Architecture community rallies in support of embattled AA director Eva Franch i Gilabert

In Defense

Architecture community rallies in support of embattled AA director Eva Franch i Gilabert

Eva Franch i Gilabert (Stefan Ruiz)

Last week, AN first broke news of rumblings of internal tumult at the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA) in London. The tips received by AN specifically pertained to voting held by the greater AA community earlier in the week with direct regard to the directorship of Eva Franch i Gilabert and her vision for the prestigious 173-year-old institution. Franch, a Catalonia-born architect and educator, was previously based in New York City as the chief curator and executive director of Storefront for Art and Architecture. Following a runaway vote, she was appointed as AA director—the first female to hold that position in a permanent capacity—in 2018.

Those rumblings, as we later reported, had to do with a vote against Franch; with 52 percent of the AA community polled, including its council, it was agreed that they do not have confidence in Franch in her role as director. An even larger number of the community, 80 percent, voted in agreement that they do not support a five-year Strategic Plan crafted by Franch.

While what transpired from the voting certainly paints a grim picture of Franch’s future at the school, it’s not quite the end—the non-binding results will now be reviewed and considered by AA Council President Victoria Thornton.

Since the results of the voting have become known, non-members of the AA community have rallied behind Franch and made clear their displeasure and frustration with the outcome. Lydia Kallipoliti, principal of Brooklyn-based thinktank ANAcycle and assistant professor in the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at the Cooper Union in New York, is among those in the world of design academia speaking out in support of their friend.

In an open letter addressed to Thornton (readable here), the Academic Council, and all AA members, Franch is described as “one of the most inspired leaders and radical thinkers of a younger generation of architects” who is “deeply invested in and committed to architectural pedagogy.” The letter, which was drafted by Kallipoliti and initially co-signed by several peers including Ariane Lourie Harrison, coordinator of MS programs at Pratt GAUD, and César Reyes Nájera and Ethel Baraona Pohl, co-founders of dpr-barcelona, goes on to note Franch’s “vigilance, fairness, integrity and relentlessness in demanding excellence.”

Acknowledging that they have “no purview of the precise unfolding of recent events” at AA and instead are “members of the global architectural community” who have all collaborated with Franch in some capacity prior to her much-publicized arrival at the school, the letter’s authors request that Thornton and the council pause to consider two distinct factors that they believe played roles in the shock vote: gender bias and “pandemic turmoil.”

Reads the letter, which  of that second factor:

“Please also consider the gravity of this pandemic period, where the restrictions of containment have intensified our psychology and sense of well-being. The abrupt changes in pivoting to online education, the complete stoppage of mobility and uncertainty for any future scenario is an unprecedented global challenge that necessitates composure and reflection rather than abrupt forceful measures.”

“The results indicate a divided audience during a distressed period for all members,” the letter concludes. “The even split does not necessarily indicate an insurmountable crisis within the AA. As outsiders, friends and allies, we kindly and deeply urge the Council not to proceed in removing Director Franch from her position.”

At the time of writing, the letter has been signed by over 150 of Eva’s architectural and educational colleagues and peers who wished to express their support, including Liz Diller, Charles Renfro, and Ricardo Scofidio, Shohei Shigematsu, Nader Tehrani, Jing Liu and Florian Idenburg, Andrés Jaque, Paola Antonelli, and many more.

AN will continue to update this story accordingly as we learn further developments.