Dezeen Magazine

Eva Franch i Gilabert has been fired as Architectural Association director

Eva Franch i Gilabert fired as AA director for "specific failures of performance"

Architectural Association director Eva Franch i Gilabert has been fired by the London school two weeks after losing a vote of no confidence in her leadership.

"It is with regret that AA council has terminated the employment contract of its director, Eva Franch i Gilabert," said a statement from the AA.

AA alleges "specific failures of performance"

The vote of no confidence on 29 June and a prior vote against the Spanish architect's proposed strategy led to the decision, the school said.

"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," said the statement.

The Spanish architect, who became the first-ever female director of the Architectural Association in March 2018, saw her five-year strategy for the school rejected by 80 per cent of Architectural Association community members.

"Following the meeting and vote of the school community on 29 June, 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," the statement continued.

Franch i Gilabert "did not provide council with the confidence" she could fulfil role

"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."

The Architectural Association is now planning to redefine the role of the director position before finding a replacement for Franch i Gilabert.

"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," said the statement.

"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."

No confidence vote caused "profound unease"

The vote of no confidence in Franch i Gilabert prompted outrage from supporters of the 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.

The letter prompted a backlash from some staff and students.

"There appears to be a coordinated response aimed at framing the vote of the 29th [June] in such a way as to tarnish the reputation of the school, and to pressure council into dismissing the full implications of the vote of the school community," wrote course tutors Ricardo Ruivo and Will Orr in a letter to the AA council.

Architecture has become "too satisfied with commonplace formulations" 

Franch i Gilabert, who was previously  chief curator and executive director of New York architecture gallery Storefront for Art and Architecture took over as director of the AA in 2018.

In her post-election interview with Dezeen, she 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.

AA has unique structure

Founded in 1847, the AA is the UK's oldest independent architecture school and is considered one of the most prestigious in the world. Famous alumni include Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and David Chipperfield.

The AA council, headed by AA president Victoria Thornton, is responsible for the school's corporate governance but takes advice from the school's community of staff and students.

The school, which sits outside the UK's network of state-funded universities, has a unique system that allows around 1,200 staff and students – collectively known as the school community – to vote on key decisions. These votes are advisory, with the council taking them into account when making decisions.

Franch i Gilabert was offered the position of director in March 2018 after she won a three-way ballot among the school community against rival contenders Robert Mull and Pippo Ciorra.

Under her two-year tenure, the school won the right to award its own bachelor's and master's degrees for the first time. Prior to that, its courses had to be validated by the RIBA and the Architects Registration Board.

However, Franch i Gilabert ultimately fell foul of AA protocol, which states that the director must retain the confidence of the school community.