Architectural Association rocked after Eva Franch i Gilabert receives vote of no confidence

Shockwaves at AA

Architectural Association rocked after Eva Franch i Gilabert receives vote of no confidence

The Architectural Association School of Architecture’s Bedford Square campus in London. (Jeremysm/Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday, AN received word of internal turmoil at London’s prestigious Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA), specifically with regard to a series of votes confirmed on June 29. The polling concerned the directorship of Eva Franch i Gilabert along with her overall vision for the institution moving into the future. Franch, a Catalan architect, served as chief curator and executive director of Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York City before being selected to lead the AA in 2018. She is the first woman in the school’s 173-year history to hold the role of director.

As rumors began to fly over the particulars of the voting results, AA released a statement:

A meeting of the AA The 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.

Now, with the polling results out in the open, they don’t look good for Franch, although, as some have commented, the circumstances around the polling and the ideologies of the AA are frustratingly murky.

Per a copy of the polling results viewed by AN, 80 percent of the 900-person-strong voting school community, which includes its council, does not support Franch’s 2020–2025 Strategic Plan and “… recommends the initiation of a democratic internal process, irrespective of the Director, by which to produce a satisfactory and representative guiding document for the purposes of determining the future of the institution that includes a clear plan for the first term of the 2020–21 year and the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A woman, Eva Franch i Gilabert, with her hair in a bun
Eva Franch i Gilabert (Stefan Ruiz)

What’s more, 52 percent of those voting agreed that they do not have confidence in Franch in her role as director. Per Resolution 2, the AA community recommends that the Council determine “the appropriate course of action and a clear framework for its immediate implementation, and a plan for the management of the AA as required for communication to the School Community.”

A fourth Resolution showed that 90 percent of students and staff agreed there were “structural and systemic issues” at the AA “that must be addressed regardless of the individual or individuals responsible for its direction.” Furthermore, the community agreed that a “set of meaningful commitments” that address “matters such as (but not limited to) racial equality, employment security, clear communications and fair, empathetic treatment of all staff and students.”

The AA council president, Victoria Thornton, will review and consider the results. Previously, Franch had helped steady the institution following a shaky period of financial insecurity, and the AA, for the first time, had been awarded degree-granting rights under her leadership.

The Architects’ Journal has also shared the results of the shock polling along with a portion of an anonymous letter that the publication received last year. The letter expressed “concerns regarding the current pedagogical leadership of the school.”

“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,” reads the letter.

AN will continue to share news on these developments accordingly.