Following two weeks of uncertainty over the future of Eva Franch i Gilabert in the role of director at the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA), she has been fired by the prestigious London institution.
“At the heart of the decision is the failure to develop and implement a strategy and maintain the confidence of the AA School Community which were specific failures of performance against clear objectives outlined in the original contract of employment,” reads a statement from the AA.
Questions about the footing of Franch’s leadership surfaced in late May after the AA community, including the school’s council, held internal polling regarding Franch, a Catalonia-born architect and curator who was elected director in 2018, and her long-term vision for the school. The results of said polling were decidedly not in Franch’s favor, with 52 percent of those polled voting in agreement that they did not have confidence in her as director; a further 80 percent of the community voted in agreement that they did not have confidence in her five-year Strategic Plan.
The message to the AA community announcing Franch’s termination today reads in full:
“It is with regret that AA Council has terminated the employment contract of its Director, Eva Franch i Gilabert.
At the heart of the decision is the failure to develop and implement a strategy and maintain the confidence of the AA School Community which were specific failures of performance against clear objectives outlined in the original contract of employment.
Following the meeting and vote of the School Community on June 29, Council undertook a series of meetings and consultations with Ms Franch i Gilabert to give her the opportunity to outline her plans to rectify these issues. Unfortunately, the discussions did not provide Council with the confidence that she could fulfil her role as School Director of the AA, one of the leading architecture schools in the world.
Council recognises how difficult this period has been for many people within the AA School Community and thanks them for their heartfelt and thoughtful feedback. Council will now work closely with the senior management team, staff and students to manage the school in the short term and to clarify the role of the School Director going forward before a new search process begins.”
The results of the earlier voting prompted a swift influx of support for Franch from former colleagues and peers, who claimed the voting process was unduly influenced by gender bias and “pandemic turmoil.” An open letter co-signed by over 150 architects, curators, academics, and other non-AA community members praised Franch’s “vigilance, fairness, integrity and relentlessness in demanding excellence” and referred to her as “one of the most inspired leaders and radical thinkers of a younger generation of architects.”
A second, context-adding letter, authored by tutors at the AA, began to circulate in direct response to the first letter and its full-throated defense of Franch. That letter, which notes “systemic problems at the level of managerial transparency, inclusion of diverse voices, and extreme exploitation of labour” at the school, explains that the leadership crisis at hand has less to do with a single person—i.e. Franch—as the initial open letter suggests, but is more a “culmination of a long historical process of neoliberal management and ideology within architectural academia, academia at large, and the entire architectural discipline.” It reads:
“While we understand some of the concerns that the open letter raised, from our perspective, the open letter is not only grossly uninformed and misguided, it actually has effects that are contrary to its political rationale. We imagine that for some, signing the open letter could have been an act of good faith, a show of support for a just cause, but we believe that ultimately and in every way that matters, the letter itself is in bad faith. Even more, it represents and embodies underlying problems which define a larger crisis in the architectural discipline as a whole.”
The letter continues:
“The current crisis at the AA, which concerns both the current director and the long term need for reforms, implies a crisis of the institutional figure of the director itself. From our perspective, this defense of the current director reveals a deep anxiety felt by an elite cartel fearing that the crisis of neoliberalism in architecture and academia puts their institutional positions of privilege at risk. Their defense of the current director of the AA is a defense of their own jobs, against the fear that similar uprisings could happen in their schools, departments, or offices.
Even worse, it goes on the offensive, threatening the school community with what can only be described as punitive sanctions. The open letter, coupled with other extra-democratic pressures from people in privileged positions inside the AA, has magnified and intensified the culture of intimidation that sparked the crisis in the first place. The false assumptions and narrative it constructs are mounting a form of blackmail on the AA council and on the school community itself, threatening: maintain your internal democracy and ruin the reputation of the school, or save your reputation by destroying your democracy–a tactic straight from the neocolonial playbook.”
AN will continue to monitor and update this breaking news story accordingly.