Move comes after Eva Franch i Gilabert lost two votes of confidence

Eva Franch i Gilabert has been fired as the director of the Architectural Association.

The dramatic move was announced tonight in a statement by the AA’s council which formally terminated her contract following failed negotiations with the school community.

Eva Franch i Gilabert

Sacked Architectural Association director Eva Franch i Gilabert

Franch, the first woman to be elected director of the 173-year-old institution, lost two votes of no confidence three weeks ago after which a bitter war of words erupted into the public domain.

The school community – a formal entity consisting of 1,300 current students and staff as well as the council – “overwhelmingly” voted down Franch’s five-year strategic plan at the end of June. She also lost a personal vote of no confidence, though by a smaller margin. A third motion called for reform that would be collectively determined by the school community.

After the votes almost 200 architects and academics including Liz Diller, Ricardo Scofidio and Charles Renfro of Diller Scofidio & Renfro and Sean Anderson, a curator at MoMA in New York, wrote an open letter in support of Franch’s “extraordinary leadership” and expressing “profound unease”.

The letter, also signed by Simone de Gale, director of Simone de Gale Architects, Kai-Uwe Bergmann, a partner at BIG, and Adrian Lahoud, dean of the RCA’s school of architecture, described it as a “power-grab fuelled by less-than-progressive emotions” and possible misogyny.

It said: “Every new administration, particularly those very few who have only recently come to be led by women or people of colour, deserves patience and support as the inevitable realignments unfold.”

It added: “If we reject heads of school because certain parties are unhappy with their decisions, all heads of all schools of architecture would need to resign from their posts effective immediately.

“Leading an educational institution is not a popularity contest; it’s a school judged on its vibrancy, empowerment of students and inspiration to the field, which the AA has continued to show brilliantly in the last two years despite unprecedented financial hurdles.”

The writers warned that Franch’s departure so soon after joining in 2018 – after winning 67% of votes from the school community – would “jeopardise” the school’s reputation.

They added: “The idea of hastily putting into force the recent ‘vote of no confidence’ during the health and white supremacy struggle is suspect as it uses the pandemic for anti-democratic purposes – accelerating prejudice.”

They said every school in the world had been under intense pressure during the pandemic “rendering this vote doubly offensive – beyond cynical”.

However the open letter was dismissed as “grossly uninformed and misguided” by two AA tutors who wrote a riposte accusing its signatories of blackmail and “managerial solidarity against the rights of workers and students”.

It added: “The AA has long suffered from systemic problems at the level of managerial transparency, inclusion of diverse voices, and extreme exploitation of labour. In this, it is an ordinary architecture school. That these issues are causing a break now and not earlier reflects the radicalisation of some of these problems over the last few years – a tendency that is longer than the current director’s leadership, but which she has nevertheless worsened rather than improved.”

It continued: “The privileged nature of the open letter, coupled with its ignorance of the many people involved, renders its baseless claims regarding the pandemic turmoil ironic to the point of satire. It is not the school community, but the open letter itself that cynically leverages the health crisis, the feminist struggle, and even the ongoing struggle against white supremacy. It deploys these real issues in the defence of a single person’s executive power, and against the school community’s right to democratic oversight.”

Franch’s departure comes as the RIBA and Arb are also embroiled in embarrassing sagas around the loss of their heads.

>> Also read: RIBA’s new chairman ‘set to quit before he starts’

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>> Also read: RIBA president resumes role after revealing reason why he stepped down


AA council statement

The AA council, whose president is Open City founder Victoria Thornton, issued a statement saying: “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.”

Franch could not be contacted tonight.