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”.
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.’