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Eva Jiřičná calls for return of a ‘socially responsible’ profession

Eva Jiricna
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Jane Drew Prize-winner Eva Jiřičná has called on younger architects to become more socially and politically engaged

Speaking as she picked up the Jane Drew Prize lifetime achievement Award at the AJ Women In Architecture luncheon last Friday, the 74-year-old Czech-born architect said: ‘Unfortunately, the present generation doesn’t see the importance of architects’ social responsibility. Architecture has become much more commercial, which is a shame.’

In her speech, Jiřičná, who became famous for her stores for fashion house Joseph, referred to her experience growing up in the Eastern Bloc. She said her Modernist training had helped form what she felt was an important imperative of architecture: to improve the lives of others. She claimed this had become less of a focus with the emerging generation of architects. She said: ‘When architecture loses its social link, then it is only half an architecture’.

Jiřičná also spoke of her early years at the Architectural Association, ‘where the best compliment you could receive was to be told that you drew like a boy’.

She also spoke about how she battled against being pigeon-holed into work as an interior designer. However, after being brought in to design the interiors for Richard Rogers’ Lloyds Building, she said the ‘I-word stuck to me’.

Jiřičná, who was the AA’s president between 2003 and 2005, said she was honoured by the award and recalled meeting Jane Drew at a party hosted by Robin Day and remembered her social conscience. She said: ‘I’m probably one of the few people here who met Drew. She had a strong feeling of the responsibility of architects that was common among her generation.’

Her comments came as Alison Brooks, who picked up the 2013 AJ’s Women Architect of the Year Award, was praised by the judges for her approach to social housing.

‘One of the things she’s starting to stand for is producing great housing for ordinary people, not just the rich: something the whole jury applauded,’ said judge Paul Monaghan, director at AHMM.

Fellow judge Rafael Viñoly added: ‘[Brooks] is working in this building type – affordable housing – which has been relegated to some kind of second-tier level of interest in architecture and has done it with a level of quality that I think is remarkable.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I believe that most architects agree with the importance of social responsibility but unless the architects are empowered to deliver architecture we will moan away to no avail.
    The architect is the only professional qualified to deliver architecture and strong supporting legislation is needed in order to put the architect back in the natural leading role.

    Vasile Toch
    Norrie Toch Studios Ltd, Edinburgh

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