Top architecture school’s council holds crisis talks
The Architectural Association school is in turmoil after director Eva Franch i Gilabert lost two votes of confidence in her leadership.
The so-called school community, which consists of 1,300 current students and staff as well as the governing council, voted down her five-year strategic plan by a significant margin on Monday.
The Catalan architect also lost a personal vote of no confidence, in a much tighter ballot.
The AA’s unique democratic structure allows everyone to have a say on how it is run – but the votes are not binding on the council. However its 14 members – who are led by president Victoria Thornton – are understood to take the community’s views very seriously.
They are meeting this week to decide how to respond to the unrest at the UK’s first private architecture school which is housed in a Georgian terrace on Bedford Square in central London.
Among the choices open to them is the nuclear option of firing Franch. She was only appointed in 2018 after an international search was held to find a replacement for Brett Steele who moved to the University of California, Los Angeles in 2017.
Franch beat Robert Mull, head of school at Brighton and former dean of what was then called the Cass, and Pippo Ciorra, senior curator of MAXXI Architettura in Rome. The Stirling Prize-winning gallery was designed by one of the AA’s most celebrated graduates, Zaha Hadid.
Immediately before Franch took up her post interim director Samantha Hardingham triggered fury by announcing a round of redundancies and the closure of AA Files (later-revived) which she said were necessary to get the organisation on a sound financial footing
Critics at the time, including Richard Rogers, David Adjaye and Rem Koolhaas, warned cuts to the AA’s cultural side would threaten the future of the whole institution.
Feelings have remained high ever since.
Among Franch’s achievements were to get the school’s degrees accredited for the first time in a century and to move the school to online learning as a result of the pandemic.
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The AA issued a statement today which said: “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.
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“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.”