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Let this magazine restore your faith in architecture as a social profession

Eva Jiřičná’s wisdom about the value of the ‘seemingly unimportant’ is a fitting introduction to this week’s issue, says Christine Murray

Eva Jiřičná is the recipient of this year’s Jane Drew Prize for her immense, and not adequately recognised, contribution to the profession.

As the AJ Women in Architecture jury reached its unanimous decision, they discussed Jiřičná’s work and influence - how she was the first female architect they’d ever heard of. Her style can be seen everywhere - especially the famous glass staircases - from the work of High-Tech architects to the Apple Store.

As we prepared our coverage for this week, I was struck by these words on her website under the heading, About Eva Jiřičná: ‘When I studied at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts, my Professor used to discuss our projects with us long into the night … and he was able to deliberate, until midnight even, about such seemingly unimportant matters as how to attach a door handle to the door. Once, out of sheer fatigue, I protested: “But sir, this isn’t architecture!” And he looked at me and said: “Alright young lady, next time we meet, you bring me a list of three things which do not concern architecture.” Well, I’m still looking for those three things.’

Jiřičná’s wisdom about the value of the ‘seemingly unimportant’ is a fitting introduction to this week’s issue.

Two years ago, I wrote in this column about the room in which my cousin died, in a modest hospice in a small town in northern Italy: ‘Not a single fitting felt institutional, from the coat hooks behind the door to the comfy chair by the window. How grateful I was for the hand of the architect that designed that room.’

Since then, Rory Olcayto and I have been looking out for projects that express the values that I found in that room: humility, dignity, a human scale and natural light.

The result is Buildings that Care. For this magazine, we chose three humble projects in the capital - AHMM’s North London Hospice, Henley Halebrown Rorrison’s Akerman Health Centre and Wright & Wright’s Newlands School for boys with behavioural problems - where ‘seemingly unimportant’ details like the height of a chair, or the positioning of a window in a door, truly mattered. These projects will remind you of the vocation of architecture. They seem to hail from a simpler time, when this was a social profession, valued not for its ability to kickstart regeneration, increase property values, or unlock financing, but for its ability to make places for people. And isn’t that what architecture is all about?

Jiřičná will be receiving her award, and addressing the audience, at the AJ Women in Architecture luncheon on 22 March at the Langham Hotel.

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