Experimentation and Innovation (v.12)

The Design Research Laboratory (DRL) is a 16-month post-professional design programme leading to a Masters degree in Architecture and Urbanism (MArch in Architecture & Urbanism)*. Launched over a decade ago, the DRL has been organised as an open-source design studio dedicated to a systematic exploration of new design tools, systems and discourses, targeted towards design innovations in architecture and urbanism. Learning in the studio is project-based and includes the development of comprehensive, year-long design projects supported by design workshops and seminars applying new forms of associative logic. Collective, self-organised design teams, organised within five parallel design studios, address an overall design research agenda through shared information-based diagrams, data, models and scripts.

The DRL actively investigates and develops the design skills needed to capture, control and shape a continuous flow of information across the distributed electronic networks of today’s rapidly evolving digital design disciplines. At the DRL’s dedicated studio, a new generation of designers experiments with these complex tools and interfaces, aiming towards incremental design innovations during the 16-month course. The DRL is a highly diverse graduate design programme, with an international student and staff base. Over the past decade many of the world’s most innovative architects, designers and theorists have visited the course as guest critics, including Iñaki Ábalos, Stan Allen, Wiel Arets, Andrew Benjamin, Carolyn Bos, Mark Burry, Karl Chu, Peter Cook, Xavier Costa, Lise-Anne Couture, Nathalie De Vries, Hernan Diaz-Alonso, Winka Dubbeldam, Mark Goulthorpe, Nicholas Grimshaw, Zaha Hadid, Jeffrey Kipnis, Sulan Kolatan, Rem Koolhaas, Tom Kovac, Sanford Kwinter, Bart Lootsma, Ross Lovegrove, Greg Lynn, Winy Maas, William MacDonald, Detlef Mertins, Frederic Migayrou, Farshid Moussavi, Kas Oosterhuis, Wolf Prix, Ali Rahim, Jesse Reiser, Dagmar Richter, François Roche, Robert Somol, Lars Spuybroek, Ben van Berkel, Tom Wiscombe and many others.

Course Structure
Four terms of study are divided into two phases. Phase I, a three-term academic year beginning each autumn, introduces design techniques and topics through a combination of team-based studio, workshop and seminar courses. In Phase II, beginning the following autumn, design teams carry forward their Phase I work in the form of comprehensive thesis design projects. At the end of January these projects are presented to a panel of internationally distinguished visiting critics in a public jury. After this, in February, each team documents and submits their 16 months of design research work in a publishable hardbound book.

Phase I Design Research Agenda: Proto Design (v.1)
In the autumn term 2009 the DRL began work on a new design research agenda, Proto Design, investigating digital and material prototyping as the methodology as well as the primary design outcome of studio work. Parametric modelling and coding systems are emphasised as the vehicles in this new field of experimentation on multiple, sequential and recursive prototypical systems and spaces. Far from heralding the end of the design project as a form of research, this new performance- driven approach aims for more specific design proposals concerned with concrete design problems. The iterative methodologies of the design studio will be directed towards the investigation of new spatial, structural and material organisations, and to the formulation of new discourses on contemporary computation and materialisation in the disciplines of architecture and urbanism.

Phase II Design Research Agenda: Parametric Urbanism (v.3)
In January 2009 the DRL completed the third and final cycle of its Parametric Urbanism agenda, with Phase II thesis projects proposing innovative forms of globalised urbanisation in sites located in New York, Moscow, São Paulo and Ras Al-Khaimah (UAE). The DRL develops design techniques able to manage the immensely complex qualities of interaction, communication and exchange that characterise the twenty-first-century city. Our approach to Parametric Urbanism addresses the ways in which associative design systems can control local dynamic information to effect and adjust larger urban life-processes by embedding intelligence into the formation, organisation and performance of urban spaces, uses, activities, interfaces, structures and infrastructures.

Phase I Design Studio: Prototyping Architecture
Alisa Andrasek, Yusuke Obuchi, Patrik Schumacher, Christos Passas, Theodore Spyropoulos
Five studios will challenge the notion of the design project driven exclusively by contextual and programmatic parameters. Each studio will introduce a specific arena of concepts, tools and intended outcomes related to prototypes of urbanism, architecture and detail systems. This body of initial research work will be carried forward to Phase II in 2009/10 and applied to a series of specific briefs and sites for each studio.

Phase II Design Studio: Global Urbanisation
Yusuke Obuchi, Patrik Schumacher, Theodore Spyropoulos, Tom Verebes
Design teams will carry forward their Phase I work on initial parametric models, structures and prototypes in developing concrete project briefs and comprehensive Phase II design proposals. Continuing their investigation into strategies for radical urban development and transformation, they will aim to progress from familiar models of emblematic internationalism towards new iterative organisational models for high-density urbanism that respond to the specific local contextual forces of four cities in four continents. (Autumn Term)

Phase I Design Workshops Performative Prototypes
Alisa Andrasek, Jeroen van Ameijde, Lawrence Friesen, Riccardo Merello, Yusuke Obuchi, Theodore Spyropoulos, Robert Stuart-Smith, Tom Verebes
Autumn Term begins with two sets of three design workshop modules, emphasising computational and material prototyping as both an analytical methodology as well as the prime mode of design production and representation. Each five-week module focuses on a specific set of methods and intended design output, introducing Phase I students to a broad range of concepts and techniques to bring forward to further workshops and the year-long Phase I and Phase II studio projects.

Dynamic Digital Behaviours
Jeroen van Ameijde
Using scripting and dynamics as mapping tools to organise performative aspects throughout arrays or fields, this intensive studio-based design module will investigate the architectural object as a prototypical moment selected from a field of varied organisational possibilities. (Spring Term)

Shajay Bhooshan, Robert Stuart-Smith
The seminar will investigate ‘throughput’ in design with the aim of fabricating a family of self-similar objects and/or assemblies that embody a designed character from their process of generation. Explorations into the visualisation and abstraction of data, algorithmic design methodologies and fabrication techniques will be harnessed towards physical manifestations in two and three dimensions. (Summer Term)

Kristine Mun
This studio-based design module investigates the fusion of information and nature in architectural thinking and practice through the examination of metalurgmaterial behaviurs. These new methodologies and their associated technologies will introduce microscale structural diagrammatic processes in digital and analogue modes of design production. (Spring Term)

Technical Design Research Project
Riccardo Merello/Arups Associates/Advanced Technology Research Group; Lawrence Friesen/Buro Happold; Hanif Kara, Andrew Murray, Marco Vannucci/Adams Kara Taylor
Three teams of technical tutors will begin this two-term research project by introducing an overview of recent engineering and technical advances and cutting-edge developments in their own research-driven practices. They will then investigate a specific set of computational design, simulation and analytical tools to be applied in ongoing design studio work. (Spring and Summer Terms)

Phase II Design Workshop
Parametric Systems and Structures
Alisa Andrasek, Yusuke Obuchi, Theodore Spyropoulos, Tom Verebes, DRL technical tutors, Autumn Term
A five-week workshop II will address a detailed element of the spatial, structural, material and environmental systems of each team’s thesis project, with an emphasis on modelling techniques which act as feedback mechanisms for the testing and development of the larger-scale design proposals.

Phase I Core Seminars
Design as Research I: Open Source
Yusuke Obuchi, Theodore Spyropoulos, Tom Verebes
Pursuing design as a form of research raises a series of questions that this course will examine in relation to larger technological, economic and cultural contexts. The seminar will explore ways of associating design with forms of research as well as the implications of this for architectural practice, representation, products, design documents and media. Weekly sessions will include presentations related to course reading. (Autumn Term)

Critical Projects: Prototyping Urbanism
Tom Verebes
This survey course focuses on a broad selection of experimental case study projects, investigating a brief history of prototyping, ranging across design disciplines and scales of operation, including urbanism, architecture, furniture design, interaction design, robotics and other fields. Each seminar session will introduce and investigate key projects, techniques and their associated texts in a series of student-led presentations and discussions, aiming to contextualise and articulate the DRL agenda of Proto Design. (Autumn Term)

Synthesis: Project Submission Writing & Research Documentation
Kristine Mun
These weekly sessions will review the basics of writing, research and project documentation related to DRL course submissions. Presentations will cover research resources in London, the preparation of thesis abstracts, writing styles and issues related to essays, papers and project booklets. Tutorials will discuss ongoing research topics and seminar and studio presentations. (Autumn and Spring Terms)

Design as Research II: Computational Space
Yusuke Obuchi
An overview of computational approaches to architectural design, strategies and processes. Weekly readings on software technologies and design systems will relate computational work in art, music, new media, science and other sources to contemporary architectural discourses around parametric design. Teams will make weekly presentations related to the readings and an analysis of selected projects. (Spring Term)

New Anatomies of ArchitecturExamining the Parametric
Theodore Spyropoulos
Key concepts of parametric design will be examined through the interplay between physical and digital forms of computation and experimentation. The works of Otto, Le Ricolais, Fuller and Dieste will be analysed and presented in relation to contemporary research on computation and information systems. Team-based presentations will examine these working methods and resultant outputs as case studies for studio-based experimentation. (Spring Term)

Phase I Optional Seminars Embodied Patterns I and II
Alisa Andrasek
This two-term seminar module will investigate contemporary sciences and their reverberations in the domain of architecture. The first term will probe concepts such as generative design, algorithmic information theory and design ecologies as a method and means of production. In the second term the seminar will instigate a productive dialogue with experts from other fields including mathematics, computer science, quantum physics and engineering. (Autumn & Spring Terms)

Discourses on Innovation I and II
Larry Barth, Marie-Ange Brayer, Bernard Cache, Charles Jencks, Marina Lathouri, Philippe Morel, Mike Weinstock
Over two terms seven leading architects, theorists, critics, writers and publishers will lead seminars that aim to discover and define new discourses on contemporary technique-driven design approaches. These 14 sessions (two per presenter) will be held in the AA Lecture Hall and are open to the wider AA community as well as members of the public. (Autumn & Spring Terms)

Digital Tools: Maya, Rhino, 3D Studio, Catia & Macromedia: Software & Scripting
Shajay Bhooshan, Kristof Crolla, Robert Stuart-Smith
These optional workshops provide an introduction to the digital tools and systems used in the DRL, introducing the basic skills required to build and control parametric models and interactive presentations. Sessions will build up to advanced scripting, programming and dynamic modelling techniques. (Autumn & Spring Terms)

DRL Directors
Yusuke Obuchi studied at Princeton, SCI-ARC and the University of Toronto. He has worked at ROTO Architects and Reiser + Umemoto and is cofounder of Foresites, based in London and Berlin. He co-curates the AA Fabrication Research Cluster and is a visiting professor at University of Kentucky and New Jersey Institute of Technology. Patrik Schumacher is partner at Zaha Hadid Architects. He studied philosophy and architecture in Bonn, Stuttgart and London and received his doctorate from the Institute for Cultural Science at Klagenfurt University. He is a visiting professor at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, and university professor at Innsbruck University. Theodore Spyropoulos is director of the architecture and design practice Minimaforms and a visiting research fellow at MIT. He has taught at UPenn and the Royal College of Art and has previously worked with the offices of Peter Eisenman and Zaha Hadid Architects.
DRL Course Master Alisa Andrasek is an experimental practitioner of architecture and computation in design and director of Biothing. She studied at the University of Zagreb and Columbia University. She has taught at Columbia, Pratt, UPenn, RMIT Melbourne and RPI. She has won many awards, including FEIDAD 2004, and has published and exhibited extensively.
DRL Programme Tutors Jeroen van Ameijde studied at the Delft University of Technology and has worked in various offices in Holland, New York and Hong Kong. He has taught at UPenn with Ali Rahim and led various courses and workshops in London and Innsbrook.



Graduate School Admissions Registrar’s Office
AA School of Architecture
36 Bedford Square
London WC1B 3ES

T: +44 (0)20 7887 4067
F: +44 (0)20 7414 0779


How to apply
Application form
Prospectus spread
Programme site