The Architectural Association (or AA, as it is widely referred to) was founded in 1847 as a progressive, student-led think tank which sought to propose new modes of thinking about and teaching architecture. Ideas that were first formulated in a pub went on to find realisation in the initiative becoming a fully-fledged educational institution by the 20th century, and the school has since become something of a starchitect breeding ground, sending names like Denys Lasdun, Rem Koolhaus, Richard Rogers, Zaha Hadid and Amanda Levete off into the world, and cultivated a reputation for radical free-thinking, immense creativity and a syllabus that leans toward the conceptual, rather than practical, side of architectural schooling.
It was perhaps surprising, then, that when it was announced early last year that Catalonia-born architect Eva Franch i Gilabert would be the new director of the school – after the institution’s participatory democracy process saw her take a record-breaking 67 per cent of votes cast by students, staff and affiliated council members – many questioned whether she would be a good fit. Surprising because, like the school she has now been helming for a year, Eva too is rarely described without reference to her creative output, radical ideas and proclivity to posing questions, rather than answering them.
Prolific is another word to describe Eva, who, by age 24 had already set up and closed her own architectural practice to take up a fellowship at Princeton, turning down Yale and MIT to do so. Until taking her position at the AA, her working life since then had been in the US, where fellowships and teaching jobs were followed by her taking the reigns at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York in 2010, where her achievements included curating America’s pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale and ‘Letters to Mayors’, an ongoing itinerant exhibition that sees architects, the public and local officials debating, questioning and engaging with the built environment in cities from Bogota to Taipei.
In July 2018, Eva took up residence at 36 Bedford Square, one of eight interconnected Georgian townhouses that form the AA’s London campus in Bloomsbury, the intellectual heartland of the capital. ‘Took up residence’ is intended in its literal and metaphorical meaning here: Eva literally lives in the buildings she has made her domestic and professional home, sleeping in one of the rooms, working from her office-cum-living room overlooking the leafy gardens of Bedford Square – her ‘garden’ – and becoming well acquainted with her fellow staff and students, her ‘housemates’.
In this video, made after her first year as director, Eva explains why she felt a visceral sense of being at home when she first stepped into the AA, why the domesticity of a period London townhouse is a relevant architectural typology for redefining education, and what she thinks the school has to offer in a societal age she considers to be about redefinition.