After years and years of teaching I am still capable of enthusiasm when an ACE student does something wonderful.
Now, Stefanos Roimpas is a Greek who has managed to stay out of Greece to get his architectural education in the UK and then in France. His Thesis project ‘THE LENS CITY’ is an exuberant collection of settings and devices that explores the possibility of taking environmental experience way beyond the tradition of simple, viewable spaces. As a presentation it  was one of those ‘once every five years’ experiences : with some forty or so drawings, reliefs, big diagrams…..stuff leasing out  at you, reconfiguring the idea of wall, window, sight line, surface….those of us who know him and attempt (from time to time)  direct it knew of his verve ….but feared it might get out of control. But No! Roimpas wound the display into a discourse that was  phased, categorised and led to the terms PHENOMENON, ROTATION, CODING, PATROMINY, INVENTION, and most of all CREATIVITY !
Stefanos Roimpas_The lens cityStefanos Roimpas_The lens cityStefanos Roimpas_The lens cityStefanos Roimpas_The lens city© All images_ Stefanos Roimpas
Now, this work was done by a student (still only 22) at the ESA : THE ECOLE SPECIALE D’ARCHITECTURE during the precise period of ODILE DECQ’s direction. It’s a funny school. Funny that is if you’re an aficionado of the  German, Spanish, British, North American ways of doing things. An old, independent School – rather like London’s  Architectural Association and similarly constituted in the ‘management’ of a Council that is voted-in by staff and students  and that similarly appoints the Director. But before we get too comfortable with this, the French culture kicks in. Never too happy with (boring old) stability, and certainly never too comfortable with a Director that has an overview, a mind and more  balls than most blokes, as well as being a good architect. So the last five years saw Madame Decq  – having taught at the Bartlett, Columbia, SCI ARC and elsewhere – move in on a typically pleased-with-itself set-up that : of course (remember we’re in France) :  seemed to encourage the kids to talk, talk, talk, quote the names of philosophers and (except for the odd eccentric)  produce so little that they would have failed ignominiously at the aforementioned schools in which she had taught. The cheap trick of
endless group work enabling the work shy to skid under the radar from group to group up the school and : Bingo! A  Diploma.
Decq took big bites into this and pulled in young teaching talent from London. Munich, Copenhagen, Rome, L.A….
The standards started to rise. There were end of semester exhibitions – competitiveness – cad-cam cutting – some good Theses.
The backlash : the politically ‘active’ students, no doubt egged-on by certain teachers who felt an implicit ‘finger on the collar’ and looked (remember we’re in France) at the heroics of 1968, the Arab Spring, or any old rally. Decq still has the mass of the School with her but got thoroughly  pissed-off and resigned.
It is interesting to note that the AA has, with a similar constitution, managed to take a serious, considered and far more numerically representative vote if vote was needed. As a result it has (more-or-less) held on to its standards.
Now I hear that The ESA rebels are arguing amongst themselves and the Ministry of Education is starting to ask questions – as well they might.
Meanwhile Roimpas plans to leave town as will anybody good, I suspect.

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