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Mac’s new head of architecture announced

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Sally Stewart has been appointed as head of architecture at the Mackintosh School of Architecture (MSA)– the first woman to hold the post

Stewart, formerly deputy head of the school, will take up her new position at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) at end of this month, replacing Chris Platt who stepped down in January.

During the 1980s, Stewart completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s at the Mackintosh, before returning to the school as head of undergraduate studies in 2002. 

Regarding her new post, Stewart told the AJ: ’I’m really interested in our situation within an art school that is quite unique – there are lots of places that are part of art schools, which are part of much larger faculties, whereas GSA is a very small specialist institution.

’Potentially there should be more opportunity there for an architecture school really to demonstrate the power of its disciplinary thinking in relation to fine art design and other allied disciplines. We want to get MSA active in that, it’s something that we probably haven’t been as active in as we should have been – and the students feel that.’

The AJ understands a number of GSA staff were disappointed that the recruitment process for head of architecture only considered candidates from within the school. 

Lee Ivett, who teaches at the Mackintosh, told the AJ: ‘Regardless of whether we ended up with a new head of school who was an existing member of staff or not, I was disappointed that the GSA had neither the confidence, resources or patience to extend the recruitment process outwith the school.

‘A situation had arisen that provided an opportunity to engage both staff and students in a creative and aspirational conversation about the potential future direction and vision for the school, and to test the capabilities of existing staff members against the best candidates from outwith GSA.

‘The way GSA consulted with staff and students throughout the recent recruitment process was quite tokenistic and at times patronising. I hope that having been given the role, Sally will now be given the agency, responsibility and freedom she will need to facilitate the ideas, energy, ambition and enthusiasm for the Mackintosh School of Architecture that exists within both the staff and the students.’

However, Stewart said: ’The school was in a situation where both MSA and GSA needed a head of school to take over – a situation which was complex [with] the student issues, the staff issues earlier in the year. It was perhaps very difficult for someone to do that coming in externally and in the timescale that was needed.’

The appointment comes amid student disquiet about the future of the GSA. Three months ago students held a protest over their concerns that the institution ‘seemed to value its brand more than the education of its students’. 

The students argued that the school’s services, studio space and ratio of students to teachers were not keeping pace with its expansion at a time of increasing tuition fees, and that there was a lack of workshop facilities. They said the protest was necessary because there was no dialogue between senior management and students on the issues.

Responding to the concerns voiced by students, Stewart said: ’Studios can be difficult places to work in and we need to look at our studios to see that they are the way they should be now, so that students can work effectively as individuals, work together and that they are places they want to be in – not just places they have to be in.’

Stewart is an RIBA panel member, and a council and founding member of the education academy at the European Association for Architectural Education.

She was also principal investigator for a four-year EU-funded project, Architecture, Design and Art Practice Training-research, which involved seven schools of architecture and 40 research fellows from across Europe.

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