Last July, the architecture world was rocked after weeks of back-and-forth over the fate of Catalan architect Eva Franch i Gilabert, who faced a vote of no confidence at, and was ultimately fired from, her position as director of the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA) in London. Now, 17 months later, the school has launched the search for her permanent replacement.
Franch i Gilabert was tapped to lead the AA in 2018, hot off the heels of her transformative eight-year tenure as Chief Curator and Executive Director of the nonprofit Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York City. At the time, she was selected from a shortlist of three potential choices (including Pippo Ciorra, Senior Curator of MAXXI Architettura in Rome, and Robert Mull, Head of Architecture and Design at the University of Brighton) with 67 percent of the vote.
The now-former director came to the AA with big ideas; in March of 2019, Franch i Gilabert revealed that the school would continue to publish its venerated, but endangered, AA Files journal, and in October that same year, the school won the right to grant degrees for the first time in its 131-year history. (The AA itself was founded in 1847 as an alternative to the apprentice system of learning architecture, and the school portion was formally codified later in 1890.)
However, the AA community took issue both with the style and substance of Franch i Gilabert’s directorship, and on June 29, 2020, an internal vote was made public expressing the full depth of the crisis. Eighty percent of the then-900-strong AA voting community expressed concern over her 2020–2025 Strategic Plan, 52 percent voted that they lacked confidence in Franch i Gilabert’s leadership, and 90 percent voted to acknowledge deep structural issues at the school that needed correcting. An open letter from anonymous sources within the school also doubted the direction she was leading the school in, arguing a more theoretical rather than practical approach to design education would negatively impact the diversity of approaches available to students.
More than 150 internationally-known architects and educators put out a letter of support a week after the poll was made public, but to little avail as Franch i Gilabert was officially fired on July 13.
Today the AA has officially begun the search to find a new director, though interested parties only have until January 5, 2022, to apply. As the Architects’ Journal revealed earlier this morning, the AA has tapped recruiter Anderson Quigley to assist in the hunt. The official job page, although not listing a salary, notes that the directorship is a five-year term and would be intimately involved with promoting the school internationally, fundraising, and developing a strategic plan for both Bedford Square and Hooke Park campuses. The school is also shooting for indefinite Taught Degree Awarding Powers so that it can become fully accredited.
As for Franch i Gilabert, she was named a visiting lecturer at the Princeton University School of Architecture in January of this year.