Architectural Association director Eva Franch i Gilabert has lost a vote of confidence after students and staff at the UK school voted down her five-year plan for the institution.
The news prompted outrage from supporters of the Spanish architect, with academics and architects writing an open letter expressing "profound unease".
"Eva Franch is one of the most inspired leaders and radical thinkers of a younger generation of architects," the letter said.
On 29 June, 80 per cent of the Architectural Association community members voted against Franch i Gilabert's strategy plan for 2020 to 2025, according to a report in the Architects' Journal.
A vote of no confidence in Franch i Gilabert, who was elected as the first female director of the school in 2018, was also passed narrowly by 52 per cent.
Council to discuss next steps
In a statement, the AA said that it was a standard process for the school, which is run on a democratic model that sees its staff, students and governing council make decisions by ballot.
"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," the AA said.
While the private school's council is not bound to the results, the 14-member body will now meet to go through its options.
"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 AA continued in its statement.
"The outcomes of the school community meeting have now been passed to council for discussion."
Academics rally in support of Franch i Gilabert
An open letter supporting Franch i Gilabert has been signed by academics Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley, SO-IL founders Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu, Forensic Architecture founder Eyal Weizman and Royal College of Art's architecture school dean Adrian Lahoud.
The letter warns that removing her "jeopardise an institution of seminal cultural and pedagogical importance to become the subject of media frivolity".
"Eva Franch is the youngest elected female director of the AA," the letter added. "Systemic biases against women – and particularly young women – in positions of power continue to plague academic and corporate environments".
"As in politics, strong women that take direct and immediate action to address crises are often criticized extensively, while men enforcing similar actions are seen as effective and decisive leaders," it said.
"The question of sexism seems obvious in the recent 'vote of no confidence'."
Additionally, the letter accused the AA of using "the pandemic for anti-democratic purposes" by passing a motion of no confidence against the backdrop of coronavirus and the anti-racism protests.
Institution's tumultuous period continues
Franch i Gilabert took over as director of the AA in 2018. In her post-election interview with Dezeen, the Catalan architect said she believes architecture education needs a shake-up to keep pace with the outside world.
"Architects and architecture institutions have either become too satisfied with commonplace formulations such as sustainability, participation, and bottom-up practices, or too hermetic with self-proclaimed avant-gardism and meta-discursive narrative with an aesthetic devoid of any social or political currency," she said.
Franch i Gilabert was elected to the directorship at a contentious time for the institution, which is based in London and counts Richard Rogers, Rem Koolhaas and the late Zaha Hadid among its alumni.
In 2017, interim director Samantha Hardingham made controversial cuts to the publishing and exhibitions departments.
These redundancies were made ahead of the school undergoing a financial audit as part of the process of applying for degree-awarding powers ahead of Brexit. But famous alumni including Rem Koolhaas and Richard Rogers protested Hardingham's decision, accused her of risking the school's cultural legacy.
In October 2019 the AA was granted Taught Degree Awarding Powers (TDAP) as Franch i Gilabert welcomed a "new era" for the school.
Main image is by Stefan Ruiz.