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ADS Themes 2019/20

MA Architecture

The core learning on the MA Architecture programme is project-based according to a unit system made up of seven architectural design studios (ADSs), each with a unique set of concerns, methods and critical frameworks. Each ADS has approximately 14 students, with first- and second-year students working alongside each other. 


ADS0: Babel – Portraying Cities, Landscapes, Architecture & Machines in the Face of Catastrophe

Tutors: Steve Salembier (Bildraum) & Paul Sheppeard with Maria Paez Gonzalez

In Pieter Brueghel the Elder's famous painting, The Tower of Babel (1563), we are confronted with multiple visions: a portrait of a city; a marvellous city-object under construction; a mountain-like-building; an urban monolith reminiscent of Rome's colosseum, but even greater and more daring in its complexity; a dazzling project by humanity striving for greatness; Nimrod aspiring to stardom through the construction of a world-class landmark; and a dream for ambitious architects. A closer viewing brings us back to the biblical moral of Genesis, Chapter 11, Verses 1–9. Here, as a counterweight to our first impressions, the tower is depicted as a less heroic achievement, even as a true recipe for disaster with a plain message – big is bad – as greatness is the personal privilege of God. In other words, as humans constantly overestimate our ability to reshape the world to our desires, ‘hybris’ is definitely is one of our biggest flaws. In the case of Babel, God punished us for our overarching architectural ambitions by making us speak different languages. It then became impossible to collaborate, construction works came to a halt and the tower fell into ruins. Some even say it was instantly destroyed by the bad breath of God. Since that moment, mankind has been left to wander across the face of the Earth – Exit Eden Phase 2.0 BCE ...read more.

Toyo Ito's Sendai Mediatheque after the 2011 earthquake
Toyo Ito's Sendai Mediatheque after the 2011 earthquake

ADS1: The Cave and the Tent

Tutors: Douglas Murphy & Andrea Zanderigo (Baukuh)

This year, ADS1 will turn our attention to architectural ecology. Hearing the call to declare architecture‘s commitment to a future of climate justice, we will centre our investigations not on technological or futurological speculations but on questions fundamental to the core of the discipline: history, form, and culture.

Donald Trump‘s nihilistic hostility to ecological matters is well known, but on the other hand Xi Jinping has recently been espousing his ‘two mountains‘ theory, arguing that 'the green mountain is as valuable as the gold one'. That all sounds very good, but is it nearly enough? Shouldn’t the green mountain be bigger than the gold one? It is hardly a new idea that compound growth within a finite system is an impossible contradiction....read more.

The Cave and the Tent
The Cave and the Tent


ADS2: National Park 

Tutors: Ahmed Belkhodja, Diana Ibáñez López & David Knight  

It is said that the designation of Yellowstone as the world’s first public National Park was initially proposed around a campfire in 1871 by a team of US geologists, who came up with the notion that its 9,000km2 territory should be kept in public ownership in perpetuity. One year later this radical vision became law, however the site was then guarded by a special military garrison for the next 30 years as the designation took many years to come into effect. As with other examples around the globe, the consequences of this delay are still being contested. Today, the aid-funded militarisation of National Parks is on the rise in Asia and Africa in an attempt to curb poaching. Google is investing in WWF research into drone surveillance systems for wilderness reserves. In the Himalayas, the Siachen glacier – in a National Park – is a highly militarised international border and, at over 5,000m, the highest conflict zone on earth ...read more.

South Downs National Park
In the UK, as elsewhere, National Parks have followed broader patterns of species decline. Recent rewilding projects, such as on the Nash-designed Knepp Castle estate in the South Downs National Park, have attempted to address this.



ADS3: Refuse Trespassing Our Bodies: Metabolising the Built Environment

Tutors: Daniel Fernández Pascual & Alon Schwabe

We are pollutants. Since the Industrial Revolution, countless synthetic substances have started floating, flowing, melting, infecting, disrupting or dwelling within and around us. These pollutants did not exist before and will not now disappear. Quite the opposite. There is a pressing need to map these pollutants in order to understand the roles of modernity and urbanisation in disseminating them across the Earth. Even if ‘recycling’ processes are meant to make ‘dirty’ matter ‘clean,’ most of these chemical compounds are indestructible and will continue to circulate across rivers, soil, groundwater, air, cities, buildings, factories and human and non-human matter. To name but a few of these compounds – carbon dioxide, nitrogen monoxide, arsenic, petroleum, glass fibrrs, PCBs, DDTs, asbestos, cement, hormones, food colourings, flame retardants, antioxidants and microplastics. In 2019/20, ADS3 will examine these pollutants as a point of departure for understanding how we metabolise the built environment. These substances are not only constructing new environments, but also challenging the boundaries of the spaces and skins we thought we were inhabiting....read more.

Pigeons are increasingly metabolising heavy metals from the air in their feathers, a process known as industrial melanism. The more pollution absorbed in their body, the darker they become. Image: Randy von Liski / Smithsonian.com
Pigeons are increasingly metabolising heavy metals from the air in their feathers, a process known as industrial melanism. The more pollution absorbed in their body, the darker they become. Image: Randy von Liski / Smithsonian.com



ADS4: Plots, Props & Paranoia: How Architecture Stages Conspiracy

Tutors: Tom Greenall & Matteo Mastrandrea with Nicola Koller

July 2019 marked five decades since humankind first landed on the Moon. While it took 400,000 virtually-anonymous NASA engineers, scientists and technicians to achieve this feat, only one person was required to start the conspiracy theory that the event was staged. His name was Bill Kaysing. 

Despite the extraordinary volume of evidence that proves the landing actually occurred –including 382kg of moon rock collected across six missions, corroboration from Russia, Japan and China, and images from the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter documenting the tracks made by the astronauts in the moondust – Kaysing’s theory has ensured that today, just over half-a-century later, more than one in ten Americans believe the moon landing was a hoax ...read more.

Vincent Fournier, Apollo Control Room, John F. Kennedy Space Centre, 2011
Vincent Fournier, Apollo Control Room, John F. Kennedy Space Centre, 2011.


ADS5: Camping in a High–Rise

Tutors: Christopher Dyvik, Max Kahlen & Isabel Pietri

ADS5 continues to be interested in exploring the spatial qualities of buildings through an intuitive process of enquiry into form and modes of inhabitation. The studio is driven by a process of learning from buildings we like, understanding their underlying logic, proportion, materiality, composition and tectonics. This process of learning relies as much on meticulous formal analysis, as it does on intuition and pure observation, free of preconceptions and eager to reveal the unseen/essential qualities of form.

Two years ago, the first instalment of Ambiguous Architecture took place in the countryside, where a certain instability created the space for multiple readings and interpretations. In the second instalment, we focused on ‘twins’ as a device to reveal the essence of a formal order, or dis-order. This year, in the third iteration of our exploration, we will delve into the most iconic building typology: the high-rise ...read more.

ADS5 – Form
ADS5 – Form


ADS6: The Deindustrial Revolution: Garden of Making 

Tutors: Clara Kraft, Satoshi Isono & Guan Lee

‘There is no time in modern agriculture for a farmer to write a poem or compose a song.’ 
— Masanobu Fukuoka

Masanobu Fukuoka’s plea asks us to consider how to do less to the environment while having a similar outcome. When it comes to sustainability, should we do less to do more? This year in ADS6 we are continuing our theme of de-industrialisation, focussing on the role we play towards ecological sustainability in architectural production and, critically, an examination of the relationship between the construction industry and social-environmental wellbeing. Under the sub-theme ‘Garden of Making’, we invite you students to integrate their design projects with an urgent call for greener and more thoughtful approaches toward the environmental implications of our actions as architects and inhabitants of our natural world ...read more.

Biosphere 2, University of Arizona. Photo: Hbarrison, 2015
Biosphere 2, University of Arizona. Photo: Hbarrison, 2015


ADS7: Something in the Air – Politics of the Atmosphere

Tutors: Marco Ferrari & Elise Hunchuck with Jingru (Cyan) Cheng

'The sky starts at your feet. Think how brave you are to walk around.’
— Anne Herbert

The atmosphere-ocean environment of our planet – which we call Earth – has gradually evolved over four billion years. The atmosphere is a gas and aerosol envelope – we call it air – that surrounds our planet, extending out from its surface toward space. This envelope is only held in place by the gravitational pull of the planet and is at its most dense at the surface, where gravity pulls the gases and microscopic particles of dust and smoke and chemicals inward, settling on the surface and being absorbed by its inhabitants ...read more.

Taf. XII. Arbildungen aus der Meteorologie, die Verschiedenen Erscheinngen der Atmosphare Darstellend. (Pictures from meteorology, depicting the different states of the atmosphere.) Ludwig Preyssinger, 1855. Source: David Rumsey
Taf. XII. Arbildungen aus der Meteorologie, die Verschiedenen Erscheinngen der Atmosphare Darstellend. (Pictures from meteorology, depicting the different states of the atmosphere.) Ludwig Preyssinger, 1855. Source: David Rumsey



ADS8: Data Matter: Digital Networks, Data Centres & Posthuman Institutions

Tutors: Kamil Hilmi Dalkir, Marina Otero Verzier & Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli

The world is drowning in data. Every second, 2.8 million emails are sent, 30,000 phrases are Googled and 600 updates are tweeted. The amount of data uploaded to the Internet in a single second is a staggering 24,000 gigabytes. Propelled by the Internet of Things, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created each day. This figure grows exponentially. In fact, 90 per cent of the world’s data was generated over the last two years. Algorithmic intelligence regulates this trans–border flow of information through sophisticated tracking and surveillance systems, generating immense amounts of real-time digital personhood, identities and architectures. While our datafied existences are progressively evaporating in bytes and remote connections, the material and spatial consequences of data production and consumption remain largely unanticipated ...read more.

Data: The New Black Gold. Photogrammetry. Ibiye Camp 2019
Data: The New Black Gold. Photogrammetry. Ibiye Camp 2019


ADS9: Aura: A Call for Open Architecture

Tutors: John Ng & Zsuzsa Péter with James Kwang Ho Chung

The Open is both unbounded and precise. The Open does not mean ‘anything goes’, or a total absence of architectural elements. We have become dependent on walls to give us the ability to negotiate, share and reason with others. The idea of Openness rejects this compulsion to such familiar forms of division, destroys the power of the enclosure and wipes away historical orders. The Open challenges our reliance on architectural categories of type, context, scale, function and style in the conception of space. The Open is beautiful ...read more.

‘Air Architecture’, Yves Klein, 1961
Yves Klein, ‘Air Architecture’, 1961


ADS10: Savage Architecture: Building Common Knowledge

Tutors: Gianfranco Bombaci, Matteo Costanzo, Francesca Romana Dell'Aglio & Davide Sacconi

We began our journey toward a Savage Architecture by looking at Rome as a city paradigm that is an alternative to the current dominant models of urbanisation. Rome is a city made of finite pieces and parts that respond to the symbolic needs of collective rituals, rather than conform to the functional urgencies of continuous expansion. We then examined more closely the relationship between architecture and man, exploring the idea that architecture is not about shelter, or wealth, or power, but rather about providing material and symbolic forms that satisfy the human need of gathering ...read more.

OMA, Netherland Dance Theatre, Den Hague, Fraser Ingram 1984-87
OMA, Netherland Dance Theatre, Den Hague, Fraser Ingram 1984-87


ADS11: Already There

Tutors: Renaud Haerlingen & Victor Meester (Rotor) with Livia Wang

At a time when concerns about material resources are common, ADS11 are especially concerned with the quality and quantity of what is being demolished. Instead of speculating on the future, we engage with on-going transformations in London and demonstrating the changes in our ways of building – and deconstructing – that are now possible. Understanding these changes is essential....read more

Opalis Challenge. Rotor, 2018
Opalis Challenge. Rotor, 2018


ADS12: Sight/Seeing

Tutors: Benjamin Reynolds & Valle Medina

Extending our past explorations, in 2019/20 ADS12 will again be concerned with our ‘sensibilities to discern within massive change’. Following our consideration of ‘Chronocopia’, or the way we characterise time(s) to comprehend complexity, this year the function and conspicuity of the ‘image’ will be on trial.

After the discovery of linear perspective, the eye inevitably began to dominate the nature and scope of our interactions. Science and culture tended to evolve under the influence of an ocularcentric rationale. Alberti even placed the eye ahead of all other traits ‘to be the first, chief, king, like a god of human parts’ ...read more.

Left: The indecipherable still life. Photo: Reddit. Right: Ephemeral “bullets comments” on Chinese video-sharing website bilibili populate the screen adding to the original plot of TV series. Photo: bilibili.
Left: The indecipherable still life. Photo: Reddit. Right: Ephemeral “bullets comments” on Chinese video-sharing website bilibili populate the screen adding to the original plot of TV series. Photo: bilibili.