological field work, which include a high degree of personal involvement in direct and participative observation, and the ability to establish relationships of trusts and proximity. Students also confront cinematographic questions of point of view, narration, and technical constraints of light and sound. Perhaps the most difficult of the new skills is the awareness towards ethical issues towards the subject that is being filmed: the position of the filmmaker and their involvement in the scene (discrete observer or interventionist), conditions that question that notion of ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ in documentary filmmaking; in other words, how does their project relates to the dimensions of time, people and facts through the inherent subjectivity and inevitable artificiality of the filmic medium
Nikola Miloradovic, Canada, 13.16″
The City in a City
Eric Chan, Hong Kong, 13.17″
Zhehao Hong, China, 13.39″
This process year-long process has led to a series of films that can be seen as a result of each student’s psychoanalysis. Much like the previous year, the films were incredibly personal – only this time they could be refined with additional filming and by forming a close personal connection to the subject. Tomiris Batalova created Animal Urbanus, an ethno-fiction film that speculates on a future in which animals, especially livestock, are reintroduced into the urban life of Kazakhstan in order to form a new national identity that resurrects the old-new nomad. Chun Yu Eric Chan penetrated Hong Kong’s City within a City, Chungking Mansions, in order to observe life in this mixed-used megastructure that is inhabited by numerous nationalities. Dariya Chermisina focuses on the notion of Communal Privacy in post-Soviet Moscow by creating portraits of the intimate spaces of four generations in the city. Hao Du, from the city of Langfang, explores the Nonmingos – China’s precarious rural-urban migrant workers, by befriending an elderly couple and forming an incredible bond with a cleaner of the town’s canals. Zhehao Hong reports from his incarceration within a quarantine hotel, and later from his home within an urban Superblock that is revealed as a space no different to the hotel, where social and physical isolation are favoured. Based in Toronto, Nikola Miloradovic’s Homo Mobilis explores the automboil urbanism that developed in this prototypical north-american city, where car culture consumed any form of collectivity and created, instead, a city of security, privacy and isolation. Caterina Miralles Tagliabue was the unit’s only student in London: in her film Lon-Don-Eliness, she traces a day in the life of a city that was emptied from its inhabitants, leaving behind an echoing void of urban loneliness. Taek Gyun Won documented the Memories of Modern Ruins that were voiced from the demolition site next to his family’s home, a project that questions the material essence of a home and the meaning of its loss. Aijie Xiong’s Dissolving Rurality followed the process of displacement in the village of Wantou, where his family has lived for five generations, with the aim of documenting the spatial rituals of the community in order to form collective memories.
The films you will see in this capsule are composed of two distinct parts. The first is a presentation for their research, intentions, and methodology; an explanation of the process each student went through and an introduction to the film. The film follows as an independent work, in a condensed version of approximately 7-9 minutes.
Caterina Miralles Tagliabue, UK, 14,23″
I am No Mad; I am Nomad
Tomiris Batalova, Kazakhstan, 12.24″
Dariya Cheremisina, Russia, 12.06″
Ila Bêka & Louise Lemoine, presented by The New York Times as the “cult figures in the European architecture world”, Bêka & Lemoine have stood out on the international architectural scene for the last 15 years through a cinematographic work known for its innovative nature and its tender and biting humour, disrupting the usual representation of contemporary architecture by putting people and uses at the forefront. Presented in major biennials and international cultural events such as the Venice Architecture Biennale (2008, 2010, 2014), The Oslo Architecture Triennale 2016 and Performa 2017 New York among others, their films are also frequently exhibited in some of the most prestigious museums and international cultural institutions, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Bêka & Lemoine’s films have also largely been selected and awarded by some major film festivals such as CAFx (Copenhagen), DocAviv (Tel Aviv), ADFF (New York), AFFR (Rotterdam), among many others.
Bêka & Lemoine have been invited as guest professors at GSAPP / Columbia University (New York), Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio (Switzerland), Domaine de Boisbuchet (France) and HEAD in Geneva (Switzerland). They are currently teaching Diploma 16 at AA School in London.
Gili Merin is an architect and photographer based in London. She teaches at the Architectural Association, the Royal College of Arts, and Syracuse University. She studied at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem, UDK in Berlin, and Waseda University in Tokyo. Gili was trained as an architect and researcher at OMA Rotterdam and Kuehnm Malvezzi and participated in a number of international exhibitions. Her works have been showcased at the Venice Architecture Biennale, HKW in Berlin, and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, and published in the Economist, the Architects’ Journal, Frame, Ha’aretz, Metropolis, and the Monocle. Her PhD “Towards Jerusalem: The Architecture of Pilgrimage” (awarded with the AA writing prize in 2018) explores structures of spiritual travel using photography as a design tool.