(Re)working with What We Have — Dip. 18, AA School

Diploma 18 is dedicated to the study of material flows, with a focus on reuse. In 2022-23 we explored in specific the materiality of offices and their modes of (re)use.

In March 2022, City AM newspaper crowed that the occupancy rate for London’s offices is now at 42 percent. This is not the happy news it was billed as: with the pandemic fading, less than half of staff are working in their offices. Yet, undeterred by WFH (Work From Home) and hybrid working, developers in London are demolishing a generation of structurally sound office towers and slabs and replacing them with new towers and slabs that are double or triple the size of their forebears. One Waterloo and Finsbury Avenue are just two of the most vivid examples (studied by former Dip18 students). Even when they are not being demolished and rebuilt entirely, office interiors are refurbished far more frequently than domestic interiors, reflecting constant changes in corporate ownership, operation, and philosophies of work.

In the midst of all this churn and waste, our students strategised the (re)use of materials and office spaces in a way that responds intelligently to the three interlinked crises we are faced with: climate, ecological, and supply chain. Instead of ripping up offices – from the inside or the outside – and starting again each time, we asked the question: how can we facilitate the salvage and reuse of materials? How can we plan the adaptive reuse of otherwise-doomed buildings, and reimagine the relationship between program and form along the way? Perhaps in the 21st century, in order to stop constantly rebuilding the world according to our ever-changing needs – in order to stop using and wasting so much material – we need to reverse the modernist dictum and declare that, from now on, function follows form. How can we work with what we have?

The unit was leveraged as a platform to question the potential obsolescence of the office typology and think what it means to work today and how it weaves into our lives and our cities. Students worked at the scale of materials, buildings, and systems (meaning policies, supply chains, logistics etc.), and were encouraged to “hack” real-life office construction or refurbishment projects. 

Student work (see included imagery) by Xiang Li (Repurpose the Surplus), Tony Tung-Hua Chen (Tideway Reuse Consolidation Centre Demonstration Project), Seonwoo Kim (Material Training Ground), Fergus Egan (No End State) and Charlotte Wesselman (Steel Circulator).

More student projects of Dip. 18 can be found on the AA-website. 

A project by

Juliana Muniz Westcott, James Westcott, Stijn Colon & Victoria van Kan

Academic year

2022 - 2023