Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We use cookies to personalise your experience; learn more in our Privacy and Cookie Policy. You can opt out of some cookies by adjusting your browser settings; see the cookie policy for details. By using this site, you agree to our use of cookies.

BBC slammed for ‘bias’ after Patty Hopkins is sidelined in TV show


Architects accuse The Brits Who Built the Modern World TV series of ‘distorting history’ by excluding leading female figures

The BBC has been criticised for painting a ‘biased and misogynistic view of architecture’ and for largely ignoring women architects in its series The Brits Who Built the Modern World.

At the beginning of the third episode, viewers were ‘appalled’ and ‘outraged’ to discover Patty Hopkins appeared to have been removed from a recently taken group photo, in which she stood alongside the show’s male stars.

One of six architects featuring in the RIBA’s tie-in exhibition (also called The Brits Who Built the Modern World) Hopkins had posed with Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Nicholas Grimshaw, Terry Farrell and her husband, Michael, at the gallery’s opening last month.

Unknown to the BBC, Patty Hopkins had been ‘photoshopped’ out of the key shot by the photographer. The broadcaster admitted it had asked her to step aside during the shoot, claiming she had been happy to let the five men be taken together for the show, but this had not resulted in a suitable photograph.

The furore comes in the wake of the BBC’s pledge to secure more professional women commentators with its Expert Women training programme, which was launched last year.

After appearing in the first episode, Patty Hopkins received little attention during the series, despite having co-founded Hopkins 38 years ago and being instrumental in its development.

This is a very biased and misogynistic view of architecture

Yasmin Shariff of Dennis Sharp Architects said: ‘It was not just these five men who built Britain. This is a very biased and misogynistic view of architecture. Decisions Foster and Rogers made at Team 4 were also down to the two other founding partners. Yet Wendy [Cheesman] and Su [Rogers] were also lacking from the show.’

Deborah Saunt of DSDHA said: ‘By her very exclusion, photoshopped or not, the BBC is promoting a distorted view of architecture and how it’s really made. To knowingly choose a photo without Patty is an outrage.’

Lucy Mori of KL Mori Business Consulting for Architects said: ‘I am shocked that women’s contribution to architecture has again been “airbrushed” from this populist history programme.

‘The final part of the [series] may have dwelt on the teamwork and collaboration involved in delivering large-scale projects such as the Gherkin and Terminal 5, but managed not to include a single female face. It’s depressing that this was allowed to happen.’

Jane Duncan, the RIBA’s equality and diversity champion, agreed: ‘I share the frustration many people have expressed to me about the BBC’s focus on male architects in the series. This is particularly pertinent with Patty Hopkins, who had so little air time on the programmes, despite being a full partner in Hopkins Architects from the beginning.

‘The premise that the BBC was focusing on a generation of architects born in the 1930s does not justify their reasoning. This is a disgraceful over-simplification, distorting history at the expense of female architects.’

This is a disgraceful over-simplification, distorting history at the expense of female architects

Explaining why the BBC had taken a different approach to the RIBA in terms of its coverage, a spokesperson said: ‘At the start of making the series, the director met with both Michael and Patricia Hopkins to discuss their involvement in the series. At that meeting, [Patty] Hopkins specified the degree to which she wanted to be featured in the series”.

‘The series did not aim to be a comprehensive story of post war British architecture, it is the story of a very specific group of architects who were united by close connections, both personally and in terms their early work. 

‘As is set out in the first episode, these five were born in the 1930s, worked in different combinations with each other, and were seen as the originators of high tech.  It’s the story of those five individuals which is traced by the series, with contributions from their collaborators on specific projects - hence Patty appears to talk about the Hopkins House, which she was heavily involved with; but not about certain other projects which were less of a joint enterprise.’

The spokesperson added: ‘Female architects have regularly been featured across the BBC. Recent examples Zaha Hadid, Amanda Levette, Eva Jiricna, Soraya Khan, Sadie Morgan, Fiona Raby and many others”.

Further comment

Deborah Saunt, founder, DSDHA

‘The point is that the BBC are publicising the work of these great British architects without including a very important sixth member - a member who was present at the time when the group photo was taken! To knowingly choose to use a metaphorically or literally edited photo without Patty in it, is an outrage.

To knowingly choose to use a metaphorically or literally edited photo without Patty in it is an outrage

‘By her very exclusion, photoshopped or not, the BBC is promoting a distorted view of architecture and how it is really made. It undermines the notion of collaboration and partnership, erasing inconvenient complexity, and promotes the idea of the single genius author/artist/architect.

‘Of course it leads to other related questions about to what extent either Sue Rogers or Foster’s first wife Wendy are acknowledged in the TV show (which I’ve yet to watch) too. Have they been conveniently airbrushed out of history too? Like for example the two Mrs Aaltos that are so little known, and if they are mentioned at all they are assigned the identity of having been more concerned with interiors, or Jane Drew who I was told only last week by one of her contemporaries was not a real architect: ‘The real architect was Maxwell Fry, Jane was a dynamo not an architect.’

‘The need to correctly credit everyone’s contribution in architecture remains.’

Lucy Mori, KL Mori Business Consulting for Architects

‘I am shocked that women’s contribution to architecture has again been “airbrushed” from this high-profile and populist history programme. The final part of the ‘The Brits Who Built the Modern World’ may have dwelt on the team-work and collaboration involved in delivering large scale projects such as the Gherkin and Terminal 5 but managed not to include a single female face.  The concluding aside from the former AJ Editor did mention the all-male line up of Foster, Rogers, Hopkins, Grimshaw and Farrell but to ignore the significant role of female partners and colleagues such as RIBA gold medal winning Patty Hopkins, Wendy Cheesman and Georgie Wolton, is regrettable and their inclusion would have been inspirational to BBC and Open University viewers. It’s a depressing indictment of the image of the architect in the media that this was allowed to happen.’

Hannah Corlett, director, Assemblage

‘I was truly appalled to see these images, and I hate to think that Patty Hopkins will see herself evaporated in this way. I was lucky enough to hear her speak at the Women in Architecture awards recently when her unjustified humility with regard to her achievements and contribution was apparent. Obviously this brings back memories of Denise Scott Brown’s and Lu Wenyu’s omission from the Pritzker prize. How can the perception of architecture as a profession for men be changed when the media literally erases the contribution of women from the public eye like this?’ 

Yasmin Shariff, director, Dennis Sharp Architects

‘“Airbrushing” Patty Hopkins out of the photo is consistent with how womens’ contributions have been airbrushed out of history.

‘But it wasn’t just Patty. Decisions Fosters and Rogers made whilst at Team 4 were also down to the partners, yet Wendy and Sue were lacking from the show. Only Team 2 is represented. Where is Team 4?

Only Team 2 is represented. Where is Team 4?

‘The show puts out a biased message against women architects. It was not just these five men who built Britain. This is a very biased and misogynistic view of architecture. It has left out the social sensitive side of the profession. Where are Jane Drew and Alison Smithson? Alison Smithson’s work on Hunstanton school changed school design and was hugely influential in modernist architecture – yet she is rarely mentioned.’

Mary Duggan, director, Duggan Morris Architects

‘I suppose it sort of proves a point that you cannot just delete someone. Her influence is widely known. So it’s an error, a nonsense, an untruth, but perhaps in the act of erasing her sadly male chauvinism rears its ugly head. In the context of celebrating British Architects it feels like a fatal own goal.’



Related videos

Readers' comments (4)

  • The BBC's bias is a real pity. Mass media, and especially the BBC and the Open University, influence not only how we perceive the past, but also how we plan for the future.

    Research shows that diverse teams are more productive, more successful and more creative.

    'A Danish study found that companies with good numbers of women on the board outperformed those with no women by 17% higher return on sales and 54% higher return on invested capital.'

    'Leeds University Business School reports that having at least one female director on the board appears to cut a company’s chances of going bust by about 20%. Having two or three female directors lowers the risk even more.'

    As the economy picks up, architectural practices need the best people - and that includes women.

    'Looking to the future, 63.6% of girls achieve 5 or more GCSEs at grade A* to C or equivalent, including English and mathematics, GCSEs compared to 54.2% of boys'

    The architectural profession needs to look around itself and see what is happening in other traditionally masculine businesses like Lloyds Bank (who recently announced 40% of its 5,000 senior workforce will be made up of women within the next six years) and realise that urgent action is needed now. Practices and the RIBA need to be pro-active to support more women to take senior positions in practices.

    For more data about the advantages of having more women working : http://opportunitynow.bitc.org.uk/WomenWorkFactsheet#sthash.yanfQHLf.dpuf

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Kieran Gaffney

    If ever an image painted a thousand words this is it! I think this is a very contemporary example of the way women get painted out of the history of architecture, its happening to that generation now right in front of us.

    This parallels the travesty of the Prtizker (or lack for) for both Lu Wenyu (Wang Shu’s Partner, 2012) and Denise Scott Brown (1991).

    Why aren't the men in these positions rejecting these storylines and defending their female partners? Can Rogers or Foster comment on the hidden 2 from team 4? What does Michael Hopkins think about his wife being airbrushed out?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Yasmin Shariff

    Well done for highlighting the BBC’s cavalier attitude towards women architects (5 March 2014).

    The story of the Brits Who Built the Modern World has been oversimplified in an unacceptable, misogynistic account that reinforces the discrimination of women in the profession. The low pay (25% less) and poor registration numbers (21%) highlight current conditions and the last thing we need is such a poor account of history from the BBC. Airbrushing Patty Hopkins out of the illustration is entirely consistent with the way that Female Brits who Built the Modern World have been airbrushed out of living memory and their work trivialised and overlooked. Many have had their names and achievement absorbed into their partners.

    The true story of British Modernism is more complicated than the Famous Five playing with lego or mechano and building a Brave New World. Before any of the famous five were born, Norah Aiton and Betty Scott had designed and built, in 1931, one of the first high tech buildings in Britain- factory offices for Aiton & Co. in Derby. This pioneering steel framed building is an early exemplary piece of high tech design, yet hardly anyone has heard of it. Neither was there any mention of Mary Medd or Alison Smithson who both pioneered high tech school design. These women, like Su Rogers and Wendy Foster in Team 4, were not accessories and architecture was not a part-time interest or hobby when they weren’t changing nappies or cooking wholesome meals. For these pioneering women, architecture was a full time career, a profession they were passionate about and they were determined to make a mark in against all the odds. They were financially, intellectually and technically as adept as their male partners. It is about time their story was told.

    Equally yours
    Yasmin Shariff

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Happy International Woman’s Day today, themed ‘inspiring change’!

    No men in this following article here, “The women who built the world”


    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs

Discover architecture career opportunities. Search and apply online for your dream job.
Find out more