The Solar Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) aboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory will characterize the dynamical evolution of the solar plasma from the chromosphere to the corona, and will follow the connection of plasma dynamics with magnetic activity throughout the solar atmosphere. The AIA consists of 7 high-resolution imaging telescopes in the following spectral bandpasses: 1215Å. Ly-a, 304 Å He II, 629 Å OV, 465 Å Ne VII, 195 Å Fe XII (includes Fe XXIV), 284 Å Fe XV, and 335 Å Fe XVI. The telescopes are grouped by instrumental approach: the MAGRITTE Filtergraphs (R. MAGRITTE, famous 20th Century Belgian Surrealistic Artist), five multilayer EUV channels with bandpasses ranging from 195 to 1216 Å, and the SPECTRE Spectroheliograph with one soft-EUV channel at OV 629 Å. They will be simultaneously operated with a 10-second imaging cadence. These two instruments, the electronic boxes and two redundant Guide Telescopes (GT) constitute the AIA suite. They will be mounted and coaligned on a dedicated common optical bench. The GTs will provide pointing jitter information to the whole SHARPP assembly. This paper presents the selected technologies, the different challenges, the trade-offs to be made in phase A, and the model philosophy. From a scientific viewpoint, the unique combination high temporal and spatial resolutions with the simultaneous multi-channel capability will allow MAGRITTE / SPECTRE to explore new domains in the dynamics of the solar atmosphere, in particular the fast small-scale phenomena. We show how the spectral channels of the different instruments were derived to fulfill the AIA scientific objectives, and we outline how this imager array will address key science issues, like the transition region and coronal waves or flare precursors, in coordination with other SDO experiments. We finally describe the real-time solar monitoring products that will be made available for space-weather forecasting applications.