Dezeen Magazine

AA council has put the school "in serious jeopardy" by dismissing director and should resign, says Elia Zenghelis

The Architectural Association's governing council should resign for its "inept and obviously prejudiced" sacking of director Eva Franch i Gilabert according to Elia Zenghelis, a former teacher at the London school who helped write its rulebook.

The incident has "put the school and its future in serious jeopardy," said Zenghelis, who taught at the independent school from 1963 to 1987.

The vote of no confidence that preceded Franch i Gilabert's dismissal "was taken in breach of the statutes and procedures of the school community," he told Dezeen, adding that the decision to fire her was "haughty and crass".

Council should resign for "inept and prejudiced action"

The AA's school community of staff and students voted against Franch i Gilabert's five-year plan for the school in a remote poll held via Zoom on 29 June. Of almost 900 votes cast, 80 per cent rejected her plan.

This was followed by a vote of no confidence in her leadership, which narrowly passed with 52 per cent voting against her.

Two weeks after the vote, the AA's governing council sacked Franch i Gilabert for "failure to develop and implement a strategy and maintain the confidence of the AA school community".

Led by AA president Victoria Thornton, the 12-strong AA council is responsible for governing the school but takes advice on key decisions from the school community, which is made up of around 1,300 staff and students.

However, Zenghelis said that the vote and the subsequent dismissal were in breach of AA procedural guidelines.

"This inept and obviously prejudiced action makes it incumbent on the council to resign," said the Greek architect, who graduated from the AA in 1961 and became a founding member of the school community in 1971, when he helped write the rules of its unique democratic constitution.

The AA council said it undertook a series of meetings with Franch i Gilabert to give her the opportunity to outline her plans and rectify issues ensuing from the vote of no confidence.

"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 council wrote in a statement confirming that Franch i Gilabert had been dismissed.

Zenghelis said: "If the council can give such a haughty and crass reason for a decision of such sensitive, crucial and far-reaching consequences, it puts into question the council’s legitimacy, demeaning its authority and making its incumbent resignation a de rigueur obligation."

"Vote taken on June 29 was not valid"

Zenghelis spoke to Dezeen amid ongoing acrimony over the firing of Franch i Gilabert, who was elected as the school's first woman director in 2018, after just two years in the post.

Anonymous letters have been circulated accusing Franch i Gilabert of bullying, while some observers have described her abrupt dismissal as sexist.

Zenghelis told Dezeen that under the AA's community rules, a vote of no confidence needs to be taken on school premises with community members voting in person, rather than online. A quorum must first be established before a motion is debated with arguments for and against, with voting done by a show of hands.

"None of this took place," Zenghelis claimed. "There was no live attendance and therefore no quorum, no debate and no raising of hands, for and against. No voting through the internet is legitimate by the school community rules."

"Consequently, the vote taken on June 29 was not valid and the council should have treated it as null and void," he added. "Therefore, the council acted without a proper mandate and their action has, irresponsibly, put the school and its future in serious jeopardy."

Zenghelis said that some people have claimed that voting procedures have changed "but no evidence has been given as to when and how these changes took place, even though I asked for this information."

"Serious blow to the already precarious viability of the school"

Franch i Gilabert's dismissal will add to the problems at the school as it will impact its ability to attract students, believes Zenghelis, who co-founded architecture studio OMA in 1975 with his former AA student Rem Koolhaas, Madelon Vriesendorp and his wife Zoe Zenghelis.

"The dismissal will sever possible future incentive for prospective students, significantly reducing its drawing power, and its impact will be a serious blow to the already precarious viability of the school, from which, I suspect that it will be very hard to recover."

Founded in 1847, the Architectural Association School of Architecture is the UK's oldest independent architecture school. It is regarded as one of the most influential architecture schools in the world, with alumni including Zaha Hadid, Richard Rogers, Amanda Levete and David Chipperfield.

Franch i Gilabert became the school's first woman director in 2018 when she was elected on a platform of radical change, garnering 67 per cent of the community's votes against rival candidates Robert Mull and Pippo Ciorra.

"The AA has been historically a place where architecture meets other forms of expertise to produce new synthetic thought, form and action," the Catalan architect told Dezeen after her election.

"While architecture schools usually are concerned about what architecture has been, I am also interested in what architecture can be."