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AA in crisis after no confidence votes

3102499 eva franch i gilabert aa
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The Architectural Association (AA) is in turmoil after students and staff voted overwhelmingly against its director Eva Franch i Gilabert’s vision for the famous school  

More than 80 per cent of the nearly 900 people in the ‘school community’, which includes its council, said they did not support her 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 2018.  

The Catalan architect, who had previously been chief curator and executive director of Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York, beat UK academic Robert Mull and Italian Pippo Ciorra to the appointment, becoming the school’s first female director.

She arrived shortly after the school had controversially made a series of redundancies and stop publishing its, since-revived, AA Files to save money. The job cuts took place despite an international protest before Christmas that saw figures including Rem Koolhaas, Richard Rogers, Phyllis Lambert, Toyo Ito and Kengo Kuma calling for a U-turn and warning that the exercise could prove fatal to the institution.

The results of the latest confidential and electronic ballot were confirmed on Monday (29 June). The poll also revealed that 90 per cent of students and staff agreed there were ’structural and systemic issues’ at the AA ’regardless of the individual or individuals responsible for its direction’.

It is understood the results of the ballot will now be considered by the AA’s council, led by its president, Victoria Thornton. 

Last year 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.’

In her 2019-20 welcome to students at the AA, Franch i Gilabert said the school was ’committed to developing experimental methods of teaching and learning’ and to ‘creating the world’s most pioneering courses in architecture’.

She wrote: ‘The AA is a place where we forget our labels as architects, artists, economists, writers and poets, and we become citizens of the world; a world that we believe we can change and transform into something other – more interesting, more radical, more free, more equal, more us.’

She added: ’This year, all of the academic programmes throughout the school have accepted the challenge of addressing issues of climate and ethics. As architects, we always speak on behalf of the other. But we also need to constantly ask ourselves: “Who has the right to speak, and on behalf of whom? How am I affecting the environment with my actions? How can I care more about others?” I invite every member of our community to practise radical empathy; to consider the planet and the future; to listen; to ask; to share; to discuss; to debate and, ultimately, to care.’

A statement issued by the school in response to the votes reads: ’A meeting of the AA school community was held on June 29. A number of motions were put forward on which the school community was asked to debate and vote.

’The AA has a long tradition of self-determination through its school community and is proud to have as part of its constitution a mechanism to facilitate discussion and debate and to vote on significant matters regarding the AA’s future and direction.

’Council recognises the heart of the AA lies in its democratic principles and welcomes the advice of the school community expressed through its meeting and voting mechanisms to inform the governance and leadership of the association.

’The outcomes of the school community meeting have now been passed to council for discussion.’

Franch i Gilabert has been contacted for comment.

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