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AA fires director Franch i Gilabert

Eva franch i gilabert at waf 2019 (2)
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The Architectural Association (AA) has fired its director, Eva Franch i Gilabert, following a series of no confidence votes in her strategy and leadership

Last month more than 80 per cent of the nearly 900 people in the ‘school community’, which includes its students, staff and council, said they did not support the Catalan architect’s 2020-25 strategic plan for the Bedford Square-based institution.

Franch i Gilabert also narrowly lost a vote of confidence by 52 per cent to 48 per cent in her role as director of the AA, a position she has held since becoming the school’s first female head in 2018

The school’s governing council has now said that, although it had offered Franch i Gilabert the chance to address the concerns raised, they were not convinced she could take the school forward and ‘fulfil her role as school director’, pointing to ’specific failures of performance’.    

A statement released by the school last night (13 July) read: ‘It is with regret that AA council has terminated the employment contract of its director, Eva Franch i Gilabert.

’At the heart of the decision is the failure to develop and implement a strategy and maintain the confidence of the AA school community, which were specific failures of performance against clear objectives outlined in the original contract of employment.

It went on: ’Following the meeting and vote of the school community on 29 June, council undertook a series of meetings and consultations with Franch i Gilabert to give her the opportunity to outline her plans to rectify these issues. Unfortunately, the discussions did not provide council with the confidence that she could fulfil her role as school director of the AA, one of the leading architecture schools in the world.

’Council recognises how difficult this period has been for many people within the AA school community and thanks them for their heartfelt and thoughtful feedback.’

At the heart of the decision is the failure to develop and implement a strategy and maintain the confidence of the AA school community

The school’s council, which is responsible for the corporate governance and is led by AA president, said it would ’now work closely with the senior management team, staff and students to manage the school in the short term’.

The leadership body also announced it would seek ‘to clarify the role of the school director going forward before a new search process begins’.

Doubts about Franch Franch i Gilabert’s role as director were first aired last year when the AJ received an anonymous letter, which claimed to have been signed by 161 members of the school community, voicing ’concerns regarding the current pedagogical leadership of the school’.

It read: ‘The student community also fears the school will favour theory over design, to the detriment of both, as well as some types of architectural thinking over others, which would painfully hurt the high level of diversity in architectural approaches the AA is known to offer and celebrate.’

Further concerns about the direction of the school were raised last week by AA tutors Ricardo Ruivo and Will Orr in a response to an earlier, open letter from around 150 leading academics, architects and historians backing the AA’s under-fire director.

The letter in support of Franch i Gilabert had been signed by, among others, the founders of New York-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro as well as by Jeremy Till, the head of Central Saint Martins.

It read: ’Every new administration, particularly those very few who have only recently come to be led by women or people of colour, deserves patience and support as the inevitable realignments unfold.

’This need is made all the more urgent during a pandemic and a time of reckoning with social inequity. Any decision based on a vote where there is almost no difference between those for, against or absent cannot be the basis of a decision without devaluing the school, and therefore the field.’

The signatories described Franch i Gilabert as one of the ‘most inspired leaders and radical thinkers of a younger generation of architects’.

The architect – who for eight years was executive director of Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York – secured the AA role from an initial longlist of 26 candidates from around the world. 

She has been contacted for comment.

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